The Caribbean: Brazil
At nearly 2,500 miles southeast of Grenada, the islands of Brazil are in every way far removed from popular spots in the Caribbean. But for the adventurous traveler who has a couple of weeks to spend, these islands are fantastically exotic, full of the same tropical grandeur, and are free of overdevelopment and, for the most part, Americans as well. Ilha Grande, a mountainous island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, is home to Body & Soul Adventures, a wellness center based on the spa-cum-boot-camp model. It offers a week-long program of strenuous outdoor activities such as kayaking and hiking combined with yoga and nutrition. The end of each day brings a massage, but this is not a place for pampering. The island accepts only 12 guests, who sleep two to a room in a quaint beachfront lodge. By midweek you're exhausted; by the end you feel renewed, if only because the exceptional staff, trained in fitness, sports psychology, and nutrition, helps get you through. Body and Soul isn't for everyone, but it's also not without charm: the island has spectacular waterfalls, 106 unspoiled beaches, and good vegetarian dishes such as manioc purée, spinach pancake, and pumpkin-yam soup ($2,500 a week $; 866-341-3180; www.bodysouladventures.com).
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands off the easternmost point of Brazil. Only the largest island in the group is inhabited, and as it's been declared a national marine park, the number of visitors is limited. Flights run from only two cities, Natal and Recife, and are often sold out months in advance. But this lush volcanic chain about 200 miles from shore is worth the effort. Verdant and alive with rare species of flora and fauna (look for marine turtles and dolphins off Mirante dos Golfinhos), Noronha is also one of the world's top-five scuba spots and its white-sand beaches are largely unpopulated (head for Praia do Sancho or Baía dos Porcos). The best hotel on the island, Zé Maria, right on the sand, has recently redone bungalows with private Jacuzzis and ocean views (rooms, $120-$370 $; 55-81-3619-1258; www.pousadazemaria.com.br). To explore the water, book a dive with Atlantis, the island's most experienced outfitter (55-81-3619-1371; ask for Zaira).
The village of Noronha is home to the island's best restaurants, which, not surprisingly, focus on fresh seafood. Porto Marlin, a rustic room with a dozen tables, serves perfect sushi (dinner, $27 $; 55-81-3619-1452). For dining outdoors, book a terrace table at Nascimento, a wood-and-windows spot by the water that serves grilled fish with traditional dishes like spicy rice and beans (dinner, $24 $; 55-81-3619-1546).
The best guide on Fernando de Noronha is DJANIRA ALBUQUERQUE, who speaks English, is extremely knowledgeable about the island's history, and knows all the gossip ($60 a day; 55-81-3619-1526).
Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.