FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil – Florianopolis is best known for its stunning beaches and world-class surfing, but this southern Brazilian city also boasts other tourist attractions that range from whale-watching to its well-preserved indigenous and Portuguese traditions.
Known as “Magic Island” because of the mysticism and legends that pervade this city encompassing Santa Catarina Island, nearby islets and part of the mainland, Florianopolis is home to rock paintings and other vestiges of pre-Columbian cultures and preserves the practice of oyster farming inherited from Portuguese colonists who arrived from the Azores Islands.
Indigenous artisanal fishing methods dating back to the pre-conquest era also are still employed.
Visitors to Florianopolis, referred to by locals as Floripa, can enjoy intimate contact with nature at one of its 42 beaches, some featuring tranquil waves and white sand and others regarded as prime surfing spots, while also experiencing the comfort and convenience of the capital of Santa Catarina state.
“People today no longer travel only to see beautiful destinations. They want to experience new cultures. We have fantastic destinations here where a person can rent a small boat and get into contact with the local communities,” the city’s tourism superintendent, Vinicius de Lucca Filho, told Efe.
Florianopolis’s abundant Atlantic Forest-type vegetation and its blend of different cultures make it Brazil’s second most-visited city by foreign tourists after Rio de Janeiro, according to Tourism Ministry figures.
FROM UNBRIDLED HUNTING TO WHALE SANCTUARY
One of Santa Catarina Island’s most popular destinations is Armacao Beach, a place where hundreds of families continue to live from artisanal fishing and shellfish farming.
The inhabitants of this small village on the island’s southeastern coast are quick to fill tourists in on its unique characteristics.
“The name Armacao refers to one of the city’s ancient economic activities, the production of oil for urban street lighting, (a product obtained) from whaling,” a local resident said.
“But over time the region stopped being a whale cemetery and became a sanctuary and an observation point for these animals, which travel thousands of kilometers to mate in the waters off our coast,” a second fisherman added.
After a ban was instituted in the 1950s on whale hunting – a practice that had driven several species to the brink of extinction – Florianopolis become one of Brazil’s main observation points for these giant cetaceans.
Several species visit areas off Brazil’s coast throughout the year, but it is between August and October that the whales typically seek refuge off of Florianopolis to give birth or nurse their young.
Located directly across the island from Armacao, on its southwest coast, is Ribeirao da Ilha, where tourists can visit one of countless oyster and shellfish farms located in calm, turquoise waters offshore.
“We want to immerse visitors in this age-old practice of oyster farming. We always say that coming to Floripa and not enjoying the oysters is like going to Rome and not seeing the pope,” said Beto Fermiano, who welcomes around 5,000 tourists a year at his shellfish farm.
The first Portuguese colonists to southern Brazil – in around 1506 – arrived in Ribeirao da Ilha. Today, the colorful houses and tiles characteristic of Portugal’s Azores archipelago, combined with the fresh sea breeze, help preserve the Old Continent’s cultural heritage.
SUMMER HOME FOR TOURISTS
This island city that is home to around 300,000 full-time inhabitants and boasts one of Brazil’s highest human development indices – equal to that of Portugal – receives around a half-million tourists in the Southern Hemisphere summer (December to March).
Around 70 percent of them are Argentines, who have adopted the Magic Island as a summer home.
“I’ve come here since I was a boy. You practically hear more Spanish here than Portuguese, and although I don’t usually have much vacation time I spend at least a few days on the island every year. It’s a paradise that’s right next door,” Emanuel Benitez, a resident of Buenos Aires, said.