The archipelago got its name from the Portuguese merchant Fernão de Loronha, to whom it was given by the Portuguese crown for services rendered regarding wood imported from Brazil. The islands of this archipelago are the visible parts of a range of submerged mountains. It consists of 21 islands, islets and rocks of volcanic origin. The main island is 10 km long and 3.5 km wide at its maximum and takes up 91% of the total area. The base of this enormous volcanic formation is 756 metres below the surface. Today only the largest of the 21 islands is inhabited with a population of about 3,500.
The climate is tropical, with two well-defined seasons for rainfall, if not temperature. The rainy season lasts from March to August; the rest of the year sees little rain. The life above and below sea is the main attraction of the island. Sea turtles, spinner dolphins and humpback whales, spotted dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Melon-headed whales, albatrosses and many other species are frequently observed. The main attractions of the archipelago are the beaches of Fernando de Noronha. The beaches are promoted for tourism and recreational diving. The most popular ones include Baía do Sancho, Pig Bay, Dolphins Bay, Sueste Bay and Praia do Leão. Due to the South Equatorial Current that pushes warm water from Africa to the island, diving to depths of 30 to 40 meters does not require a wetsuit. The islands are a Mecca for divers and snorkelers with warm waters year-round and very good and the visibility underwater can reach up to 50 meters. But the best snorkeling can be had in the months of August to December when waters are at their calmest and suitable for good snorkeling and are just right if you’re not a great swimmer. Children too can have a lot of fun in the natural pools formed at low tide as they can enjoy the deliciously warm water and see marine life up close
A few points to bear in mind if you’re going to be snorkeling in Fernando de Noronha:
- To get the best out of your visit, it is best to be part of a guided tour as the operators know the terrain well and can advise you on which activity is suited for which area.
- If you’re a more intrepid adventurer and prefer the DIY route, you will not have any problems as masks, snorkels and fins can easily be rented by those so you can go explore by yourself.
- At several snorkeling points, there are restrictions on the number of people that are allowed to snorkel per day. For example, snorkeling at the tide pool of Praia da Atalaia is limited to 100 people per day due to environmental concerns. Unfortunately these concerns also mean that visitors are not allowed to wear sun block due to concerns that the chemicals will contaminate the fragile ecosystems. So beware of that. However the vast array of marine life, you’ll get to see will more than make up for any disappointment. These include anything from various schools of fish to lobsters, octopuses and if you’re in luck, even baby sharks.