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The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a delicate ecosystem. Visitors are restricted, but the lucky few are rewarded with unrivaled beaches and soothing warm waters filled with dolphins and sea turtles, making Noronha one of the world’s top diving destinations. On land, hike the ecological trails of Jardim Elizabeth, the Esmerelda Coast or Sancho Bay, which culminates in a climb up a steep set of stairs carved into the split of a cliff.
Located in the South Pacific more than 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast, Easter Island’s not the easiest place to reach. (If you’re interested, the easiest access is by air from Santiago or Tahiti.) But isolation has helped preserve the 1,500-year-old mysterious congregation of volcanic rock sculptures (maoi) that’s the island’s biggest claim to fame. After exploring the unique landscape, relax on an uncrowded beach and ponder one of the most mysterious places on Earth.
So close to Rio de Janeiro, yet so different, Ilha Grande is Brazil’s relaxing, undeveloped paradise. Stepping off the ferry to the island is to disconnect from the outside world. No cars, no banks (bring your money!), no ringing phones. It’s all about relaxing in the sun, sailing, swimming, disappearing into spas and reemerging for fresh seafood at one of the 30 small restaurants.
Located about 25 miles from the mainland and accessible via air or ferry, Venezuela's mountainous Margarita Island provides Caribbean-style beaches and access to windsurfing, golf, horseback riding and scuba with a laid-back South American vibe. It's comprised of two islands connected in the middle by the mangrove-filled lagoon of La Restinga National Park. Most development falls on the isle's eastern side around busy Porlamar, the capital La Asunción and colonial Pampatar, founded in 1535.
The coral island of San Andres is a diverse ecosystem of reefs, geysers, groves, and cays. Needless to say, it’s perfect for diving, snorkeling, and outdoor exploring. This paradise has multicoloured warm waters and 12 mangrove forests, and the beach cedars of Johnny Cay are like natural condos for beach birds. Keep an eye out for overlooked pirate treasure at Morgan’s Cave before chowing down on rondón, a signature Caribbean dish of fish, pork, conch, plantain and coconut milk.
How often do you get the chance to walk through a tunnel of lava? Created by the flowing and cooling process of liquid magma, the underground lava tubes of Santa Cruz are simply breathtaking. The most popular is the Tunnel of Love, so named for the heart-shaped hole in the ceiling. Cool down with a splash in the fresh waters of Puerto Ayora, snorkel at Tortuga Bay or the mangrove-lined Garrapatero Beach and get friendly with the giant natives at the El Chato Tortoise Reserve.
Although it's only a 30-minute ferry crossing away from mainland Chile across the Chacao Channel, verdant Isla Chiloe – the largest in the Chiloe archipelago – is another world. Sixteen wooden churches clustered around Castro on the island's east coast have UNESCO World Heritage status, and traditional palafitos (houses on stilts) dot its shores. To the west, Chiloe National Park shelters foxes, sea lions and otters and provides unspoiled terrain for horseback riding, sea kayaking and fishing.
Providencia Island’s nickname: The Sea of Seven Colors. A visit to McBean Lagoon National Natural Park is really all you need for the quintessential island experience. It’s an otherworldly place where mangroves sway over waters that sparkle every shade of blue. Local fishermen will happily take you on an island tour or even to wrangle the day’s catch. Lounge on peaceful white sand beaches or take a romantic stroll across the wooden “Lovers Bridge” that leads to neighboring Santa Catalina island.
The largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is one of the most volcanically active places in the world. Whether this is thrilling or terrifying is up to you. It doesn’t seem to bother the iguanas and penguins of Las Tintoreras, a nearby island cluster and popular snorkeling site. Walk from Puerto Villamil through mangrove forests and saltwater lagoons to reach the Tortoise Breeding Centre. Isabela was once used as an exile for prisoners, who built the devastating Wall of Tears as part of their punishment.