Florianopolis or lovingly called Floripa is where actual Brazilians go on holiday. And not just Brazilians, but since it´s so "close" (distance gets a whole new meaning in South America) to the border Argentinians and Uruguayans as well. We went during off season in Brazilian winter or very, very early spring, but even then the island was just mind blowing. Floripa has it all: white beaches, in incredible sand dunes, lush rain forest... you really should not miss it.
Probably not during the summer, but during the off season flights from Rio or São Paulo can be an absolute steal and only take about one hour. We were actually planning to fly, but waited literally a day too long and prices spiked up intensely. So we opted for the over night bus from São Paulo instead, which took about 14 hours and also was a little cheaper.
However the bus station in Florianopolis is close to the city centre on the mainland and not the picturesque lagoon or other more touristy places. Make sure to have cash for the bus as for neither of our three bank cards the ones in the bus station were working and apparently it is quite a walk to the next one. Because we were absolutely out of money we decided to take one of the cabs, that you could pay with a credit card. The 20 minute ride to our hostel was about 15 Euros, which we split so really not too bad, however obviously buses are much cheaper.
Florianopolis has a very interesting bus system, where you basically take buses to and from the next biggest bus station and if necessary change there. It seems a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get the gist of it, it gets really easy to get around, especially because unlike other places in Brazil buses actually have a schedule, set stops and an ending station and don´t just randomly stop along the street to pick up people. Refer to a nice person in your hostel for this and take notes, when they tell you where to go.
Where to stay
Listen if there is one argument that will sell about anything for me it´s litte monkeys and cats. And guess what: the Tropicalia has both of them! Yes it is also perfectly located in walking distance to shops, bus stops, the lagoon and the famous dunes and yeah it has a very nice terrace, great staff, free breakfast and a kitchen, but realistically I still picked it because of the cats and the monkeys. And the cats. The monkeys will literally eat breakfast with you, as well as out of your hands and to be real I don´t really need any arguments for cats, except that they are cats.
Just keep in mind that you won´t be able to check in until two o´ clock, which may seem like a normal time, but is definitely feeling like ages when you took a 14 hour bus trip and arrive at around 8. But they are usually nice enough to let you have some breakfast and you can chill on the hammocks and couches on the deck.
What to do
Obviously if you go in summer you won´t need many other plans except for going to the beach and if you are not completely lacking a sense of balance like me try surfing. However while winter in Brazil is far from European winter in any capacity you may want to tweak your plans a little, but they should still include as much outside time as possible since the island is simply breathtaking.
We went on a very nice, but very, very, very long hiking trip for our second day and while the views were incredibly and we covered a lot of different areas (beaches, hills, rain forest, cliffs) hiking for about 6 hours straight wasn´t exactly what I expected when I was promised a "nice, but a little challenging hike". So definitely go hiking, but very clearly and honestly state your level of fitness, lack of sense of orientation or fear of hights before you get going.
One thing you definitely cannot miss, while in Floripa are the incredibly sand dunes, Dunas da Joaquina. They stretch along gorgeous wetlands until the beach and you have a simply incredibly view. We went to watch the sunset and it was really breath taking.
If you are up for some more cute animals after all the monkeys and cats you could also go to the turtle sanctuary (entry is free with a student card), close to a beautiful beach. However I was highly disappointed not to see some baby turtles.
And for all my German babes while you are in Floripa and if you should be heading to the Iguazu falls after, you could stop along the way in Blumenau, an intensely German city, where the second largest Oktoberfest in the world is held. It will be an incredibly weird experience of homesickness and a faded sense of what your homeland is like, but at least you can get some Spätzle.