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.
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.