Florianópolis, or Floripa as it’s known to the locals, was the last stop on our month-long journey through southern Brazil last fall. But it certainly wasn’t the least in terms of history, culture, and knockout scenic beauty. The capital of Santa Catarina state, the city of Florianópolis straddles the mainland and Ihla de Santa Catarina, a 54-km-long island famous for its fantastic beaches and centuries-old Portuguese heritage. Although technically the city encompasses the entire island, we didn’t have to drive far out of the urban area to encounter some of the wildest and most unspoiled natural beauty of our entire trip.
Floripa is the most popular tourist destination in southern Brazil, with special appeal for lovers of ecotourism, wildlife, and extreme sports. The Lagoa da Conceição, a saltwater lagoon, is home to rare species of animals, many of which are found nowhere else. And of course, with a seafaring culture that goes back at least 250 years, Floripa’s seafood is to die for. Of all the places we visited in Brazil, Florianópolis has the most comfortable, easy-going vibe – a place in which we could picture ourselves living someday (if only Portuguese weren’t so daunting!).
Here’s how we spent four short days exploring Florianópolis – not nearly enough time! Some of the photos are in galleries; just click the first to see larger versions.
Getting There and Getting Around
From the colonial town of Paraty, we took a door-to-door shuttle operated by Paraty Tours to São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport – a journey of about five hours. Then we hopped an 1.5-hour flight on LATAM to the almost-new, modernistic Florianópolis airport.
In Florianópolis we rented a car, a good decision since our stay was limited to four days. Although public transportation does exist, navigating Ilha de Santa Catarina is time-consuming. With the exception of a couple of freeways in the north near the more urban areas, the roads are two-lane, and there’s seldom a direct way to get from point A to point B. We were very happy with Movida, our rental car provider; not only do they provide outstanding service from their shiny new facility near the airport, but we only paid about $36 a day for a brand-new 4×4 Jeep. Well worth it!
Experiencing Floripa’s Azorean Roots
The first European settlers arrived to Florianópolis from the Azores in the 18th century, and that heritage is reflected everywhere – especially in villages like Santo Antônio de Lisboa, Ribeirão da Ihla, and Armação. There, you can still hear people speaking an Azorean dialect of Portuguese that isn’t found anywhere else in Brazil. Local festivals, colorful fishing boats, and old-world crafts such as tatting (lacemaking) are keeping the Azorean culture alive, especially in the more remote areas of the island.
With a beautiful beach that bears the same name, Santo Antônio de Lisboa is one of Floripa’s oldest neighborhoods – with Europeans arriving as early as 1648. We had a nice stroll through Santo Antônio and a great lunch at Chão Batido, one of many restaurants on the picturesque waterfront.
On another day, we drove further south to the fishing village of Armacão along Floripa’s wilder Atlantic coast. To us, Armacão felt worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the island’s more urban areas.
Exploring the Historic Center
The downtown historic district of Florianópolis is filled with beautifully preserved and architecturally significant buildings dating to the early days of Portuguese settlement. Many of the streets are pedestrian-only, so it’s easy to spend at least a day wandering around the district.
Floripa has some of the most beautiful praias (beaches) in Brazil, drawing hordes of tourists in the summer months. Since we were there in October, many of the beaches we visited were completely deserted and took on a wilder and more mysterious feel. It was too cool for much sunbathing, but we were glad not to have to contend with tourist mobs.
Visiting the Sea Turtle Sanctuary
Projeto Tamar is a foundation dedicated to protecting many different sea turtle species from extinction along Brazil’s Atlantic coast. Projeto Tamar operates 22 bases all along the Brazilian coastline, with its flagship base and turtle rehabilitation center on Florianópolis. Opened in 2005, the center now receives more than 200,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most-visited ecological sites in southern Brazil. We stumbled on the center by accident while exploring further down the western coast of Santa Catarina. It’s well worth a visit.
Eating and Drinking
Our two favorite dining experiences in Florianópolis were the beforementioned Chão Batido in Santo Antônio de Lisboa and Zeca Bar, a friendly, family-run beach bar on Praia do Campeche. Both had some of the freshest and tastiest seafood of our entire Brazil trip.
Located right on Jurere Beach on the north shore of Floripa, Hotel Sete IIhas was a great midrange choice at a little over $100 a night (off-season price).
In only four days, we didn’t even come close to experiencing all of the incredible natural beauty and cultural delights that Florianópolis has to offer. We can envisioning spending a month or more there, someday. We’ll be back!
That’s it for our October Brazil trip! We can’t wait to return to this fantastic country in July.