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Written and photographed by Mark Chesnut

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You may not have heard much about it yet, but the city of Florianopolis is slowly but surely building a reputation as the next jet-set hot spot; something like a combination of St. Tropez, Punta del Este, and the Hamptons—but with lower prices. It’s also increasingly on the radar for gay and lesbian travelers looking for sun, sand, and sophistication without the big-city hassles of places like Rio de Janeiro.

The city of Florianopolis, called Floripa by most Brazilians, is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina, set on a 202-square-mile island just off the coast of southern Brazil. Floripa, however, feels more like a collection of towns, thanks to its 42 beaches, natural beauty, and outdoor activities.

For all the glitzy development I’ve heard about, I begin my visit (accompanied by an array of International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association members who are equally curious about the destination) in the quiet southern part of the island, where nearly half of the terrain is covered with Atlantic rainforest. We hike a secluded path to reach Naufragados Beach, an uncrowded sunny spot where we enjoy the sand and the view of a far-off lighthouse before boarding a small boat to a nearby oyster farm. Oyster farming and fishing continue to be an important source of revenue for locals. This homegrown industry dates back to 1673, when the first Azorean and Portuguese settlers dropped anchor here. Early settlers also left their mark in the charming architecture, which is especially visible in small Azorean settlements like Ribeirão. These small communities are great places to try the local seafood, as I find out during a tasty lunch at Porto de Contrato, a waterfront restaurant with a beautiful view.

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Floripa’s growth spurt started, and today’s population of some 800,000 is nearly triple what it was back in 1970. The city has among the highest literacy rates in all of Brazil, and is a center for education (two major universities are based here) as well as a nascent-but-growing software industry. So while the iconic Hercilio Luz Bridge (which was the longest suspension bridge in Brazil when it opened in 1926) has been closed for nearly two decades (commuters now use other bridges to travel between mainland Brazil and the island), the city is firmly focused on its future as a technology and tourism hub.

The anticipated business boom here isn’t quite in full swing, but tourism seems to be, thanks in large part to the city’s vast natural beauty. Every beach in Floripa seems to have its own personality, and each attracts its own type of travelers. Our next stop is Campeche Beach, where the stronger waves make for good surfing. Just a couple blocks away, we tour a lovely small hotel called Pousada Natur Campeche (pousada is the Portuguese word used for small inn), peeking into its colorful guest rooms, each named for a different country (and decorated accordingly).

Pousadas, in fact, offer some of the most charming and interesting accommodations in Florianopolis. International brand-name hotels only recently arrived here (Sofitel was the first, in 2006), and most are located downtown, far from the beaches, making smaller hotels in the beachfront communities a good choice; other noteworthy gay-friendly small properties include Pousada dos Chás (literally, Inn of the Teas), which, as might be surmised, offers an afternoon tea service; and Ilha do Papagayo, which has bungalows on its own private island, just off of Praia do Sonho Beach.

The next morning, I awake early for an excursion to the historic city center. We head to Praça 15 de Novembro, a lush town square centered around a giant ficus tree. Following a tradition that supposedly brings good luck, everyone in our group holds hands and circles the tree three times (and since two other groups are doing the same thing, no one even notices that we’re mostly men). I check out the crafts market that sets up daily just off the square, and admire the variety of historic 18th- and 19th-century architecture in the neighborhood, including the ornate Palácio Cruz e Sousa Museum, a former government palace that now houses a history museum, the historic former Customs House and the Public Market, which is a good place to pick up souvenirs. For live musical performances, the Floripa Music Hall is a recommended spot.

That afternoon, we venture into Floripa’s gay side. I step onto the sand at Praia Mole, a popular beach with a large gay section that heats up every summer (which, remember, is during North America’s winter). We take seats outside at Bar do Deca, a relaxed, open-air bar that serves thirsty gay sun worshippers. It’s a great place to sip a caipirinha (Brazil’s de facto national cocktail) and people watch.

Sitting at the next table is a group of handsome men in bikinis. After we start chatting, one of the guys, whose name is Renato Agostinh, tells us that he is a former Mr. Gay Florianopolis and came in fifth in the Mr. Gay Brazil contest in 2007. “I’m very proud of my city,” he says, smiling. “It’s a very good place to be gay.”

The gay tour continues that night, when we head to a reception at Jivago Lounge, a trendy bar with a tiny dance floor. It’s not an exclusively gay place, but as the evening goes on, it’s easy to see that this venue attracts a variety of stylish young people of every sexual orientation. Those looking for a larger-scale gay ambiance head to the Concorde Club, which has two dance floors and plenty of laser-light-infused excitement, and Mix Café Club, which hosts a lively array of drag shows and DJs.

Facebook Twitter Bookmark Florianopolis Brazil at Google Bookmarks Digg Florianopolis Brazil Mixx Florianopolis Brazil Bookmark Florianopolis Brazil at YahooMyWeb Bookmark using any bookmark manager! Print this article! E-mail this story to a friend!

Thank's for an excellent review. I will go to Floripa over the following holidays and I'm sure this will be very useful. And, I totally agree with Tom, that photo is amazing :-)
- Per Nilsson , Stockholm, Sweden

Mark Chestnut is a brilliant travel writer, but photographer as well. The photo of the most beautiful young man I have ever seen.! Just a casual photo of a local guy working at an oyster farm. Page 39, Nov.2009. I can't stop staring at it.!
- Tom Oswalt , Knoxville, Tennessee USA

The new Constitution does not set age limits: it determines that education is compulsory, aiming at providing the necessary structure to the development of the students potential as an element of selffulfillment, training for work, and conscious exercise
- jimmy , mumbai maharashtra, india

I agree with you, Floripa is the next jet set hot spot. I went there last year and now let me add two more beaches: Joaquina with its large dunes where you can do sandboarding and Santinho with prehistoric painted stones.
- Mario Bayle , Rivera, Uruguay

Congratulations on the matter. Excente Florianópolis is a city for the gay community.
- Julio Fantin (Portal G) , Brazil, SC

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