Head to warm and sunny Florianópolis, the land of cozy oyster bars, hidden lagoons, and epic parties on the beach.
1 of 7Photo: Ricardo Ribas
A True "Hot Spot"
Ah, Brazil. Where the term "hot spot" takes on a new meaning, one that describes not just the usual zeitgeisty appeal of a destination, but also embraces its climate, high-octane nightlife, and people.
The comely island community of Santa Catarina, situated 430 miles south of São Paulo along Brazil's so-called Emerald Coast, is a not-very-well-kept secret among the well-heeled denizens of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, who bolt here in summer for the sublime beaches, the buzzy nightlife, and the pockets of undeveloped tranquility.
Left: Paragliding over Florianópolis—"Floripa" to locals
2 of 7Photo: Ricardo Ribas
The island is home to 42 beaches, all with glam-bohemian appeal. Grab "Paulada" smoothies, made from açai—the cult wonder berry found in the Brazilian Amazon—and marvel at the scenery: miles of manicured sand, keen surfers tackling barreling waves.
At the heart of the island is the vast Lagoa de Conceição, a clear saltwater lagoon that's backed by lush Atlantic rain forest, its entire length dotted with picturesque fishing villages. The sun-dappled picture is reminiscent of the lake regions of Europe.
Sheltered between two rocky headlands and one of the island's most raved-about beaches is the coastal reserve of Praia de Galheta. The hotel scene here is still evolving, so private rentals are a good bet if you're planning to stay around the beaches.
3 of 7Photo: Ricardo Ribas
A good way to get a feel for the many faces of Floripa is to start in the downtown area, the historic and administrative hub of the city at the island's westernmost point, and work your way either north to Jurerê Beach or south to the quieter fishing villages.
Downtown's vibe lies somewhere between an upscale Caribbean island and Miami's South Beach: Gleaming high-rise apartment buildings line the waterfront, while the historic old town is leafy and languid, dotted with parks where residents play chess under the trees. Stylish urbanites shop for artisanal produce and congregate inside tiny, convivial wine bars at the Mercado Público Municipal (left), an ornate Colonial-era covered marketplace.
4 of 7Photo: Samba Photo/Edu Lyra/Getty Images
The appeal of Floripa lies not only in its more obvious charms—the beaches, the parties, and the daredevil outdoorsy pursuits, such as sand-boarding, kitesurfing, and paragliding—but also in the island's more contemplative pleasures.
Left: Trying out kite-surfing at Lagoa de Conceição
5 of 7Photo: Flavio Veloso
The hippie-chic town of Centrinho da Lagoa—"little center" in Portuguese—is a nexus for the barefoot surfers and artists who have made Floripa their home. Nowhere on the island do you get more of a sense of the melting pot that is Brazil than this little township: Within a few blocks you can chow down on top-notch Thai, Italian, and Mexican foods, along with sushi, Brazilian barbecue, and freshly caught seafood.
Groups of young Brazilians gleefully sand-board (riding down dunes on a board) along the extraordinary white sand dunes that rise like sleeping giants from the center of the island. This part of the island only really grew up in the past 15 years—before that there was just a lone gas station and a dirt track to Praia Mole. Thankfully the place manages to feel wild and belonging to nature in spite of the hordes of sand-boarders.
Left: Sand-boarders ride the dunes at Centrinho da Lagoa
6 of 7Photo: Flavio Veloso
There is so much to explore in the Floripa nightlife department that it requires a little forward planning. There's the Euro-fabulous Confraria das Artes, a loungey late-night spot that's a big hit with jet-setting moguls and the models who love them. The Big Blue Club, a white-tented night spot sitting right on the beach at Praia Mole, is the ideal sand-between-the-toes party experience. Meanwhile, at the northern tip of the island is the gated community of Jurerê, a magnet for Brazilian millionaires who own condos and park their yachts here.
Jurerê is the nouveau South American answer to St. Tropez, awash in Champagne bars, nightclubs, palatial homes, and a young crowd decked out in skimpy clubwear and designer sunglasses. At Taikô, a Champagne bar where Brazilian MTV sets up camp each summer, everyone is drinking, flirting, and dancing on the sand to music spun by a DJ perched in a lifesaver's tower.
Left: Follow the signs to fresh oysters.
7 of 7Photo: Ricardo Ribas
At the southern end of Floripa is Ribeirão da Ilha, a sleepy fishing village that feels only barely touched by the intervening years since its founding in the early 19th century. The main street consists of little more than a sweet yellow-and-white church from 1805, rows of brightly colored stucco Azorean houses with terra-cotta roofs, and a handful of seafood restaurants.
Try Ostradamus, a nautical-theme oyster restaurant on a stretch of beach with sweeping views back to the mainland and the state of Santa Catarina. Somehow the wonderful tweeness of it all—the menu is presented as a rolled treasure map, and the waiters are dressed as sea captains—is delightfully offset by the gorgeous setting right on the water (many tables are set up on a long, covered pier) and the incredible just-off-the-boat seafood.
Left: One of the many waterfront restaurants on Santa Catarina