One of the first images to come to mind when discussing Brazil is the beach. Let’s face it; Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro has warped our perceptions.
But, it is a bit true. While most enjoy the seaside and sand, Brazilians really do.
Brazil’s southern state of Santa Catarina has its own beachy towns that cater to locals as well as foreign tourists, mostly from other parts of South America (during between February and May). The most popular of these destinations are Balneário Camboriú and Itajaí.
From Blumenau (inland), it takes about 1.5 hours to get to either of these beach towns. However, traffic can be hell, especially on weekends when everyone is heading to the same places – back home or to the beach. Be sure to go early.
Both cities are located next to each other with Itajaí in the north and Balneário Camboriú to the south. Itajaí is known for its large port and many beaches while Balneário Camboriú is considered the stomping ground for affluent Brazilians and celebrities.
Itajaí: Definitely stress the -aí
Itajaí is accessible and stunning, but its main attraction is really the beach and only the beach to be frank. People tend to camp out with pop up tents and go in groups to enjoy the entire day on the sand. Drinking is common, and venders sell food while nearby restaurants send runners to deliver fries and other dishes ordered from beachside satellite setups.
Definitely try a coco verde or ‘green coconut’, which is both a savoury and lightly sweet snack typical for the setting. Churros are also a popular beach food, and they come with so many toppings. Your heart might literally stop.
Thomas, my Brazilian friend who I came to visit, and I spent a day here, driving from inland Blumenau. We needed to meet up with a fellow Brazilian who was in town and had an important document that Thomas had left in Canada before returning south. She was able to retrieve it for him and make the switch back in their shared homeland.
Now, let’s talk beach etiquette a little bit …
Brazilians have a very high standard for beaches, especially concerning water temperature. If it is below like 18-20 Celsius, people are not going to go into the water.
For me, I will take anything above freezing to be honest. So, speedo-clad and excited for non-Pacific water, I was considered a bit of a loon for going back for seconds and thirds while the others reclined in the sun.
Furthermore, while it is Brazil, not everyone wears swim briefs. It is definitely more acceptable to wear them in Brazil than in North America at large, but at these beaches, they are not the most common choice of attire. Additionally, not everyone is sculpted and has zero percent body fat; however, some definitely do. At the beaches, one will encounter many padrãozinhos, often in groups.
Now, what is a padrãozinho?
Well, you know those muscley Brazilian guys who look like the live at the gym, have kind of the same haircut, and maybe a little plastic surgery too? That is a typical padrãozinho, and it is a phrase thrown around by Brazilians to describe this phenomenon and lifestyle charmingly. More of that term later, and how it is different than a biscoitero …
So, to refresh our memories, a) you may be the only one in the water if it is a frigid 16 degrees; b) wearing a speedo is non-obligatory; and, c) do not be intimidated by the padrãozinho, most Brazilians do not even know what is going on with them and how they maintain their physiques.
We went to Praia Brava and had a blast, and parking was easy enough to find around the beach. Other popular spots close by are Molhe, Praia de Cabeçudas, and Praia do Atalaia.
Balneário Camboriú: No, it’s not a Bathhouse!
Balneário Camboriú, on the other hand, is known for a little more than just beaches. One of the city’s main attractions is its Parque Unipraias, a nature park located on top of an adjacent mountain.
To get to the park, which features ziplines, luge ride, a ‘Magic Forest’, and stunning views of the city, one must ascend in a gondola or bondinhos – part of the fun. It is an exciting ride, which costs maximum 46 Reais for adults with discounts for children and seniors.
Keep your tickets since you will need them to descend, especially to visit and return from Praia de Laranjeiras, a somewhat secluded beach that is one of the departure points for the park.
It is a bit crowded, but offers clear waters and an adjacent pier area with seafood restaurants and alcohol for sale. Meal deals are common, and venders will try their hardest to get you to patron their restaurant over the others.
Personally, I would recommend heading back to Balneário Camboriú proper to grab a bite to eat.
We dined at Restaurante Casa da Langosta along Avenida Atlântica along the white sand beach. The Praia Central is likely the most popular beach for the region for its accessible position. People play volleyball and soccer … whoops, sorry … futebol as well as tan and enjoy the water on this expansive stretch of beach. There are also lookouts at both its ends; although, only the one at the marina closer to the Unipraias entrance is finished.
Food here mostly centres around the fresh seafood from the coast. Huge platters of braised and fried fishes as well as shellfish are common orders for hungry tourists. True to the country’s Portuguese roots, ‘cod’ bacalhau is a common fish of choice here as well as you guessed it, ‘lobster’ or langosta, for those feeling a bit more expensive.
However, prices at Praia de Laranjeiras might actually be a little cheaper than in town, but it is usually pretty packed. If one is looking for a more relaxed dining experience, then definitely head back into the city. Other tasty places to check out include Porto Camarões also on Avenida Atlântica and Gango’s Sanduíches on Centro.
Another big crowd pleaser in Balneário Camboriú is its Oceanic Aquarium or Aquário de Balneário Camboriú. Considered one of the best in southern Brazil, this aquarium houses hundreds of species including river otters, anacondas, and sharks. Prices to enter are similar to those at Unipraias, but they do have a student discount. Remember to bring ID; I did not.
Although small itself, the aquarium’s exhibits are constructed well, and there are many opportunities inside for pictures and moments of discovery. I loved reading all the common names in Portuguese and trying to figure out what they would be in English. ‘Otter’ is lontra, I found out.
After a long day of touring and the beach, most Brazilians might fancy a coffee and cake at one of the many confectionaries that also dot Balneário Camboriú. Brazil has a strong coffee culture, and the European roots here certainly have cemented an appreciation for an afternoon snack and teatime.
Like many eateries in Brazil, self-serve buffets are a common style of dining with portions weighted to determine the price. Prepare for some tasty dessert bars! Amora Confeitaria is popular while our party went to Panificadora Itapanni, which was also decently priced.
With much to see and do, I would prioritise Balneário Camboriú over Itajaí if one has to pick between the two.
While both are stunning destinations for leisure, Balneário Camboriú has more concentrated points of interest. Its beachfront avenue is also just inviting and a lot of fun during the evenings when people go out to bars and enjoy the city’s nightlife. Itajaí also has a nice walkway; however, it is more so lined with private hotels and is not as welcoming for this reason.
Balneário Camboriú has been under construction for quite some time and likely will be for a while. Brazilians are continuing to invest in this southern seaside resort city, so I would not be surprised to see a few more skyscrapers the next time I pass through. By no means is it a best kept secret location, but I would enjoy it before it gets even more hype.
I hope these posts are helping all those stuck and at home with insatiable wanderlust, even for just the bar down the street or a grocery store without a weird, frightful energy within it. It has been fun to look back on Brazil, which I was able to venture to right before countries took notice to the problem at hand. More to come shortly about Brazilian foods and Brazilians dudes aka gay culture in Brazil and how to best understand a bit of it as a tourist. Stay tuned!