The Lure: Diving, surfing
Published: February 2009Best Island Vacations 2009: Pick Your Paradise
Get Inn With the In Crowd
Brazil: Fernando de Noronha
Only 500 overnight visitors a day are allowed on this hilly, ten-square-mile isle, the centerpiece of a Hawaii-like 21-island volcanic chain 340 miles from Recife on Brazil’s equatorial northeast coast. The limit was imposed to protect the archipelago’s pristine National Marine Park, threatened by ever increasing buzz from just-back, big-eyed divers, snorkelers, and surfers. The catnip of the virtual velvet rope has also lured Hollywood A-listers of late—Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem unrolled their beach mats here last winter—as well as Brazil’s eco-leaning (and über-tanned) elite. You can stay at one of the dozens of modest guesthouses or do the island in high style by checking in to one of five spare, swank bungalows or three rooms at the Pousada Maravilha. Your to-do list should include snorkeling with sea turtles and juvenile lemon sharks in the blue-green waters of nearby Baía do Sudeste. Dune buggy your way to the northwest coast’s Sancho Beach, reached only by climbing down iron ladders mounted on hundred-foot cliffs, then drive to the lookout over Mirante dos Golfinhos, a bay where every afternoon the world’s largest resident pod of spinner dolphins—some 600 strong—exits en masse to fish. Try tow-diving, a uniquely Noronha activity that involves holding on to a small board and being pulled underwater behind a boat. "It was used by marine biology students to do research," says Pedro Capelossi, a dive instructor and travel agent with Trip Noronha. "Then someone saw how fun it was." As for nightlife, get yourself to the beachfront terrace at Bar do Cachorro, where, after midnight, caipirinhas and an irresistible local forro band will elicit dance moves you didn’t know you knew.