Brazil’s Anti-Maldives: Fernando de Noronha

Hot bodies, so much flesh the sand is barely visible, music, dancing, and food come to mind when thinking of Brazil’s beaches.

The pinnacle of Brazil’s beaches by the country’s star rating system has none of that. Baía dos Porcos on Fernando de Noronha is a pristine slice of sand in a rigorously protected national park. Indeed, the western half and southern cost of the main island, and the outlying islands, all fall within the park.

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Fernando became a travel pursuit of mine when I found it on the Travelers Century Club list and increased in interest with the challenge of reaching the island. In 2014 it became possible book award flights to Fernando on Gol using Delta SkyMiles (previously that one destination was excluded from their partnership, and oh my, had I tried) and also on Azul using United MileagePlus miles. Those are the only two airlines and and the only flights depart from Natal and Recife. Economy tickets for the short hop are typically $700-$1,000 round trip. I got my ticket booked and clucked in triumph in how-to post Booking Award Tickets to Brazil’s Maldives: Fernando de Noronha. A week later I was there.

It is the anti-Maldives.

Inside the park there are spectacular beaches, trains and dolphin viewing points with virtually no facilities.

Outside the park there are no chain hotels and no large resorts. There are small guest houses, some luxurious, many rather basic. There are no accommodations on the beaches. The beaches are backed by high cliffs and there are rugged, long paths down to the beaches. The beaches have minimal amenities, just a few snack shacks at the popular spots.

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It is the ultimate beach bum’s spot that requires a serious budget.

Costs:

Brazil is one of the most expensive countries to travel. I find the major cities especially poor value. Prices are even higher on Fernando where much is flown in, even many of the fruits. Basic accommodation starts around $100/night. Meals under $20 are rare. Groceries cost dearly.

Everyone must pay the environment tax upon arrival. There is some misconception about permits and quotas. Numbers are controlled by the limited flights. If you get a seat, you can go in. The environment tax is per day and can be paid online in advance if you can navigate the Portuguese website or pay upon arrival. Only downside to paying upon arrival is the long line if you were in the back of the plane. This is a compulsory charge for entering the island. It starts at $19/day for foreigners and slowly decreases as days increase. You pay your expected days upon arrival and settled upon departure if a stay is extended.

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To enter the national park, which again is roughly half the island, foreigners must pay $60 for 5 days, there are no shorter or longer passes, see here. You can buy in advance or at several points on the island. You could eschew the national park and have a great vacations, but you’ve come all this way.

Accommodations:

Booking.com is a great English source of the many pousadas. I stayed at Pousada Canto do Boldró, overlooking a beach, near the airport and outside the main town. $100/night with a bright room and simple breakfast. Luciana is your host, an Italian who visited and fell in love with the island.

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Touring the island I saw many pousadas, some are very boutique, few are near a beach.

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The Park:

No words, just pictures, except practically you need either a boat tour or your own wheels to visit the beaches.

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Yes, you need to visit the park. No, hiking the dangerous cliffs connecting the beaches to avoid the park fee is not safe and is prohibited, though I don’t know that the rangers go on duty at dawn.

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The Non-Park:

Many tourists spend time on these beaches because they have more facilities and easier to reach to hang out.

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There are a few streets with shop and the occasional historic building.

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There are ramshackle settlements throughout the island.

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The windy eastern tip of the island is an ode to islands northeast across the ocean.

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My experience:

I arrived exhausted, flying from India on business, stopping 12 hours in New York and then on to Brazil. It rained in my afternoon and I slept the intoxicated sleep of jetlag with the patter of raindrops outside.

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I awoke at dawn, descended to the beach and walked much of the long north coast, communing with crabs and other denizens of the sands.

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The heat quickly rising I switched the frequent public bus that runs west to east from the airport to the main town and on to the eastern point.

I breakfasted at the pousada and had fresh fish for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

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I sweated and sweated and sweated.

I flew away.

Should You Go?

This is the anti-Maldives and really the anti-Brazil stereotype. It is far and pricey. There is no samba. Yet it is resplendent.

If you go to Brazil for a beach, do you want deserted, ravishing expanse or hot bodies cheek to cheek?

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  • Hi there.

    I am Kris and I have visited Fernando de Noronha and liked it a lot. Although it’s an amazing place i found it a bit expensive. I mean restaurants for example. Nevertheless this place is amazing as well as nort east cost of Brazil.

    Thanks
    Kris

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Kris – I agree. In general, I find Brazil to be a rather poor value country given the travel costs. It has many great attractions, while costs and logistics are big minuses.

  • Pablo

    Thanks for the trip report. I have a new destination in mind now thanks to you. I love the last two sentence of this report! “I sweated and sweated and sweated.I flew away.” Just Classic

  • LarryInNYC

    Is there an Executive beach on this island, or would I have to use the same beach as the economy bathers?

  • Andrew C

    I’ve been swamped the last few days, so just got to catching up on things – thanks so much for writing this up! Looks like your visit went really well. Most importantly, I was able to point my wife at your writeup and get her thumbs up on the trip – hah!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – that alone is worth the post, great to hear.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @LarryInNYC – maybe you could put loyalty program cards on a lanyard and claim priority sands for yourself?

  • Todd

    Hello! Great trip report! I’m heading to Fernando de Noronha in a few weeks and was trying to pay the environmental tax online — I had found the same website you listed. However, I can’t find any way to actually make a payment. Once you enter your information, you get 3 links to print 3 different documents, one of which is some type of bank slip. But there’s absolutely no way I can find to actually enter a credit card and pay the tax. Were you able to do this successfully? Any pointers? It’s driving me nuts! 🙂

    Thanks so much,
    Todd

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Todd – I gave up long before you. Other than not lining up on arrival there does not seem to be any advantage to paying in advance, so I just made sure to be first off the plane. Have a great trip!

  • Todd

    Thank you! I was trying to pay online to be sure I could pay by credit card and worry less about bringing cash to the island. Were you able to pay the environmental tax by credit card at the airport? I *was* able to pay the national park fees online, so that’s one down. But so many sites suggest you can actually pay the environment tax online — I just generated some forms, one of which it looks like you need to bring to a bank and pay in person. That’s hardly paying online! 🙂

    I’d love to know if you were able to pay the tax with a credit card at the airport. Having a hard time figuring how much cash to bring for our 4 days / 3 nights there. It’s our last stop in Brazil so I don’t really want to take out a ton of Reals that we’ll just get stuck with.

    Thanks,
    Todd

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Todd – yes, I paid with credit card, they even accept Amex. Restaurants on the island also accept cards. Guests houses are mostly small so confirm in advance, in my case she wanted cash.