If you aren’t Brazilian, chances are, you’ve most likely never heard of Santa Catarina Island. Most people know of this place as Florianópolis or “Floripa”, which is the state capital, and major city on the island. In the past few years, Santa Catarina has gotten world recognition from several popular travel websites (New York Times, TravelMag, Travel Pulse) which has recently placed this dream destination on the map. Similar to many other popular vacation spots around the world, there are still areas that are far less traveled. Here, we will share our journey and highlight the places that are off-the-beaten-path.
FIND THE BEST PLACE TO STAY
With over 40 beaches around the island, this destination is for literally everyone. You’ll find areas with city life, luxury restaurants, expensive hotels, million dollar mansions, backpacker hostels, conscious cafes, world-renowned surf breaks, and quant fishing villages. If you’re someone who enjoys renting a vacation home, cooking your own meals, relaxing on pristine, un-crowded beaches, and experiencing life among the locals, then this article is for you.
We spent nearly two weeks on the island and stayed on the eastern and southern regions. After taking our longest bus ride in 9 months of traveling (26 hours!), we finally arrived in the small town of Rio Tavares, beside Lagoa Pequena. We hadn't read a single blog or website article recommending this area, which is most likely why we chose to stay here. Often times, we love chasing the unknown, and this time it turned out better than we could have possibility imagined.
CAMPECHE BEACH + BEYOND
Moments after checking into our Airbnb, we walked three minutes along the dirt road to a lush, forest path towards the beach. This beautiful tunnel of green led us to a stunning sand dunes beaming beside the crashing blue ocean. Campeche Beach is an extensive five mile golden sand beach. The exact area that we had chosen to stay was nearly vacant, with only a few locals sprinkled throughout the strip of beach. Instantly, we knew that we had chosen our perfect haven.
Because this region isn’t known as a tourist hot spot, we found ourselves sitting among local families enjoying their weekend, kids running to hit the waves after school, and solo musicians strumming their guitars singing to the ocean.
After a few days of total relaxation, Corinne and I decided to spend the day walking the expansive beach up north to a popular tourist spot known as Joaquina Beach. This area is known for its massive white sand dunes with shacks that have rental equipment available for sand boarding. Also, it's a major surf destination on the island. We sipped on famous Brazilian Caipirinhas under an umbrella and watched the hundreds of people splashing in the protected lagoon beside us. After a few hours surrounded by the crowds, we decided to head back to our quiet strip of paradise.
Our days pretty much blended together enjoying the relaxing beach nearby, walking through the welcoming neighborhood, cooking delicious meals, dancing in the kitchen, reading books, writing blogs, and soaking up the island vibes.
FIND YOURSELF A JUNGLE RETREAT
Little did we know, Florianópolis is known as one of the biggest party destinations in all of Brazil. Coincidentally, we were here during Carnival, which is one of the biggest parties on the planet. Corinne and I both had our share of craziness in our early twenties, so we decided to book an Airbnb accommodation in a small fishing village called Armacao. Here, we discovered one of our most unique accommodations of the trip.
Nestled up the mountain at the end of an incredibly steep road, we finally reached our tree house accommodation. The home owner, Camila, spent two years camping on her property and built her entire house! It was an elegant, but rustic two story wooden home among the treetops. My favorite part of the house was the large balcony where we would read in hammocks, sip coffee in the early morning, and watch families of monkeys flying from tree to tree.
EXPERIENCE CARNAVAL WITH THE LOCALS
Our first night staying in the house was the start of Carnival, so we decided to walk down to the town square and experience the festivities. This was probably the most chill Carnival that we could have possibly chosen, but we loved it! There were performers parading around the streets playing Brazilian instruments, families were frolicking and dancing around us, and we were most likely the only foreigners in sight. There was a stage setup that played live music and everyone was beaming around us with tons of energy. Most Brazilians count down each day for months until they finally can celebrate Carnival!
GO HIKING TO AN ISOLATED BEACH
The following day, we woke up early and started our hike to one of the most beautiful gems on the island. There are two ways to reach Lagoinha Leste Beach, which is a secluded bay only accessible by hiking or taking a boat. We started the two-hour hike from Matadeiro Beach and followed the path along the coastline wrapping around the peninsula. This hike isn’t easy. There are numerous areas where the trail is uneven, and the rain water has completely eroded the soil.
We took it slow, taking lots of photos and capturing the pristine coastline. After about an hour and a half of hiking, we reached an incredible lookout point of the bay and large golden beach in the distance. We stopped here to eat our packed lunches and relax under the warm sun above us. Mostly likely, I had to bribe Corinne with some chocolate to jump on the cliff with me for a final shot!
The trail continued along the coastline and ended at the northern tip of the beach. We passed by so many beautiful flowers blanketing the path. I’m such a slower hiker these days because I’m constantly capturing unique moments of our adventures. Often, I let Corinne continue hiking while I’m stuck in the moment trying to take a photo of flowers, plants, wildlife, or flowing water. I’ve gotten pretty good at sprinting up trails to catch up!
Sadly, after an incredible two-hour hike, we arrived at the beach and within minutes, it started sprinkling. We immediately ran to the little acai bamboo hut on the beach to cover ourselves. For the next hour or so, it was on and off raining, so we decided to head back to town. We took the other trail starting from the southern end of the beach, which took us straight up the mountain and down into town. This trail was only half the time as the coastal route, but was a lot steeper and muddier.
ISLAND LIFE IS JUST THE BEST
We couldn’t have imagined a more perfect place to reconnect with nature and take in the surrounding beauty. City life in Uruguay was a nice change after Patagonia, but experiencing the slow paced island life again is where Corinne and I feel the most balanced. We highly recommend exploring Santa Catarina Island while visiting the southern region of Brazil!