By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
FLORIANÓPOLIS, BRAZIL – If you are looking for a way to dodge the chaos of Carnival in Rio, then Florianópolis, capital of Santa Catarina state, might just provide the escapism you need. The stunning, 33-mile-long (53km) island on which the city sits – the Ilha de Santa Catarina – offers over hundred beaches, culture, good food and nearly 300 years of history, the gem in Southern Brazil’s crown.
The way to start a visit is a walk around the city’s small central district and discover some of Florianópolis’s charming buildings and squares. The Mercado Público (Public Market) sells a mishmash of local food, particularly seafood, clothes and souvenirs.
Take in the colonial-style building, the Metropolitan cathedral and the enormous Figueira tree in the city’s Praça XV de Novembro. The city has a vibrant atmosphere, and if you’re lucky you might see a group of locals practicing their ginga, esquiva and rasteira capoeira moves.
Although the city is known for having Brazil’s best quality of life, according to the UN’s HDI index, you won’t want to stay in the center for long: despite being considerably further south than Rio or São Paulo, the city is hot and humid, and soon a trip to the beach will be needed.
Thirty-five minutes by car or bus from the center, and you’ll reach the north of the island and the Praias do Norte (northern beaches), centered around Canasvieiras. Jurerê Beach is home to the island’s élite: affluent Paulistas and Cariocas who have bought their dream summer home here. Don’t be surprised when you see the Ferraris and Lamborghinis passing you by, and a hefty bill in the restaurants and bars.
Ingleses Beach – literally “Englishmen” – is more down-to-earth. The beaches are clean, if a little busy at weekend, but there’s space for everyone – and the beach has more “family feel.”
Try a banana boat ride, splash around in the inviting waters, or just grab a table, and enjoy some local food and drink, taking in some rays and the views of the surrounding hills and islands.
The Praias do Leste (eastern beaches) offer a mixture of calmer sands (such as Joaquina) to Praia Mole, which is where the surfers head to make the most of the ideal waves.
For those who want to get further off the beaten track, the island offers a number of trails, particularly in the south of the island. The one-hour trek to Praia Naufragados, on the southern tip of the island, will offer visitors a taste of the Mata Atlântica (Brazil’s east-coast tropical forest) ending up on a more secluded beach.
It’s a good place to spot much of the island’s flora and fauna, including the majestic swallow-tailed kites circling in the thermals.
Prices on the island for accommodation and eating out do vary enormously, so it is well worth doing your homework if you are on a budget. And staying in a hotel on the continent, in well-connected neighboring São José, might save you some expense.
Air travel to Florianópolis is provided by a number of airlines, landing at Hercílio Luz International Airport (FLN) on the island. Currently prices to fly from Rio round trip is listing at around R$900 (US$530) and for budget conscious travelers there are also long-distance buses from neighboring states, including São Paulo.