Making the initial descent into the Florianopolis airport, I am able to gauge a perspective of the entire island of Santa Catarina. First, the Northern coast, spotted with emerald mountains; a long glide along the wild Eastern beaches of Moçambique and Campeche; finally, we take a loop around the large lagoon occupying the central swath, called Lagoa da Conceição, before touching ground in a marshland area in the west of the island near downtown.
I can understand from my bird’s-eye view only the topography; the spirit of the island and its many parts will have to be experienced from the ground. I quickly come to realize during my initial days in Florianópolis that I had wildly underestimated the variety packed into one isle! Most of my weekdays are spent in the city center, which actually straddles island and continent via a single bridge. Here in downtown, the pace of life is similar to that of a medium-sized city in the United States. My days typically begin with a forty-five minute bus commute as the sun is rising over the bay; I emerge from the bus terminal in a flock of swift-moving daily commuters, juggling a café com leite (coffee with milk) in one hand, a pão de queijo (cheesy bread) in the other.
Nevertheless, that is my only douse of city life while I am staying in Florianópolis (or Floripa, as it is called affectionately). After classes let out at 4 p.m., I am eager to commute back to my home at Lagoa da Conceição, the lagoon. Before the sun sets, I try to take runs to some of the nearby beaches of Praia Mole or Joaquina (pictured below).
On some days, the gang and I will take a trip to the Azorean colonial towns of Riberão da Ilha or Santo Antônio de Lisboa, for some of the freshest oysters you will ever eat. Facing west, both locales are ideal for witnessing a famous Florianopolis sunset. In these laid-back fishing villages, old men play dominos oceanfront as the sun wanes, and the clock slows.
However, the best way to embrace the island life in Florianopolis is to take a trek to some of the bucolic, isolated wonderlands. There are plenty of hikes to keep a nature-lover entertained for a whole semester or year abroad! One of my favorites is to the Praia dos Naufragados (Castaways Beach), which clings to the south-west tip of Florianopolis. A scenic forty-five trek through forest leads to the beach, where a small community of fishermen have set up camp. A secret trail along the far side of the beach beckons, where a presumably haunted lighthouse sits brooding on a sea cliff.
After any adventure around the island, I prefer to kick back in front of the lagoon waterfront, doing as the gaúchos (Southern Brazilians) do: sipping a warm herbal tea called a chimarrão. As I have come to realize throughout my study abroad in Floripa, it is these simple moments of utter relaxation are what make this island deserve its folkloric title as the Island of Magic.
Want to read more about Floripa? Check out “24 Hours in Florianopolis, Brazil”