“A little piece of land lost in the sea. This piece of land holds an unseen beauty …” that is how the song starts that sings of the Island of Santa Catarina, also now known as Florianópolis or by the nickname Floripa, the “Magic Island”. This song has become the anthem for the island. There is a reason for that. Quite simply the island is beautiful.
Image by Andreia Reis on flickr
Getting your bearings
The state of Santa Catarina is situated in the sub-tropical south of Brazil and is made up of several small islands, with the state capital Florianópolis on the main one (IIha de Santa Catarina), and a part of the Brazilian mainland. Floripa is filled with many attractive cultural, entertainment and architecture attractions. There are just so many wonderful photos to be taken. Oh and the beaches are incredible.
Image by Rodrigo Soldon on flickr
Although the first European settlers to Floripa came from Spain in the mid-16th century, it was the Portuguese that became the predominate influence from the early 17th century onwards. These Portuguese traits are very evident in the local cuisine, historic architecture and, even more so, the Portuguese accent of its “manezinhos” (the way natives, particularly the ones from fishing communities, are kindly known nowadays).
“It is fair to say that Floripa, and the wider state of Santa Catarina, is a real historic melting pot.”
It is fair to say that Floripa, and the wider state of Santa Catarina, is a real historic melting pot. The first Greek migrants to Brazil settled here 200 years ago. German, Italian, Polish, Ukranian and Austrian immigrant settlements are evident across the state, reflecting the various waves of settlement from Europe.
Some say “it’s the Brazil that works” … but I love the beaches
In the 1970s Floripa was just like a small village in so many ways. However, during the 1980s the city – or should I say the beaches – became increasingly popular for both Brazilians, then Argentineans, Uruguayans, and Chileans, and then more recently Americans and Europeans. Those who visited once would come again, and after their third consecutive holidays on the “Magic Island” some actually relocated for good.
Today the Island explodes with over a million tourists during summer season.
“Come and stay for six weeks and you can visit a different beach every single day.”
As a Manezinho myself there is a lot I love about Floripa. Although you could argue it was far more appealing 30 years ago when there was more nature and less concrete, there are still 42 stunning beaches that cater for every kind of water sport, vibe and views. Some beaches remind me of Miami or Punta del Este whilst others move at a very slow pace. There are several beaches with calm water to take the kids, there are a few nearly deserted within protected areas, and in fact there is even one dedicated to nudism!
Come and stay for six weeks and you can visit a different beach every single day. Of course, being a botanist, my favourites are the ones less spoiled. Some beaches can be accessed only by boat like Naufragados or by a trek across a hill through a fishing community like Lagoinha do Leste. It is magic!
Lagoinha de Leste by TheTurducken on flickr
Fishermen by atramos on flickr
We have two lakes; a large lagoon that dominates the centre of the island, which is connected to the sea so it is actually salt water; and a second, that consists of pure fresh water. You can explore the place, watch the wild life and visit the waterfalls, of which there are several across the island.
But its just not all sun and water that you’ll find …
What else can you explore?
Ah, well, I must tell you that we have several historical churches, not as old as the ones you can find in Europe, but nevertheless religious tradition thrives here and if you visit the city during Easter, June or during one of the other festivals you will be impressed.
Fortoleza by Andrea Farias Farias on flickr
We also have several forts from colonial times, some very well preserved and restored. Forte São José da Ponta Grossa is on the main island and is easily accessed from a beach of calm water. Perfect! Most of the others like Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, Anhatomirim and Fortaleza da Barra are on small islands surrounding the main island and you can visit them as well by boat or yacht! Even more perfect.
“This bridge is another magical site, particularly when illuminated during Christmas, and when watching the fireworks flying from it on New Year’s Eve.”
The fortress Santana is in the city centre right under the Hercilio Luz Bridge, the island landmark (no, not the fort, the bridge!). It is the oldest iron bridge standing in Brazil. This bridge is another magical site, particularly when illuminated during Christmas, and when watching the fireworks flying from it on New Year’s Eve. It is a dream…
Hercílio Luz Bridge by Daniel Volpato on flickr
What else? You can visit the small islands nearby as well. One of them, Arvoredo, found off the north coast, is preserved as an area of oceanographic and biological interest, which you can visit and dive with guides. Another, Campeche, this is situated towards the south, has inscriptions in the rocks overlooking the sea that were made by ancient communities from pre-Columbian times. Or you can take the water taxi visiting all the small villages along the shore of the large lagoon that are not accessible by car, and stop for lunch at one of the excellent restaurants there.
Beach bar by Tiago Vidal Dutra on flickr
Now, be aware that Floripa began as an historical settlement and has grown and developed based on its political importance and its natural beauty.
People visit Floripa to enjoy the beach; if it rains the traffic jams will drive you mad with everyone flying from the beach to one of the three shopping centres found in the city. There are also two small museums in the city centre, but if you are in the city my suggestion is to visit the Cathedral. It is small since it was built originally for a small town. However, please be aware that Brazilians are strongly religious and some (according to their age) can get upset with anything that they will take as disrespectful (no visits during Mass, for example). But being there you will find the sculpture of Our Lady of Desterro, and with luck hear the story about it.
Downtown by atramos on flickr
Another place I love to visit is the public market, still selling the day’s catch of fresh fish but these days also full of small bars serving local seafood and coastal specialities, with beer and certainly caipirinha. Hmmmmmmm “delicia”.
Image by Tiago Vidal Dutra on flickr
If you have come as far as here and are not tired there are places you can go and activities you can do for the more adventurous. For surfing go to Joaquina or Praia Mole, you won’t be disappointed. The views, the food, the atmosphere; even Hawaiians love it. If diving is what you like, head to my home town of Canasvieiras and get the boat to Arvoredo. Perhaps you want a less risky sport? Well you can find windsurfing on Lake Conceição, where other radical sports can also be seen and enjoyed in different areas of the lake. The lake is quite big enough, believe me.
If you are going out with your kids then Ponta das Canas, Santo Antonio de Lisboa, Sambaqui and Daniela beaches (this latter one is where a fort is found) all offer a good day out without the stress of big waves.
My favourite beaches are Santinho and Campeche for the views; both have rough waves. My favourite walks are to Naufragados beach and Lagoinha do Leste, both in the south of the island. Where do I like to eat? Lagoa Azul restaurant in Canto da Lagoa, accessed either by boat or by walking, and the famous Arantes restaurant in Pantano do Sul beach. Both are run by local families of fishermen. From Arantes it is possible to walk to Solidão, one of the deserted unspoiled beaches, and with luck watch whales in the wintertime. However, after lunch at Arantes you may feel you are no longer up to it!