Holiday Guide to Salvador
Although Rio de Janeiro might be the most famous city in Brazil, and Sao Paulo might be easily the biggest, if you ask any Brazilian where to go for sunshine and fun, they'll tell you it's the north-eastern city of Salvador de Bahia that puts a smile on their face...
Apart from being well known for its beautiful colonial architecture, it's also home to Brazil's best Carnival (and yes, you did read that right: it's better than Rio!), and Salvador’s year-round easy-going way of life and penchant for a party has gained it the title of "Brazil’s capital of happiness".
What to See and Do in Salvador
Most of Salvador's major tourist sites are in the Pelourinho district, and so this is where you're likely to spend most of your time, unless of course the city beaches are your priority...
Although most visitors take a guided tour of the Pelourinho, it's well worth spending time just wandering around to see the history of this city through its colonial architecture. Although the area is filled with colourful Portuguese buildings, the area has a dark past, having been built by the slaves who were bought here from Africa. In fact, the name Pelourinho comes from the name of the chains that were used to keep slaves imprisoned at the time.
The area has many churches worth visiting, including the Sao Francisco Church whose interior is covered in gold in the Baroque style. Another church worth visiting is the Rosary of the Blacks, which was built by the slaves as a place of worship since they were not allowed to worship in the same place as the white colonists. Only being able to work on it at night, it took 100 years to complete. There are also many museums to see in the Pelourinho district, including the excellent Afro-Brazilian Museum, and with the Pelourinho being the main attraction for holidays to Salvador, you will find many bars, restaurants, shops and banks here as well.
From the Pelourinho district you can easily get to Salvador’s iconic Lacerda Elevator, which was built in 1873, by heading south from the Catedral Basilica along Praca da Se and turning right on to Ladeira da Praca. From the top you’ll have fantastic views across All Saint’s Bay and a trip to the bottom will take you to the lower city. It is worth noting that most people recommend you avoid using the elevator after dark. At the foot of the elevator you'll find Salvador's expansive Mercado Modelo or Model Market. The 19th Century Customs House building in which the market was originally located when it began in the 1870s burnt down in the 1980s; however it was restored to its original state and now houses over 200 stalls selling a huge array of arts and crafts. The Mercado Modelo is a great place to pick up a reminder of your holidays in Salvador.
Taking it easy in Salvador is, well... easy. Like most Brazilian cities by the sea, it has dozens of beaches to relax on, nearly 31 miles of beach in fact! These beaches are distributed between the Upper City, where beaches are on the Atlantic Ocean and the Lower City where the beaches are on the more tranquil All Saints Bay. There are beaches to suit everyone here with the All Saints Bay beaches providing calm waters ideal for swimming and snorkelling, while the Atlantic beaches such as Farol de Barra offer strong waves for surfing. One beach that's definitely worth a visit is Porto da Barra Beach which was dubbed the third best in the world by The Guardian in 2007. With a small colonial fort at one end of it and a church sitting atop the hill at the other, it faces west and is a great place to watch the sunset.
Relaxing doesn’t just have to be about the beach though, and a visit to Salvador’s Iberapuera Park is just as good. Dubbed the lung of Salvador due to its size, there is free live music here at the weekends and you are always sure to see something interesting amongst the many people who use the park, including groups making music and performing capoeira.
Eating Out in Salvador
The State of Bahia is known for its tasty food and you can be sure to find some in Salvador, including a few local specialities that you should definitely try. In particular look out for the street stalls run by women wearing traditional white dresses – they are known baianas de acarajé, and they sell traditional acarajé, a deep-fried "bread" made of mashed beans from which the skins have been removed. The mash is deep fried in palm oil and the resulting acarajés are usually eaten accompanied by camarão (small sundried shrimp), pimenta (hot pepper sauce), vatapá (a paste made from sundried shrimp, peanuts, cashews, coconut milk, and palm oil), caruru (a kind of okra stew), and salad. These "fillers" can be included or left off at will, although the camarão will cost a little extra. They’re delicious and a real taste of Salvador.
If you're looking for something more substantial, then a great option is to head to Boi Preto. Boi Preto (meaning 'black bull') is a churrascaria - an all you can eat Brazilian barbeque restaurant where the meat is served "rodizio" style. This means that when you sit down you are given a ticket with a red side and a green side. As long as you leave your ticket showing the green side, waiters continually come around filling your plate with cuts of beef. Show the red side of your ticket and they will stop giving you meat. Then flip it back again when you’ve got a bit more room! Service is fabulous and, in addition to the rodizio, Boi Preto offers a sumptuous buffet with salads and smoked salmon and lobster and shrimp and an extensive array of cheeses, and lots and lots more. The price for this is a little over 40 Reais.
The Pelourinho district is also a great place to eat and there are many restaurants in the area serving Bahian food, as well as world cuisine. If you want to try some great traditional Bahian food then Panela de Bahia on Ladeiro San Miguel is a great restaurant to visit, and if you fancy a drink afterwards then we really like the Cantina da Lua. It’s located on the Praça Terreiro de Jesus, which is the same square as the Cathedral and it’s a great place to sit with a drink and watch the world go by, both night and day.
Travel To and From Salvador
There are no direct flights from the UK to Salvador’s international airport, but there are various international routes available that mean you can do it with just one stop: TAP offer flights via Lisbon and very short stopover times, but you can also fly via Miami with American, or via Madrid with Air Europa. If you want to fly internally. Salvador is well connected to the rest of the country by air, with Gol and TAM making regular flights to and from Rio, Sao Paulo, and numerous other destinations.
By road, Salvador is actually just a way off the main Route 101 coastal highway, but regular coaches head north to Recife and Natal. You can also head inland via Feira do Santana to the gorgeous Chapada Diamantina for some mountain air...
Transport Within Salvador
Salvador's new Metro is slowly, slowly taking shape and eventually it's projected to run all the way to the airport - although with Brazil's current fiscal worries no-one will be surprised if it never quite reaches there... In any case, for the moment it's unlikely to be of much practical use to you on your trip to Salvador
In the Pelourinho itself everything is very walkable and if you're heading outside of that area then the best way to travel is by taxi – they’re safe, quick, and inexpensive, but you won't find a great deal of English spoken so it's worth writing down the address to show the driver.
Tailor-made Trips to Salvador Carnival
For those in the know, Salvador Carnival is the carnival in Brazil. Rio might have the pomp, the glamour and the huge spectacle of the parades in the Sambadrome, but Salvador Carnival is all about letting it all hang out at one giant street party.
In fact, over a million people usually take part as huge soundsystems mounted on articulated lorries wind their way through the streets, followed by huge crowds of party-goers. Why not get in touch and start planning your trip to Salvador Carnival now?
Did you know?
Salvador is widely known as the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture with around 80% of the city’s population having African ancestry. This is reflected in Salvador's unique culture, from cooking to music to capoeira...