Brazil’s obvious tourist destinations are Rio de Janeiro’s urban beaches, the untamed Amazon and the cultural capital of São Paulo. But how can you overlook an island city with 42 distinct beaches — a place that feels like multiple sandy destinations all found along 90 kilometres of coastline?
This place earned the nickname “Magic Island” for a reason.
“Spectacular natural beauty” is one of the reasons Canadian multimedia artist, Scott MacLeay and his wife have called Florianópolis — Floripa for short — home since 2010.
From calm coastal beaches to windswept surfer havens, timeless fishing villages to isolated rainforest shores, variety is the spice of island life. MacLeay, a Thunder Bay native, says the village of Santo Antonio De Lisboa feels like Portugal, Joaquina beach feels like California with its surfers, and Jurere beach feels like Florida.
Floripa is also known for the beauty — and hospitality — of its people. More than 46,000 readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted it as the friendliest city in the world.
Few years ago, the New York Times named it the party destination of the year. “It’s a mixture of St.-Tropez and Ibiza but without the attitude and without the prices,” Jeffrey Jah, a former model and businessman told the Times. Newsweek named it one of the “Ten Most Dynamic Cities,” noting its position on the list for the major transformation it underwent from the 70s onward:
MacLeay had an inside scoop on the city’s wonders, thanks to his Brazilian wife, Eliana. When the couple wanted a change of pace from Paris, they came here.
Eliana is now a cultural event producer and artist’s representative in the city, while MacLeay’s art is flourishing. His exhibits have become a local fixture, but he is equally known for mentoring and curating the work of young Florianópolis artists like Marco Giacomelli and Ana Carolina Von Hertwig.
“People move here for quality of life,” MacLeay says. “It’s Brazil’s Vancouver — it’s a lifestyle city.”
Because the island is decentralized, the population of just over 400,000 can often feel even smaller.
MacLeay lives on the north coast of the island in the middle of some of its calmest family beaches: Jurêre, Canajure and Canasvieiras.
Floripa’s winds ensure the island is always moving, from the sky and sea to its vibrant vegetation. An artist — or tourist — just needs to stand still and take it in.
The island also encourages movement. It’s a haven for sports and leisure, from hang-gliding, paragliding, wind surfing, kayaking and sailing to world-class surfing. Beyond the hypnotic beaches, Floripa is a hiker’s paradise — home to over 30 trails through the subtropical Mata Atlantica (Atlantic forest). The diverse, dense vegetation is Amazon-esque, and houses everything from monkeys to exotic birds.
If you feel like just watching the many sports enthusiasts, there are plenty of restaurants and pubs with an ocean view. Enjoy a caipirinha, a cocktail made from the Brazilian liquor cachaça. Maybe three.
Even Floripa’s more “urban” parts blend in with nature. Fishing, tourism and tech are the primary industries, meaning very little manufacturing.
MacLeay says most of Floripa’s beach communities have limits on building heights, so there’s “no Miami Beach or south of France feel with skyscrapers … you’ve got human scale.”
One third of the island’s 437 square kilometres is designated for conservation. The fishing villages of Santo Antônio de Lisboa (known for the best oysters in Brazil), Ribeirão da Ilha, and Sambaqui are a must visit for seafood lovers.
Florianópolis offers peace of mind and options for every kind of traveller — whether working up a sweat or enjoying the world through caipirinha-tinted glasses.
Chris Lackner is a Canadian journalist from Ottawa. He originally wrote this article for Start Magazine.