With 42 options to choose from, Florianópolis, Brazil is a beach mecca so beautiful that locals call it the Magic Island. Most of the city is a 33 mile long island called Santa Catarina, with just a tiny portion of the city spreading to mainland Brazil.
The only dense parts of the “city” are the small sections on either sides of the bridge connecting the mainland to the island. There are other neighborhoods scattered around the island, mostly around the lakes and the northern part of the island.
Florianópolis is south of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and north of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is where I live ~8 months of the year.
My boyfriend Withers and I took a trip up to Florianópolis last month–what those in the know call Floripa–for an escape from big city life and somewhat of a respite from Buenos Aires winter temperatures. I say somewhat because Floripa is pretty far south in Brazil, so the area experiences a (mild) winter.
But Floripa is much more than just beaches. The hilly geography provides hikes with gorgeous vistas (on trails that are surprisingly well maintained), as well as hang gliding, paragliding, and mountain biking. You can go sand boarding on the dunes. The still waters of the various lakes are perfect for stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and rowing. The sport d’jour, however, and most prominent influence on the culture in Floripa is definitely surfing. I’m not one to jump in the ocean when a wetsuit is necessary (air temperatures were between 55 and 70 F, and water temp around 69 F), so I stuck to walks and hikes to enjoy the outdoors this time. For sunbathing and swimming sans-wetsuit weather, visit sometime between November and March. I included some pictures below from a previous trip to Floripa I took in January of 2013 so you can get a sense of the summer vibe.
While Floripa is a major tourist destination in warmer months, it’s got a steady year-round population as well with history and culture. It certainly doesn’t turn into a shell of a town in the off-season.
I’ve visited Floripa three times since moving to South America. The first time (in high season) I stayed in The View Hostel, which was economical and recommendable as it was walking distance of Mole beacg. The second and third time I stayed in Airbnb’s in the off season:
- Casa do Lagarto for $48 a night total, including fees.
- The Atelier for $104 a night per person, including fees (although now that same Airbnb is pricing for about $50 a night…. $104/night was from a few years ago, and the Brazilian economy has changed drastically since then.)
I’ve never stayed in an Airbnb in Floripa in the high season, but it looks like prices increase by 50 to 100%. Both Airbnb’s were in the Lagao da Conceição area, just past the central area of shops and restaurants. I like this area as it is centrally located on the island–equidistant between north and south–and has plenty of good restaurants and food markets near.
I highly recommend renting a car at the airport. Car rentals are super cheap and the island is quite large, with beaches and things to do spread all over, so it’s worth it. Keep in mind it was the off season, but it was $10 a day for us to rent a four door sedan with air conditioning. I’ve rented cars during the high season of Brazil and it’s been just $15/day.
Uber also works around Floripa.
Beaches and Hikes
Here are a few of my favorites as well hikes, many of which lead to a beach or connect two beaches.
Mole is known for surfing, but its intermediate level waves are suitable for swimming. Framed on either side by Atlantic forest covered hills, the beach is easily accessible from the road and a popular option due to its central location not far from Lagoa Conceição.
Galheta, a nudist beach, is only accessible by foot through via a path from Mole. The walk takes about 15 minutes and is not strenuous. Galheta is a nice option for those who want a quieter beach, but you won’t find amenities offered.
Barra da Lagoa / Mocambique
Barra da Lagoa is a good option for beginner surfers. It’s a long beach that stretches for miles, and the further away from the Barra da Lagao neighborhood you get the quieter it gets. I’m not sure at what point it turns into Mocambique beach, but at some point it does.
Trilha Boa Vista
There is a trail that starts at Barra da Lagoa and ends at Galheta with beautiful views of Barra da Lagoa, Mocambique, Lagao Conceição, Galheta, Mole, and the surrounding hills. Time walking is about 2.5 hours one way.
Cross the bridge on this map, and at the starred locations you’ll see a sign pointing in the direction of where Boa Vista trail starts. The trail is labeled on Google Maps as Trilha Boa Vista.
All of the trails I hiked in Floripa were well marked. There was never a question over a turn to take. You do need to be surefooted for all of the trails, however, as there are lots of rocks and exposed roots.
The trail starts with an ascent to this viewpoint, where you can see all of Barra da Lagao and Mocambique, as well as the Lagoa in the background.
You walk the ridge along the hill for a while until you reach Pedra Boa Vista, Good View Rock…
….and then descend down to Galheta.
If you want to continue you can take the short trail for another 15ish minutes to Mole, just walk to the opposite end of Galheta that you arrived on and you’ll see the trailhead.
Armação/Matadeiro/Lagoinha do Leste
While these are three separate beaches, I’m grouping them together because it’s common to visit all three on the same day. Armação is my favorite neighborhood in Floripa, I’ve just never opted to stay there due to its location at the southern end of the island (traffic exiting the south of the island can get super backed up). The colonial architecture is cute and the beach and port hugging its coast are charming.
You can take a boat from Armação if you want to visit Ilha Campeche, a smaller island off of Santa Catarina that is supposed to have fantastic beaches. I never ended up going but if I return in warmer temps I will.
From Armação you cross the bridge on the map below (starred)…
…and walk just a few minutes on a short, clear trail to get to Mataderio, an even prettier beach that’s quieter and more secluded.
Walk to the end of Matadeiro and you’ll find the trailhead for the longest and most stunning of all of Floripa’s hikes: the trail to Lagoinha do Leste.
