Brazil the Easy Way: Kicking Back in Florianopolis
My first visit to Brazil was crazy-maybe exactly as it should be. It was over a decade ago at the very beginning of my travel writing life, and it marked my first time in South America. I only hit one city, but Little Miss Rio shelled out more than enough excitement for a few days, including some very long hours of reckless revelry with hot Cariocas, the nursemaiding of a very sick friend who was dumb enough to eat Copacabana street food, nearly getting murdered after another friend was drunk enough to say something confrontational to a macho local in Lapa, and a frenetic and sobering tour of a favela.
By the time I finally returned to Brazil some years later, I was a fair bit more worldly, but still absolutely blown away by the intensity and massiveness that is Sao Paulo. It's Rio's sensuality put to an urban beat and exponentially expanded, with enough culture and sights-and yes, an enormous gay party scene-to pack several trips with nonstop action.
So for my third Brazilian visit, I was ready for something far more tranquil. Pretty fittingly, I found it Brazil's third most popular destination for gay travelers: Florianopolis, the capital of the southeastern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
Floripa (as everyone knows it in Brazil) is not only where upscale Brazilians go when they want a nice holiday, it's also one of the fastest-rising destinations in the country for international travelers. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler readers just pegged Florianopolis as the friendliest city on earth.
33 Miles of Summertime Sizzle
That’s right, number one in the world. And while not a gay resort per se, Floripa is also exceedingly gay-friendly, even boasting a sizable community of gay Brazilians and expats. You may not - okay, you will not - find the same sort of 24-hour gay party action for which Sao Paulo and Rio are so known, but in summertime (our winter), it sizzles.
Since it’s not nearly as famous with non-Brazilians as the big two, the first thing many people wonder is: Where the hell is Florianopolis? A 33-mile long island just off of the bottom portion of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, it’s about 300 air miles (or 430 road miles) south of Sao Paulo.
Rio is about 465 miles away by air (or 700 by road) to Floripa’s northeast, while Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina are only a little farther than that to the south. With all of these major cities within such easy reach, the region’s urban jetsetters make up a big percentage of Floripa’s regular visitors.
The options for home-basing yourself during your Floripa visit are plentiful and diverse, covering a huge range of interests, price points, and even geography. A great affordable luxury choice is the amenity-packed IL Campanario Villaggio Resort, located along Floripa’s northwest coast at the heart of the upscale and especially Argentine-popular Jurerê International Beach.
Midway down the island’s eastern side (and just eight miles south of its main gay beach, Praie Mole) is the even more affordable gay-owned Pousada Natur Campeche, with themed rooms inspired by the world travels of the friendly proprietors.
For a real splurge, the spectacular Ponta dos Ganchos is a Relais & Châteaux property that’s actually located back on the mainland coast, 30 miles north of the city center. The only problem with this self-contained paradise is that you’ll never want to leave.
Floripa by Day and Night
No matter where you stay, you’ll want to explore Florianopolis’s beauty at length. To do this, you could rent a car (stressful and not so cheap) or hire taxis (even more expensive and not always logistically practical). A far better option is to have a local tour company arrange day tours for you, and Brazil Ecojourneys are just the folks to do it.
Run by delightful Floripa lesbian couple Marta Dalla Chiesa and Lesley Cushing (the latter a British expat), Brazil Ecojourneys offers a broad lineup of tours- gay and lesbian specific as well as eco, culture, beach and adventure packages - and can easily create custom itineraries just for you (which can also include a car rental for part of your stay).
Some not-to-miss sights around the island include downtown’s public market and historic center, with its pretty 18th century cathedral and Palácio Cruz e Sousa (home to the Santa Catarina History Museum). The sleepier colonial towns of Ribeirão da Ilha to the south and the tiny Santo Antônio de Lisboa to the north are also must-do’s, with enough timeless beauty and low-speed charms to help anyone unwind.
Of course beaches are also a major focal point on Floripa, and with 42 in all, there’s a little something for everyone. The gays congregate at Praia Mole (near Lagoa da Conceição), where the beach’s left side near Bar do Deca is sometimes referred to as the gayest stretch of sand south of Ipanema.
For nudists, just two miles to the north is Praia da Galheta, where a fair amount of gay cruising also happens in the bushes behind the dunes. Two miles south of Praia Mole is Praia da Joaquina, where the famous and fantastic dunes are used for more public sports like sand boarding.
Floripa’s nightlife has a few centers: The main year-round gay clubs (Mix Café and Concorde Club) are downtown, but during the high summer season, Praia Mole heats up, too. The aforementioned Bar do Deca is a major gay draw, and at New Year’s and during Carnival in February, Sao Paulo megaclub The Week puts on special events nearby at Lagoa.
Pride and Solitude
Pride (here called Diversidade Floripa) happens in early September - this year’s eighth annual parade drew an estimated 120,000 people (fairly astonishing given that only 420,000 people live on the whole island).
If foregoing nightlife and forging into true seclusion is more your speed, Ilha de Papagaio is ready to oblige. Located just south of Florianopolis off the coast of Pinheira cove, Ilha de Papagaio (Parrot Island) offers up 21 gloriously private bungalows, all with ocean views.
Hikers will love that the trails venture into preserved Atlantic rainforest, and from July to November there’s even excellent whale watching from the lagoon. There’s also ample opportunity for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing, or simply unwinding with a massage at the spa.
The hemispheric seasonal role reversal means that spring is just around the corner in Brazil, so now is the perfect time to start planning your summer visit to Florianopolis during the North American winter.
Floripa is connected to both Sao Paulo and Rio by several daily flights on TAM Airlines, which also flies to New York, Miami and Orlando and is a Star Alliance partner with United, making getting to Floripa from the U.S. a breeze (well, as breezy as 13 hours in each direction can be).
For more info about travel to Florianopolis, visit their Convention and Visitors Bureau website.