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742km (461 miles) SW of Rio de Janeiro, 488km (303 miles) SW of São Paulo

Florianópolis, aka the Island of Santa Catarina, is known throughout Brazil for its miles and miles of gorgeous beaches, excellent seafood (oysters especially), and traditional Azorean fishing villages. Figuring out the names may be the only tricky part of a visit to this most serene of Brazilian beach resorts. Florianópolis, the city, is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina. Florianópolis is also located on the island of Santa Catarina. Island and city together are usually just referred to as Florianópolis, which people often then shorten to Floripa. Confused? Don't worry, it's the beaches that matter.

The city of Florianópolis is small and pleasant but of no real interest except as a jumping-off point to the island's countless beaches.

Brazilians are infatuated with Floripa and flock here en masse in summer. Perhaps Brazilians see in Floripa a model of what their country could be -- well-organized, well-run, calm, efficient, and law-abiding. Perhaps in a land with so much tropical exuberance, the opposite becomes exotic. In any case, when Brazilians rave about Florianópolis, they mention the fair-skinned, green-eyed residents, the affluent communities, the quaint Portuguese fishing villages, the pristine and unpolluted beaches.

There is more than enough variety on the island to customize a visit according to your interests. The northeastern part of the island is an urbanized, heavily visited beach scene, particularly in the high summer months of December, January, and February. Farther south in the center of the island there's the Lagoa da Conceição, a large partly salty lagoon partially surrounded by tall sand dunes. Nearby, the small quiet community of Lagoa da Conceição has some of the best restaurants in the region. Just to the east are the beaches of Galheta, Mole, and Joaquina -- beautiful, wide, sandy beaches surrounded by lush green hills and blessed with large, surfable waves. Farther south toward Campeche, the beaches become more rugged and almost deserted. Even in the summer you won't find large crowds here. Finally, over to the west side of the island facing the mainland, you will find the quaint Azorean fishing village of Riberão da Ilha, accessible only via a gorgeous, narrow, winding, seaside road offering views of the Baia Sul and the lush hills of the mainland across the bay.