Healthy Travels: Fernando de Noronha

by Sandra Alex

It is not everyday that simple people, like me, have a chance to go to a remote resort-type location and experience the time of their life. However, that’s exactly what happened when my family in Brazil decided to cheer my husband and me to go celebrate our 20th anniversary in Fernando de Noronha, of all places.

Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 220 miles offshore from the Northeastern Coast of Brazil. The main island is 7 kilometers long by 2.5 kilometers wide, or an area of about 7 square miles. Given that the island is located almost on the Equator line, the temperatures are warm, making it perfect to not leave the beautiful beaches. So if you have a bucket list, make sure to add to it: see Fernando de Noronha in this lifetime.

We left Rio de Janeiro in the morning and traveled to Salvador, Bahia. From there we took another plane to Recife, Pernambuco and got to see the recently-built and beautiful airport. Even though I am from Brasil, the American way has grown on me, everything is so organized, everyone is so punctual. It is not quite that way in Brasil, so much so that our flight to Recife got canceled and I had to finagle my way around to get my husband and me on a different flight that still got us there on time to catch the last leg of our travels: from Recife to Fernando de Noronha. Once we sat on Azul’s airline comfortable seats, and the propeller plane took off, we were set. Now these are not just regular propeller planes, they are super advanced and built to withstand the occasional strong winds that hit that section of the Atlantic Ocean.

After three hours in the air, overlooking only beautiful thick clouds and ocean water, the first sight of land.

We landed and took a small taxi that drove us to our “pousada,” the Portuguese word for “inn.” We were tired, it was raining, so we decided to rest for a bit and then walk around in the nearby area to find a place to eat dinner. We must have walked into a local hang-out that served different types of fish accompanied by yucca root dishes. We savored every bit and then went back to catch a most needed good-night sleep.

Pousada do Marcílio is a simple, humble inn that offers the best breakfast in the mornings, along with comfortable accommodations. Imagine having papayas, mangoes, pineapples, fresh coconut water, freshly baked french baguettes and delicious butter. That’s what we woke up to. The rain had seceded a bit and rays of sunlight brightened the sky through puffy, rich clouds. We were offered a dune-buggy for $100 for the entire time we were there. Of course we took the offer. We could now drive around the island, and I must say that my husband was awesome driving this super-hard-to-shift stick-shift buggy with only two seats and very little throttle. Not to mention how difficult it was to get it started. But we took it anyways and he drove that beast like a champion. Our first visit was to the top of a hill to catch the view of this enchanted island. A little church crowned the area named Morro do Pico.

The day was so beautiful, the temperature warm but comfortable, we felt empowered to explore every nook and cranny of this remote Atlantic island. So we explored away by driving down to the Dolphins bay. No, we did not see any dolphins, but this we did see when we drove to Atalaia Beach: a giant black bull trumping through the front of a small bar built right on the sand. By the time I went to snap a picture, “el toro” was already gone! We laughed so hard because where else and to whom else would this happen? I would say Conceição is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The water is warm, calm and crystalline. It is an ideal place to spend the day, with food and drinks nearby. This column is called Healthy Travels, and I have to say that the food in Fernando de Noronha is healthy because you are served only what is caught and what grows there. Now, of course, they have items shipped from the “mainland” through the Northeastern coast of Brazil, including beers and my favorite Brazilian soda, which I have long stopped drinking: Guaraná. Mostly, though, the fish is fresh and the vegetables taste delicious.

Our time was short. We only had four days to explore and did not want to miss any opportunity to get to know this secret paradise in its entirety. We walked further towards Atalaia beach. On the path, a literal hiking path to cross from one beach to the next, there was a very rustic restaurant where we stopped to use the facilities, and try fresh milanesa sardines along with a few seafood delicacies, accompanied by rice and black beans, a Brazilian staple throughout the entire country. This simple place did not have healthy food, so we continued on our walk to burn off the calories and help the digestion. Atalaia beach is filled with rocks and areas to snorkle.

After seeing this particular area, we drove to another portion of the island where we could walk down to Dog beach. The path to this great surf spot is lined with gorgeous tropical forest trees, and from atop you walk down to the beach. There is no access by car, and if there is, we did not find it. Another beautiful place to visit. Near the place where we parked, there was a snorkling equipment rental store and another very rustic restaurant called Dog Bar.

The day of our 20th anniversary finally arrived. After spending all day walking from beach to beach again, we went to a super fancy and somewhat crowded dinner at Pousada do Zé Maria’s restaurant. This is where all of the famous Brazilian actors stay. It is simply a jewel embedded in the forest and the gastronomy is an experience all of its own. The owner, Zé Maria, brings out from the kitchen the main course being offered that night; usually fresh fish that he caught earlier in the day, prepared by him and his chefs, accompanied by a variety of side dishes. He brings everyone around the table, and explains using a microphone, the details and uniqueness of each mouth-watering, delicious dish. I told Zé Maria that it was our 20th anniversary and that we had flown in all the way from Los Angeles, California to visit his famous restaurant. He congratulated us publicly, gave us a big hug and had everyone wish us a “happy anniversary.” It was a bit embarrassing at first, but when you are around Brazilian hospitality, you feel as if you were a part of a giant family. Everyone was so kind and genuinely enthusiastic about meeting us. Anyone traveling to Fernando de Noronha has to have dinner at this restaurant. It is a must!

The next day we were still feeling the effects of such food splurge. Nowadays, I would not eat the pasta or the rice, but at the time, it did not bother us. Our last day on the island had come, so we had to make it count. Traveling to the end of the one road — that’s right, there is only one road — we reached Santo Antonio bay, where the dock is filled with boats. Some boats will take tourists on board and give them a beautiful view of the coast: from the ocean. We went on the tour and it was fantastic, highly recommended. One interesting phenomena of nature is what happens at the Portal of Sapata: the closer the boat gets to this portal, the more it looks like a map of Brazil. From a distance, you would think it looks like a dolphin, but as the boat approaches, the map of Brazil becomes clearer and clearer. Super interesting, almost like a sign that to the West of this detached island is the land of Brazil.

After our lovely boat ride, we visited the Shark Museum, had açaí ice-cream made only with fruit, and enjoyed a most spectacular sunset that crowned our day and the end of our trip with pure gold. What an amazing time. The people are beautiful, the place is beautiful. I cannot speak enough of Fernando de Noronha, the isolated jewel in the middle of the Atlantic.