I discovered Balneário Camboriú completely by accident. I was at the bus station in Iguazu Falls waiting to board an overnight bus to Curitiba when I heard that strange and enticing name. Balneário. Had a nice buzz to it, I thought. A couple of backpackers next to me were raving about that place and the great time they had there. That got me curious. As I listened in they talked about how they would have rather spent less time in Florianopolis and more time in Camboriú. This was the moment when I opened with my famous line I always use when I’m about to impose: “Sorry I don’t mean to impose, but…” The friendly travelers were more than happy to share their experiences with me. The rest is history. This is how the most unexpected and wonderful side-trip in my travels came into being.
Curitiba hadn’t been my destination that day either. That honor belonged to Blumenau, a small German city in the state of Santa Catarina and co-incidentally a birthplace to the second largest Octoberfest in the world. The moment I had learned about this monumental and gut-filling event, taking place in our own Hemisphere, I knew I had to be there. Luckily for me, Balneário Camboriú was just forty minutes away.
Balneário Camboriú, or “our little Rio” as the locals call it, is a small resort very popular with vacationing Uruguayans and Argentineans but virtually unknown to the rest of the world. Which is a shame, because it is an unknown gem. First there is a wonderful curved beach line resembling Copacabana. The perfect place to enjoy some sun. Then they have a cable car to take you to another wonderful beach called Praia de Laranjeiras. Finally, they have their own Christ Statue that they call Cristo Luz or “Electric Christ.” See the picture below to find out why. Only in Brazil! .
They also have Avenida Atlantica with mosaic inlaid, which is a beautiful sight to see. So much beauty in one place, and yet they don’t have all the Rio crime. What’s not to like?
Be warned, however. While the city is small—it has a population of only 100,000— a peaceful retreat it isn’t. It’s very commercialized with dozens of high-rise buildings, and the city beach is no less urban than the famed Copacabana. Crowds in tourist seasons can be brutal, or so I’ve been told because it was nearly dead in October when I was there. But with so much beauty and fun to be had, I can easily believe that getting a spot on the narrow beach during high season might be a real challenge. You don’t visit just for the beach, though. First thing you want to see is Cristo Luz. That statue is amazing! It changes colors during the night, as it is illuminating the city in a way you must see, words cannot do it justice. You want to take two trips there: at night and in the daytime as its hilly location doubles as an observation deck that affords a great view of the city.
You will also want to take a ride on their famed cable car. This cable car is every bit as unique to the city as Cristo Luz. It takes you from the city beach to a much nicer Praia de Laranjeiras. Before my visit I had never known of a cable car that would connect two low points such as two beaches, but then again, I don’t know everything:-).
Getting there is quite easy, too. The nearest large airport is in Florianopolis and many major airlines fly there, so it’s not a problem to go to both. It’s about fifty miles from Camboriú, and that distance will take you about two hours by bus to cover. There is also a small airport Ministro Victor Konder in Navegantes (NVT) that is considerably closer, and has direct flights from Rio (by GOL), SP (TAM and Azul) and Porto Allegro (Azul).
As far as the FF programs go, your best bet is TAM via Star Alliance. No presence from the international hotel chains that we love—sorry. I stayed at a very nice oceanfront hotel called Villa do Mar, and since the hotel was nearly empty (and I was probably the first gringo they had seen), they gave me one of their best room for about $40-50. But, as you can imagine, Brazil’s economic prosperity in recent years has brought higher prices on everything, so expect to pay at least twice as much. Still, a very nice 4-star hotel room with breakfast will run you under $100, and a room at a budget, but quite decent hotel can be had for $20-30 a night. Not too shabby.
While I wouldn’t make Camboriú my primary destination, I can easily see myself spending 3-4 days there on a side trip from Florianopolis. Last time I spent two, and regretted not staying longer, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy all the unique sights. Trust me, it is an off the beaten path paradise that you don’t want to miss. Try to visit in October. The weather is already great, but the city is nearly empty, the hotels are cheap, the beaches are deserted, and most importantly, you’ll have a chance to experience Octoberfest in Blumenau that’s only a short bus ride away.