Reincarnated from former lives as a penal colony, an Air France refueling point and an American Cold War strategic cruise missile base, the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha didn’t settle into its long-haul rebirth as a National Marine Park until 1988. The extraordinarily recent turn of events is remarkable considering Brazil’s aquatic Eden — located 326 miles off the northeastern coast at Recife — is home to the country’s most consistently top-ranked beaches.
When coupled with dramatic volcanic formations like the towering Morro de Pico, a 1,059-foot extinct volcano that juts skyward from the tiny island, and the twin volcanic rock formations known as Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers), which sit just offshore, Fernando de Noronha becomes one of the most easy-on-the-eyes spots on the planet.
The perfect moment? Wandering the National Marine Park’s unobtrusive recycled plastic walkways high above Baía dos Porcos — itself one of the world’s most stunning beaches — following the coastline past Dois Irmãos to Praia do Sancho, a secluded half moon swatch of sun-toasted sand backed by a steep cliff blanketed with lush Atlantic rainforest. It’s only reachable by boat or via a claustrophobia-inducing 230-foot descent via two ladders that cut straight through the cliff before spitting you out on paradise.