Ilha de Santa Catarina is definitely on my top ten lists of places I’m happy I discovered.
Mind you, Brazilians, Argentinians and Uruguayans found it long before me—it’s not like I’m planting the French or the Canadian flag. No land claim, I’m promise I’m not going to force locals to eat baguette and start a hockey team. I just want to enjoy the beach, like everyone else.
I love this place because it has everything we’re looking for when we travel. It’s a big island—54 km north-south, 18 km east-west—with a city—Florianópolis, the state capital that encompasses the island and part of the mainland. You have the choice between 60 beaches, big or small, some of them in remote locations so they are clean and empty. Yet, Ilha de Santa Catarina isn’t one of these islands you need a private jet or a yacht to get to, it’s connected to the mainland by two bridges.
Tropical paradise with all the conveniences of a big city and without the usual island price tag.
This message was not sponsored by the state of Santa Catarina (but hey, I can write more taglines if you provide room and board for a while!)
Okay, not everything is perfect.
First, you need a car to get to the best beaches. The first time we were here, we relied on public transport and we spent half of the day waiting for a bus or in the bus. Now, we rent a car—it’s worth it but expect frustrating traffic jams. One-lane roads, plus inexperienced and possibly drunk tourists behind the wheel of a rental plus the local driving style plus military police and tons of bikes riding between cars equal many accidents. Or just a regular bumper-to-bumper hour, you’ll never know.
Second, there are few good-value hotels in Florianópolis. We stayed in four or five different places over the years and none of them was particularly enjoyable—small, old, and in one case, no water (!). There’s one hotel we love, but it’s getting more and more expensive.
Third, food options are limited. Small businesses close around 7 p.m. in Centro and they barely open on weekends (Saturday morning only). By the time you come back from the beach, especially if you’ve been stuck in a traffic jam (see first point), your best option is the Beiramar Shopping Mall and its overpriced food court or one of the supermarkets (closing at 10 p.m.). Most tourists seem to survive on tele entrega (delivery). The several 24/7 gas stations come in handy, each one of them has a decent selection of hot food, baked goods and fresh bread.
Now just pick a beach and enjoy.
We started with Praia do Campeche.