Check with the Projeto Tamar office as soon as you arrive. If a turtle hatching is in the offing, rearrange your plans to see it -- you won't be disappointed.
If your time is limited, find your pousada and then head out on a boat tour to see the island from the water. Go for an afternoon cruise to see the spinner dolphins or just to snorkel. If you have a bit more time, go diving or snorkeling around Baía do Sancho, saving time for a leisurely walk on the beach. Another great way to see the island is to rent a buggy and explore at will.
In Vila Remédios, the most impressive structure is the Forte dos Remédios, built by the Portuguese in 1737. It's a wonderful crumbling ruin, with old cannons half-buried in the dirt and ramparts on the edge of collapse. Extending from the fort are a number of old stone roads, many built by convict labor. One leads back to the Vila Remédios plaza, a steep cobblestone square topped by the pretty yellow-and-white Igreja Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, built in 1772. Farther uphill is a bright red colonial building known as the Palácio São Miguel. It now serves as the island's administrative headquarters. At the bottom of the hill, a small history museum, the Memorial Noronhense (daily 8am-4pm) shows the history of the island, from its discovery in 1503 by Amerigo Vespucci, through the years when the Dutch, Portuguese, and French all fought for possession, to its years as a political prison and then American army base from the '40s to the '60s.
Hitting the Beaches
Baía do Sueste is a pretty crescent beach with some good snorkeling. It's perfect for children, thanks to its large shallow areas and complete absence of waves. The beach has a snack stand and bathrooms.
Baía do Sancho is one of the prettiest beaches in all of Brazil. Access is via a series of precarious-looking iron ladders bolted into crevasses that somehow make it down through 30m (100 ft.) of sheer red cliffs. The beach features lovely red-tinged sand, cliffs with nesting seabirds, and crystal-clear blue water perfect for snorkeling.
Praia do Atalaia is a unique beach on the outer shore of Noronha. A thick shelf of volcanic rock extends halfway through the surf line, providing a bulwark for some quiet natural pools where tropical fish get trapped at low tide. Only 30 people are allowed in per day, and no suntan lotion can be worn when you swim in the pools. Access is through checkpoints monitored by IBAMA (Brazil's environmental agency), either on the trail from Vila do Trinta or the road from Baía do Sueste. If you don't know any better, you can also come in (as I did) on the uncontrolled trail from Enseada da Caieira. Arrive when the tide's coming in, and you can stand immersed to your waist by the outer edge of the rock shelf as huge waves come rolling in, only to smash themselves to harmlessness on the thick volcanic rock. It's reckless but a lot of fun.
The surf beaches are all on the inshore side of the island, facing back toward the Brazilian mainland. From west to east they are Cacimba do Padre, Praia do Bode, Praia do Boldró, Praia da Conceição, Praia do Meio, and Praia do Cachorro. Most have one or two small barracas (beach kiosks). They're good places to hang out for a morning or afternoon. Be careful swimming, and keep an eye on the shore. These beaches have currents that sweep parallel to the shoreline; it's easy to get carried along.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.