The Islands of Brazil
South America’s Atlantic Coast Jewels
With so much coastline, it’s no wonder that Brazil has some remarkable islands to visit and explore. They all offer tropical flora and fauna, warm Atlantic ocean water and wonderful underwater adventures for those interested in diving and snorkeling. Here is a short list of some of the more popular offerings.
Fernando de Noronha
Famous the world over, Fernando de Noronha consists of an archipelago of 21 islands, the largest of which is the namesake. It has been the property of France, England and Holland and, because it was uninhabited, was a frequent port of entry for invaders into colonial Brazil. In the 18th century, a series of battlements were built on the archipelago to help stave off further invasions.
In 1988, a large piece of the island was transformed into a national park to preserve the flora and fauna of the island. It’s possible to visit the park and the various islands to see the sparkling blue water and amazing sea life. One of the most recognized characteristics of this island is the superb scuba diving available for beginners, intermediate and advanced divers. Visibility under water remains a cool 98 feet year ‘round, and you’re likely to see sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and many other species.
You can take a hike or natural walk along the coastal paths or boat out to see thousands of dolphins swim in and out of the channels every day. You can drive a dune buggy around part of the island, visiting the many beaches and the few settlements there. There are approximately 2,000 inhabitants on the island and no more are allowed there, except by marriage to an existing resident.
Morro de São Paulo
One of the most festive islands on the Brazilian coast, Morro de São Paulo is a favorite tourist location, offering beaches full of beautiful Brazilians and beaches nearly deserted and uninhabited. Its close proximity to Salvador makes it a favorite get-away for those visiting the city. You’ll find traditional dance, festivals and food and plenty of beaches and island excursions to keep you busy for days or even weeks.
Morro de São Paulo is actually the name of the principal tourist town on one of the three main islands that make up the Archipelago of Tinhare. Like Fernando de Noronha, Morro de São Paulo was a primary target of pirates and invaders of the past centuries. The island’s principal fortress is in beautiful ruins near the entrance to the island and makes for one of the most pleasant excursions of the island.
The nightlife on the island is quite ample, especially during peak season, and locals get together with tourists to dance and drink until the sun rises. Then it’s back to the beaches to sleep it off. There are many hotels, inns and restaurants on the island, located in the village or on the three principal beaches, known as Beach One, Beach Two, and Beach Three.
Located in the southern end of the state of Bahia, the archipelago of Abrolhos is a highly prized location for diving and snorkeling—said to be ranked among the ten best in the world. The water here is warm and transparent and visibility generally registers at around 90 to 100 feet. The entire group of islands (which are pieces of the outer rim of an ancient volcano) and the surrounding waters are a national aquatic park and protected wildlife area, harboring such wonders as giant rays, sea turtles and whales. You’ll also encounter a form of coral that is unique in the world.
Even if you don’t swim, a trip out to Abrolhos is worthwhile. There are plenty of sea animals you can see from the boat and areas that are only four or five feet deep. You can take a speed boat out for the day or a larger vessel for overnight adventures.
Brazil’s second largest island, Ilha Grande is also one of its most un-developed. A small and charming central village known as Abraão is your point of entry and likely resting place with numerous inns and hotels to choose from. You can walk around the town easily and visit the many different shops and restaurants, specializing in seafood, of course. When you’re ready to visit the outer reaches of the island, you can choose between hiking and boating. Hikes range from a single day to beaches in the near vicinity to multi-day trips to the outer shores. Single and multi-day boat trips are also available, including excursions for diving and snorkeling. Fortunately, some of the best beaches and diving locations are not too far from the village, so hiking is a popular option.
No cars are allowed on the island, so the entire place is tranquil and very rustic. A favorite excursion is out to the pristine beaches of Lopes Mendes, said to be one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. But the beaches you pass on the way to Lopes Mendes are just as compelling in this guide’s opinion. You get to Ilha Grande from the coastal city of Angra dos Reis on the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
Ilhabela is the local name for the Island of São Sebastião, off the coast of São Paulo state on the way to Rio de Janeiro about 45 kilometers from São Paulo city. The island is divided into the “inner” and “outer” experiences, the inner being more populated and touristy and where you’ll find all the hotels and restaurants and many of the beaches. There are numerous inns and beach cabanas, camp grounds, and homes to rent.
Ilhabela is a favorite location of the Paulistas (residents of São Paulo) who go there to practice boating, tanning, and beach sports on weekends. There are some very popular diving spots all around the island, including a number of shipwrecks to explore. In the middle of the island is a rustic piece of the Atlantic Forest, with animals and strange plant life to prove it. You can find wonderful trails with incredible views from the island’s peaks. In most cases, you’ll be rewarded with clear, cool waterfalls along the way.
Access to the island is via ferry boat that takes off from the city of São Sebastião several times per day.