photo of Santa Catarina

Garopaba Beach in Santa Catarina, Brazil. (Brazil Ministry of Tourism)

What to do in Santa Catarina

Santa Catarina is one of the states of Brazil, located in the south on the Atlantic Ocean. The capital and main tourist center of the state is Florianópolis, a city that straddles both the mainland and Santa Catarina Island, or Ilha de Santa Catarina, just off the coast in the center of the state. Brazilians have affectionately nicknamed the city Floripa. Tiny by Brazilian standards, the city only has 400,000 year-round residents. With its Hawaii-like feel, it is consistently rated the city with the highest quality of life in the country. The area has recently come to the attention of the international jet set—and Argentines, other South Americans, and now Americans and Canadians are beginning to vacation here in large numbers. Many who visit decide to stay.

Florianópolis is Santa Catarina's main tourist hotel and entertainment area, and the island itself has more than 42 beaches. Almost every beach activity imaginable, and then some, is available here. From surfing in Praia Mole to whale watching in the southern part of the island during the winter months, there is something for everyone. At night, Jurerê Internacional Beach becomes an entertainment and party hub, with glamorous Brazilians like supermodel Gisele Bündchen known to show up and join the fun.

The southern half of the island is the least developed and is home to small Portuguese fishing villages like Ribeirão and Lagoa da Conceição, settled by colonists from the Azores. More than 45 percent of the island is covered by Atlantic rainforest and is protected from development. Naufragados Beach in particular has beautiful forested hiking areas overlooking the water. Many areas of the island are best accessed by boat. Water taxi systems shuttle people around to various beaches. One particularly charming fishing village to visit by taxi boat is Costa da Lagoa, famous for its tiny harbor lined with fresh seafood restaurants.

As a whole, Santa Catarina and Florianópolis can be visited year-round, as there is always pleasant weather. The high season is during South American summer, December to February. There are no direct flights from North America to the region, but most visitors make connections through Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

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