The hike to Lagoinha do Leste takes about 2.5 hours. It starts with an ascent and takes you along the side of a hill, in and out of tree cover until you reach the overlook of Lagoinha do Leste.
Then you descend to the beach.
It’s a physically demanding hike, but you don’t need to be an Olympian to do it. Wear shoes with good grip (i.e. not flip-flops).
You can either take a boat from the shore to Pântano do Sul, the beach on the opposite side from Matadeiro/Armação, or you can continue to hike another 1.5 hours from a trail at the opposite end on which you arrived hiking in from Matadeiro, that will dump you close to Pântano do Sul beach.
Pântano do Sul
Pantano do Sul is a port beach, full of life and with good people watching.
Check out Bar do Arante if you head to this beach, more for the atmosphere than the food. It’s right on the beach and is a nice place to congratulate yourself on the completion of the Matadeiro > Lagoinha do Leste > Pântano do Sul hike with a cold beer.
While not a beach, Lago Conceição still draws lots of sport activity. The Avenida das Rendeiras strip facing the lake is home to many restaurants and bars parked right along the bank of the lake that make a lovely place for a sunset cocktail (or a run if you’d rather).
The photos below are views from the bank along the lake.
Joaquina is large and popular with all the amenities you might want/need for a day at the beach. This is where the more advanced surfers head.
You can surf the sand at Joaquina as well. Behind the beach are tall and rolling sand dunes that with far reaching views for those willing to trudge through the sand.
Other Popular Beaches
- Praia Brava
- Praia dos Ingleses
- Ponta das Canas
Bistro Santa Marta, which serves a kind of French fusion cuisine, is pricey but worth if it you’re into gourmet food. The tiny pink house is cozy and romantic. We didn’t end up eating there this last trip, but on a past visit I remember thinking that it was one of the best meals I’d had in South America.
This place blew us away. Very fresh and high quality fish, creative rolls, friendly and helpful service, and the prices were unbeatable. Order the “rodizio” which is all you can eat (from a limited menu) for $30 per person, not including any beverages. I’ve never been so full an happy from suhi, a meal you typically order less of because of the price tag.
High quality Italian with friendly and helpful staff.
Not amazing, but pretty solid pizzas with lots of creative topping options. We ate here twice and both times there was live jazz music which was lovely.
Local Delicacies in Winter
In case you end up traveling to Floripa in the off-season, you should these local delicacies that are prevelant in winter:
- Tainha (similar to mullet). While not having a great reputation as a fish in the US, the tainha we ate (which was for sale everywhere, fresh caught the day of, as it was the season for it) was delicious. I’m not sure it’s the exact species as the mullet in the US, but I think it’s similar.
- Pinhao (massive pine nuts). This one’s a little controversial as the tree these seeds come from has become endangered in Brazil thanks to deforestation ranching and logging. But as this Vice article says, “eating the seeds during the legal winter season can actually help save the forest. It may sound inverted, but by eating the seeds, you are actually supporting the survival of the remaining trees by incentivizing people to keep them standing (since it takes 14 years for the tree to give seeds), rather than cutting them down for wood.”
- Ostras (oysters). Floripa is Brazil’s largest producer of oysters. Most are harvested from the southwest side of the island, which not by coincidence, is where a lot of the best seafood restaurants are supposed to be.
How to Get There
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are the biggest airports near Florianópolis. Try one of these sweet spot awards to get there from the United States:
- with 20,000 Etihad miles on American Airlines flights from March 1 – May 31 or August 16 – November 30
- with 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles roundtrip on Delta flights
- in Business Class with 35,000 Asiana miles on United flights
- in Business Class with 50,000 Etihad miles on American Airlines flights
- in Business Class with 50,000 Singapore miles on United flights
If you wanted to spend time in Rio or São Paulo, you could take advantage of Etihad’s super cheap award prices to fly Brazilian airline GOL. It costs 3k Etihad miles one way between either and Floripa. Etihad is a transfer partner of Membership Rewards, ThankYou Points and SPG points.
Further Info on Brazil
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you already know my passion for Brazil. Here’s a collection of trip reports to various places I’ve visited, as well as one by Scott.
I’ve also spent time in Rio de Janeiro, Chapada Diamantina, Morro de São Paulo, and Boipeba if you have any questions about those destinations. Americans need a visa to travel in Brazil, but it’s easier now than ever as you can process it online.
I think Florianópolis is a top pick of a Brazilian destination, as it checks so many boxes.
A) Full of long and wide beaches of all kinds, type you might enjoy… party beach, LGBT beach, nude beach, quiet nature-y beaches accessible only by foot, family beaches, surf beaches, you name it.
B) All kinds of outdoor sports to take advantage of, including but not limited to surfing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, stand-up paddle, rowing, hang gliding, paragliding,
C) Varied geography–beaches, lakes, rivers, hills–that provide a feast for the eyes.
D) Solid infrastructure so it’s easy to get to (there’s a major airport right on the island of Santa Catarina) and around
E) Enough development that the internet works, digital nomads don’t have to depend on satellite internet! Yet still feels paradisical and remote.
F) Nightlife, especially in the summer
G) Solid food scene/culture
I could go on… but I think you get the point. There are so many more great hikes and beaches and things to eat and see and do, but I don’t think I could hold your interest any longer. Feel free to ask specific questions in the comments if you’re planning a trip to Floripa!