Fernando de Noronha

This stunning archipelago is widely recognized as one of Brazil's crown jewels. The 16 beaches are incomparably beautiful, and the brilliant turquoise waters make for some of the best diving in the Southern Hemisphere. It's little wonder that Fernando de Noronha ranks among the world's most romantic spots.

This group of 21 islands is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater volcanic mountain chain more than 15,000 km (9,315 miles) long. First discovered in 1503 by the Italian explorer Amérigo Vespucci, the archipelago was soon taken over by Fernando de Noronha of Portugal. While Brazil originally used these islands as a prison and a military training ground, growing appreciation of its natural beauty and underwater wonders led to its designation as a protected marine park in 1988. Today, stringent regulations protect the archipelago's ecology.

The mountainous, volcanic main—and only inhabited—island of Fernando de Noronha is ringed by beaches with crystal clear warm waters that are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. In summer surfers show up to tame the waves. There are shipwrecks to explore and huge turtles, stingrays, and sharks (14 species of them) with which to swim. Diving is good all year, but prime time is from December to March on the windward side (facing Africa) and from July to October on the leeward side (facing Brazil).

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