Despite covering only 164 square miles, Florianópolis and its forty-two beaches offers up so much of what each type of traveller loves about Brazil that the easy choice is deciding to visit this part of the country; the difficult one is deciding when it's time to leave.
Located in the south of the country - only ninety minutes’ flight from Rio - sunbathers, surfers and nature lovers can all find their perfect slice of soft sand and clear waters for a few days or a few weeks. Here's our guide to what you should know before you go.
#1 the city vs. the island
As everyone will tell you how amazing Florianópolis is, it may jar a little when you first arrive that you're actually in a big, bustling Brazilian city.
That's because the city of Florianópolis is actually formed partly on the mainland, and partly on the island of Santa Catarina just over the bridge. Unsurprisingly, it's the island where you'll be spending most of your time and we'd actually advise all travellers to skip spending anytime in the 'city' section, which really doesn't have anything of interest to visitors, and to head straight to the bus station to catch a ride to the island.
Note that from this point on, when we refer to Florianópolis - or 'Floripa' as the locals call it - we're actually speaking exclusively about the island section.
#2 travelling with public bus
Public buses are the most popular way to navigate the island and to discover its beaches.
Although it's relatively affordable (3.10R one-way) and has good coverage, unfortunately the system can be a little bewildering on your first few days. Transfers between the nine terminals (which are free) are common and, unless someone's advised you what to do beforehand, can lead to confusion. So our advice is to check with your hostel before your undertake any day-trips to make sure you have a rough idea of the route and required connections. The Lonely Planet also has this overview of some of the main bus routes to the beaches.
Long waiting times, heavy traffic and crowded carriages are not uncommon so if you are visiting for only a few days, car rental is an excellent way to cover a lot of the island quickly.
If you are travelling to Floripa by bus from elsewhere in Brazil, then use the following instructions to make your way to the most popular town on the centre of the island:
Walk outside the main bus terminal and turn right. Walking two minutes to the local bus terminal (TICEN). From Platform B, you need to take the 320 or 330 to Lagoa da Conceição. When getting on the bus, note that payment does not go to the driver, but to the cobrador sitting several seats behind on the left.
#3 pick a beach to suit your mood
What does a Brazilian beach mean for you? Is it all about catching the perfect wave, playing barefoot football with group of local kids and sipping coconut water in a secret piece of paradise? Or watching leather-skinned fisherman bringing in their daily catch in colourful wooden boats, sampling fresh seafood or açaí deserts and relaxing in tropical surroundings? Or is it really all about endless caipirinhas in the sunshine, watching beautiful people in skimpy swimwear and all-night dance parties?
Thankfully, Floripa can cater to all of those experiences and more - everyone can find their own perfect beach. For fun, sun and a young crowd, you should head straight to the stylish Praia Mole. Barra da Lagoa and family-friendly Joaquina are also popular options, although we definitely preferred Mole.
If you prefer a more secluded spot, then Santinho in the north and Matadeiro in the south are gorgeous and relatively undeveloped. They take a little more effort to get to, but you'll value being away from the crowds.
We didn't visit Jureré in the north of the island given its reputation for being the crowded playground of the rich and famous, as well as the place to go for Floripa's infamous all-night parties.
#4 decide your base
We spent three weeks in Floripa and divided our time between a few Airbnb's and two hostels. After that experience, we can recommend backpackers basing themselves in one part of the island for the majority of their stay and taking day-trips to other parts.
For backpackers, Lagoa da Conceição is a popular choice. Although it means that a bus is required to bring you to/from a beach, it is a central and well-connected town by the lake with a laid-back surf and beach vibe. It also has good facilities - supermarkets, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops - and is home to a number of hostels. If you decide to stay there, then definitely pay a visit to the hipster-friendly cafe Jack & Jacks (it's got a great work area and good wi-fi) and buy your fruit and veg very cheaply from the grocers opposite the pier.
If you prefer to be in a less busy town or walking distance to some excellent beaches, then Barra de Lagoa is a good alternative.
#5 adventure opportunities abound
Florianópolis is the surf capital of Brazil, so there is really no better place for you to learn how to ride a wave. Day rental is available at most beaches, or you can opt for some private lessons.
Beginners should consider lessons on the easy waves at Barra de Lagoa, whereas if you're already a hardcore surfer, then ask the locals for their recommendations - you'll have no trouble finding that perfect wave.
When not lazing by the beach, you can also try out stand up paddle boarding (SUP) or windsurfing by the banks of Lagoa da Conceiçã, sandboard down the dunes by Joaquinha (just turn up and pay for the board rental) or even paraglide from the cliffs overlooking Praia Mole!
#6 discover one of brazil's hidden gems
For some, Lagoinha do Leste is one of Brazil's most beautiful and unspoiled beaches but to reach it requires walking shoes rather than Havaianas.
A two-hour trek will bring you to warm lagoons and a perfect stretch of beach flanked by rugged rainforest - and if you leave early enough, you might just have it all to yourself. If you do visit, you simply can't miss taking the shot from the rock on the south side - it is guaranteed to make every friend at home jealous with rage! Check out this great video by Tourist 2 Townie to get your wanderlust juices flowing (from 3:42 onward he's on the trail) as well as get some of his views on the best beaches in town:
Here's an excellent guide on how to reach it on your own.
#7 colonial architecture and oysters
If you get a little bored of simply enjoying beaches straight off a postcard, sipping caipirinhas with the sand between your toes and considering the cultural importance of the thong-bikini, then a half-day trip to the fishing villages of Riberão da Ilha in the south or Santo Antonio de Lisboa in the north offers a nice change of pace and scenery.
Although the beach and water there aren't great, the villages have some excellent example of colourful Portuguese colonial architecture (very similar to Paraty) and you can lunch on oysters or the catch of the day by the beach.
#8 plan for high season
Although not that popular with Europeans and North Americans, Brazilians and Argentinians know all about Floripa as a summer holiday destination and so it does get very busy during the high season (January and February). If you're planning on visiting during those months, then booking accommodation ahead of time is highly advised. Prices will also rise in this period.
#9 the weather in florianopolis might not always be great
Up until this point, you may be cancelling all your other best-laid travel plans in Brazil and simply planning on spending all your time in Florianópolis. However, we have to unfortunately add a pretty big caveat.
In our three weeks in Florianópolis, in November and December, we actually only had a handful of days with sunshine. The rest were spent under dull grey clouds and rain - it was more Birmingham than Brazil to be honest. It's for this reason that we simply don't have as many photographs of all these places as we usually do for other articles - for us, the weather in florianopolis was so crap that it just wasn't worth taking our cameras.
We'll attribute this to our own misfortune and the fact that we were in the area whilst the whole of the Southern Cone of South America was suffering the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon. When the sun shone, we kept on our extending our stay as we thought that there was nowhere else we'd like to be, but then another cloud would arrive.
So, do make sure you check the weather forecasts - Brazil does get crap weather too!