hidden gems

This gorgeous Brazilian vacation spot has better beaches than Rio

Matadeiro Beach in Florianopolis, Brazil
Matadeiro Beach in Florianopolis, Brazil

Picture this: You step onto an endless stretch of fine, white sand. A small forested mountain, deep green against the clear sky, soars above the horizon to your right. You hear the waves before you see them: an insistent, dull roar in the distance. As you approach the water, you notice the handsome, muscled gay couples canoodling on towels around you. A sunga-clad man, tanned and toned, a ten-across-the-board, trudges up to you and offers a beach umbrella. You don’t understand at first, since he asked you the question in Portuguese. Then, he repeats the question, this time in English. You accept. “Welcome to Brazil,” he says.

Sounds like Rio, right?

Nope. This all just went down in Florianópolis, Brazil, rightly known as the “Island of Magic.” Nicknamed “Floripa” by Brazilians, this city is one of Brazil’s finest, with a level of safety and comfort unmatched throughout the country. Think of Rio without the danger and Hawaii without the price tag.

Still, Floripa remains mostly untouched by queer American travelers in Brazil, perhaps because it’s smaller than Rio de Janeiro and without the cultural offerings of São Paulo. However, if you’re coming to Brazil for an extended gay beach vacation, marked by coastal clubs and cheap fine dining (and, most likely, you are), then Floripa is what you’re after. Allow me to elaborate.

The ‘gay beach’ is a worry-free, relaxing place

Balneario Camboriu, Santa Catarina, Brazil. Estaleirinho Beach. Beach in the southern region of Brazil.

If you’ve been to Rio, then you know that the “Gay Beach” (Posto 9 of Ipanema) can quickly fill up with vendors hocking foot massages, towels, burner phones, seances, offshore bank accounts in Bermuda, and meet-and-greets with someone pretending to be Rihanna. And if you take out your iPhone on the boardwalk for more than a second, then someone will be happy to borrow it from you permanently.

In Floripa, on the other hand, you can expect exactly one person on Mole Beach to offer you an umbrella, followed by one person who will offer you a towel. It’s entirely possible that a third person may offer you a caipirinha, too, but the excitement stops there. You can appreciate the view, waves, caipirinhas, and Brazilian boys without once feeling harassed. As a bonus, there’s a clothing-optional beach, Praia Galheta, which is located just 20 minutes away via a short and beautiful nature hike. Things are even quieter here; you’ll only attract solicitors if you’re looking to cruise. (By the way, speaking of hikes, Floripa has some truly incredible ones; if you’re pressed for time, don’t miss the Lagoinha do Leste trail.)

Floripa really leans into its beach town identity. Among the 40 beaches scattered across the island, you’ll find opportunities for surfing, sandboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and more. And you can bet the seafood is fantastic.

You can be a big spender without breaking the bank

Artesano's pizza is slow-fired table side. Photo: Artesano Pizza Bar/Instagram.
Artesano’s pizza is slow-fired table side. Photo: Artesano Pizza Bar/Instagram.

Floripa doesn’t have the same international pull as Rio and São Paulo. For that, you can be grateful, because it means that you can indulge in many classy experiences without spending your life savings. In Lagoa, Floripa’s upscale hippie neighborhood, you can find gourmet Thai at Lagundri or mouth-watering pizza at Artesano. In Campeche, the family-friendly and remote worker-filled Malibu-esque part of town, you can sample juicy grilled octopus at Garden or have a hearty, boozy brunch at Black Horse. Meanwhile, the downtown area of Centro has some truly classy joints, including the award-winning Seville Baker or the buzzy Cité Rooftop, the latter of which features regular, intimate live performances from nationally renowned acts. If you’d rather dine at twilight facing the water, then opt for the top-rated seafood joint Pier 54 or the sushi-centric Noma. And for the foodies, there’s even a restaurant, Artusi, that specializes almost exclusively in gnocchi dishes.

But for the diehard foodies, you should include a trip to Trem de Minas, where the chef, Kênia Carneiro, serves authentic, family-style “mineiro” cuisine from Brazil’s interior. With the live music, homemade buffet, and farm animals milling around the restaurant’s entrance, you’ll truly feel like you’re in the Brazilian countryside. Or, alternatively, you can head in the opposite direction and grab cocktails at the Feeling Lounge, where you’ll rub shoulders with gorgeous rich ladies who could easily be on Real Housewives of Brazil. (If that were a thing. Should we make it a thing?)

DJ performs in front of bright lights in a nightclub.
Feel the rush, addicted to your touch. Credit: Conca Club/Instagram.

And speaking of cocktails, you simply can’t forget Floripa’s clubs; here, you have southern Brazil’s best gay clubs at your fingertips. For instance, just steps away from the “Gay Beach” lies Bar do Deca, which blasts equal parts Britney and Anitta for anyone exhausted from cruising at Praia Galheta (the aforementioned clothing-optional gay beach). And for those downtown gays, the Centro region contains at least two marvelous clubs – Jivago and Conca – that offer reliable parties and regular live entertainment. The former skews younger and the latter skews hunkier; both have excellent music.

You can check out any time you like, but you might never leave

If you’re a digital nomad or long-haul traveler, then chances are you’ve already heard of Floripa. But if you haven’t, and you’re looking for somewhere to install yourself for several months, then this city is perfect. In addition to being low-cost and high-quality, it also has many remote worker-friendly spots, like the coworking site We Cowork it Out, which offers additional social programming. And if you wish to dabble in Portuguese, then there are excellent opportunities to learn it on the island. Celisa Canto, who operates out of Lagoa, has counted international ambassadors among her student clientele.

Of course, if you’re not a remote worker, then you can still enjoy the many cafés that have cropped up around the island. Café Decor, Tens Tempo, and the aforementioned Black Horse Café are the very best. Plus, if you choose to visit Tens Tempo, then you can pair it with a romantic sunset dinner at Ostradamus, which serves the island’s best oysters. Both establishments are in the Riberão da Ilha neighborhood – an area that, along with the Santo Antonio neighborhood, is a testament to Brazil’s colonial past. The architecture and cuisine in both neighborhoods invoke coastal Portugal.

Outside Quinta das Videiras
At Quinta das Videiras, you can wake up to this. Photo: CVC PR/Instagram.

LK Design Hotel

On top of the world 1755 R. Bocaiúva · Florianópolis, SC 88015-530
(483) 112-2233

You can also thank the digital nomads for the fact that AirBnB is alive and well here. That said, OLX and Anfitriões de Alugel are alternative (and often cheaper) sources for longer rentals.

Of course, there are also several five-star hotels to choose from. They become pricier during the sunniest months – November to May – but they’re still cheaper than the best hotels in Rio and are often better.

Our top recommendations are LK Design Hotel, Hotel Boutique Quinta das Videiras, and Il Campanario Villaggio Resort.

Hotel Boutique Quinta das Videiras

Step back in time Rua Afonso Luís Borba, 113 · Florianópolis, SC 88062-040
(483) 232-3005

Il Campanario Villaggio Resort

Luxury on a budget Avenida dos Búzios, 1760 · Florianópolis, SC 88053-301
(483) 331-7200

In any case, it doesn’t matter whether you stay for a day or for a year; Floripa will open itself to you if you let it. There’s a legend passed among locals about a “witch” (think the good kind, like Glinda) who helped found the island and watches over it to this day. The legend goes like this: If she likes you, then you’ll have a great time here. If she dislikes you, then the weather will be bad for your entire stay.

Thankfully, she likes most people. Especially the gay ones.

I heart Floripa sign

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