I’m not going to lie; I had zero expectations before I went to Brazil.
I had only been to Medellin, Colombia in South America for a few days, so I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, I received a fellowship to learn Portuguese for seven weeks on the island of Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil, and I wasn’t going to turn it down.
The stress of grad school was wearing on me, and I figured I would spend a few weeks bumbling through a language I had no background in with a bunch of undergrads hell bent on partying (and annoying cantankerous old me) every night. I was resigned to my fate.
However, my expectations could not have been more wrong; Florianopolis Island was one of the most magical places I have ever traveled too, and I ended up having one of the most memorable summers of my life.
Listen: I know when you think of Brazil you probably think of Rio de Janeiro and its parties, beaches, and gorgeous people. Instead, you need to visit Florianopolis Island.
This island really has it all… over 40 beaches, mountains to climb, lakes perfect for water sports, hiking trails with gorgeous views, spectacular sand dunes, a wild night life and some of the most chill folks you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Bonus: it’s the safest capital of any state in Brazil!
Where to Stay When You Visit Florianopolis Island
I lived in Santa Catarina’s most beautiful region (maybe I’m biased…) near Joaquina Beach.
Over my seven weeks here, I was able to see much of Florianopolis Island, so I have a lot to recommend. Though of course I would encourage you to stay as long as possible, if you have just a week you can still get in much of the flavor of Floripa (are you confused about names yet? Though the island itself is called Santa Catarina, the city and the region are called Florianopolis, or Floripa if you want to be cute).
The best place to stay when you visit Florianopolis Island is near the lakes/lagoon in the middle of the island. The neighborhoods near Lagoa da Conceição are where all the hippies, hipsters, and otherwise strange and fun folk live and hang out. Here you also have easy access to what I’d argue are the best beaches on the island: Joaquina and Praia Mole.
What to Do When You Visit Florianopolis Island
Near Joaquina beach, you can hike on the peaceful sand dunes that roll into a bird-filled scrub land good for long walks (keep your eyes peeled for the enigmatic burrowing owls). One of my absolute favorite things to do on Florianopolis Island was sitting on the dunes at night during a new moon where the stargazing was positively breath taking.
Outside of downtown, other must sees during a visit to Florianopolis Island include hiking around the lake and to the waterfall at Lagoa do Peri Park, getting dinner in the quaint village of Santo Antonio de Lisboa, catching a rowdy Avaí FC football match, and tackling the arduous but oh-so-worth-it Lagoinha do Leste trail for the secluded beach that is only accessible by foot or boat.
What to Eat & Drink When You Visit Florianopolis Island
My friends and I really enjoyed hanging out at Books and Beers (a place for good craft brew), The Black Swan (an ex-pat haven) and of course the infamous ice cream buffet at Buffet Sorvete Doce Pecado.
I also recommend a visit to the downtown “Centro” area on Florianopolis Island, which is a fun place to shop, eat, or watch the sunset. My classes were here so I was able to scope out all the best places for lunch (Calzone Mania), coffee (Ponto do Pao and The Baker Seville), and my absolute favorite treat, acai bowls from Amazon Acai.
Obviously, when in Brazil the drink of choice is the refreshing and terrifically potent caipirinha made with sugar cane rum (Cachaça), lime, and a terrifying amount of sugar. The best place to get one on the island? Colher de Pau in the Public Market makes them strong.
Essentially, my seven weeks on Florianopolis Island went by way too fast. I made friends (yes, even with those undergrads), learned a surprising amount of Portuguese (Eu sou o mais legal!), pet a dangerous amount of street dogs, and fell in love with Brazil.
Next time I return, I’ll have the high expectations that Florianopolis Island, and everything it has to offer, deserves.
PS Looking for more islands in South America? Read the complete San Andres Island Guide to learn more about the Colombia’s Caribbean paradise, or dive into our Colombia and Peru guides for hiking tips, restaurant recommendations, budget estimates, and more!