Santa Catarina Overview
- Wild waves, sweeping sierras, flourishing forests
- Coast life
- Beachcombing and jungle roaming
Journey from one side of Santa Catarina to the other and you might think you’ve crossed continents, so diverse are the landscape and cultural make-up of this sun-basking south-Brazilian state.
Along the coast you’ll find vast swathes of sand where surfers mingle with sunbathers and Havaiana-clad fishermen mooch from beach shack to bar. The coves around the sleepy villages are studded with colourful boats and pastel buoys left by oyster farmers, whose skills have been passed down through the generations from the original Azorean colonisers. The waters are largely untouched by the holidaying masses, but they have been discovered by visitors of another kind – hundreds of migrating southern right whales, who escape the Antarctic winter and venture north to nurse their calves in warmer climes. Away from the ocean, Santa Catarina’s lush greenery is interspersed with plunging waterfalls, deep gorges and towering plateaus. The valleys are dotted with colonial enclaves founded by German, Italian and Austrian immigrants, where the street names, the languages, the food and the architecture recreate a mini-Europe amid the exotic landscape. The cities of Florianópolis and Joinville add a dash of urban hustle, but it’s the relaxed lifestyle and jaw-dropping natural splendours which entice most visitors – and often keep them here.
Suitably Santa Catarina
The legacy of Santa Catarina’s European settlers means the region boasts an improbable mix of cultural influences – where else would you find Tyrolean lodges nestling in subtropical forests, and traditional German beer festivals competing in scale with the samba beats of Brazil’s ubiquitous Carnival?
- Taxis ranks are plentiful in the larger towns and cities but it’s difficult to hail cabs in more remote areas. On Ilha Santa Catarina you can dial +197 to call a taxi; elsewhere, it’s easier to ask your hotel or restaurant to book one for you.
- Tipping culture
- 10 per cent is the norm in restaurants, but taxi drivers will be happy if you round off the fare. Hotel staff rarely expect tips but will appreciate a little something at the end of your stay if the service has been particularly good.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Shops are generally open until 7pm, but if you need to attend to monetary matters be aware that banks rarely keep to a specific schedule. The locals tend to dine between 8pm and 10pm and many restaurants, particularly in the smaller towns and villages, close by 11pm.
- Packing tips
- An itsy-bitsy bikini – Brazilians are not afraid of baring (almost) all on the beach and anything more substantial than a tiny two-piece will attract incongruous stares. You’ll also need a spare memory card for your camera as you’ll find yourself taking endless snaps of the ever-changing landscape.
- Recommended reads
- Peter Robb’s A Death in Brazil: a Book of Omissions and John Malathronas’ Brazil: Life, Blood and Soulexplore how the country’s diverse cultural make-up has shaped its history. If you’re visiting Santa Catarina during whale season, read Elin Kelsey’s Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales for an interesting insight into whale behaviour.
- Santa Catarina takes its culinary cue from the sea and its signature dish, seqüência de camarão (literally ‘shrimp sequence’), consists of an abundance of fresh shellfish, fish and sometimes octopus served on a series of small tapas-style plates. The region’s heritage has also led to local specialities which blend Brazilian, Germanic and Italian flavours – look out for roasted duck, locally produced wine and cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugar cane and aged in wooden barrels.
- Brazilian real (plural: reais).
- Time zone
- GMT -4 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Brazil: +55; Santa Catarina: 48.
- Do go/don't go
- Santa Catarina’s subtropical climate brings warm, humid days for most of the year, though it’s worth avoiding the wetter months of September and October if you want to spend a lot of time on the beach. Winter (June to August) is slightly cooler – particularly inland – but you’ll still enjoy plenty of balmy days along the coast. If you’re keen to make the most of the region’s whale-watching opportunities, make sure you visit between June and November.
Don't go home without...
…venturing out by boat with a local oyster farmer and sampling fresh oysters caught and opened in front of your eyes.