Hiring a car is essential if you want to explore. Avis (www.avis.com) has a rental desk at Florianópolis airport.
Most visitors arrive via the international hubs of Sao Paulo and Rio - British Airways (www.ba.com) operates daily flights from London Heathrow to both destinations and American Airlines (www.aa.com), United (www.united.com) and Continental Airlines (www.continental.com) have regular flights from various US cities. You'll then need to catch a short internal flight to Florianópolis' Hericillo Luz International Airport with TAM (www.tam.com.br) or GOL (www.voegol.com.br).
Brazil's passenger trains are now almost non-existent - you'll need to travel by air or road to get around.
Brazil: +55; Santa Catarina: 48.
Peter Robb's A Death in Brazil: a Book of Omissions and John Malathronas' Brazil: Life, Blood and Soulexplore how the country's diverse cultural make-up has shaped its history. If you're visiting Santa Catarina during whale season, read Elin Kelsey's Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales for an interesting insight into whale behaviour.
Do go / Don't Go
Santa Catarina's subtropical climate brings warm, humid days for most of the year, though it's worth avoiding the wetter months of September and October if you want to spend a lot of time on the beach. Winter (June to August) is slightly cooler - particularly inland - but you'll still enjoy plenty of balmy days along the coast. If you're keen to make the most of the region's whale-watching opportunities, make sure you visit between June and November.
Santa Catarina takes its culinary cue from the sea and its signature dish, seqüência de camarão (literally 'shrimp sequence'), consists of an abundance of fresh shellfish, fish and sometimes octopus served on a series of small tapas-style plates. The region's heritage has also led to local specialities which blend Brazilian, Germanic and Italian flavours - look out for roasted duck, locally produced wine and cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugar cane and aged in wooden barrels.
Taxis ranks are plentiful in the larger towns and cities but it's difficult to hail cabs in more remote areas. On Ilha Santa Catarina you can dial +197 to call a taxi; elsewhere, it's easier to ask your hotel or restaurant to book one for you.
10 per cent is the norm in restaurants, but taxi drivers will be happy if you round off the fare. Hotel staff rarely expect tips but will appreciate a little something at the end of your stay if the service has been particularly good.
Brazilian real (plural: reais).
An itsy-bitsy bikini - Brazilians are not afraid of baring (almost) all on the beach and anything more substantial than a tiny two-piece will attract incongruous stares. You'll also need a spare memory card for your camera as you'll find yourself taking endless snaps of the ever-changing landscape.
Get to grips with hip-shaking Brazilian rhythms at the Associação Cultural Ilha de Palmares (www.ilhadepalmares.com.br) in Florianópolis, where you can choose between capoeira classes or workshops to make your own traditonal berimbau, a percussion instrument.
Every year Santa Catarina's high plateau sees Brazil's only snowfall. Venture inland between June and August and you may find scenes of white-dusted pine trees which look more Alpine than Latin American.
Florianópolis' lively market has a maze of stalls selling herbs, spices and specialities such as drinks brewed from the local yerba-maté plant. Head inland to Blumenau and you'll find outlets selling colourful blown-glass creations, cotton bed linen and a range of leather goods.
The cobbled village of Ribeirao de Ilha near Florianópolis has an array of seafood restaurants perched on jetties jutting out into the ocean. Order a dish of oysters and a cold caipirinha, sit back and watch the sun sinking behind the mountains across the bay.
Travel to the coastal town of Laguna to watch the local fisherman at work, ably assisted by a friendly pod of local bottlenose dolphins who round-up shoals of fish and herd them into the waiting nets.
February sees Santa Catarina come alive with swishing hips and contagious beats as Carnival transforms most of Brazil into a giant street party. June to November is the prime whale-watching season, when hundreds of southern right whales travel north to nurse their young. October brings the October Circuit - a series of festivals celebrating Santa Catarina's varied heritage. The line-up includes the Fenarreco (Duck Festival) in Brusque, the Musikfest in São Bento, the Austrian Tirolerfest in Treze Tílias and the Italian Culture and Tradition Festival in Criciúma, and is topped by Blumenau's Oktoberfest - the second largest beer festival in the world.