Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
While most Americans have never heard of it, Fernando de Noronha is regarded by many Brazilians as having the most beautiful beaches in the country—and that's saying a lot coming from a nation full of sand and sun connoisseurs. With its steep bunny-ear hills that soar up from undeveloped white and gold beaches, Fernando de Noronha might look more at home alongside Bora Bora and the other islands of French Polynesia than it does hundreds of miles from mainland Brazil. But unlike those Pacific islands, Fernando de Noronha is cheaper and easier to get to, at least from the East Coast.
At only seven square miles, the island is easily explored by dune buggy. Pack some snorkel gear and head to beaches like Baia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos, where you'll see sting rays, sea turtles, and a wide variety of colorful fish just feet from the shore. Without a doubt, the water surrounding the island— a national marine park—is Fernando de Noronha's top attraction. Besides snorkeling, you can experience Brazil's best scuba diving with Atlantis Divers (from about $75 for two dives) and go boating (about $25) to spot spinner dolphins and see the island's unusual rock formations up close.
In the evenings, head to Vila dos Remedios, the island's historic heart, where you'll dance the night away to traditional Brazilian music and eat seafood al fresco at the popular and cheap Bar do Cachorro. For affordable accommodations, stay at the simple but comfortable Pousada Paraiso do Atlantico, where prices for double rooms start around $78 a night.
(Photo: iStockPhoto/Mihir Panchal)