Salvador de Bahia has kept its authentic side of a city cradle of Brazilian traditions. Third most important city in Brazil, it is a trip to the heart of history.
Discovering Salvador de Bahia
Capital of the state of Bahia, it may also be the capital of joie de vivre and dazzling colours. It is located on a peninsula on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, in the northeast of Brazil.
Built on the convergence of European, African and Amerindian cultures, its cultural richness never ceases to impress. Called the Roma Negra (Black Rome) of Brazil, its past as the main sugar cane exploitation region and its port of the bay of Todos os Santos (of All Saints) have earned it the African soul from Brazil. A somewhat mystical city rocked by voodoo and the beliefs of Candomblé, an animist religion that has its roots in Africa.
In a decor of colonial houses of all colors and churches sprinkled with gold, Salvador vibrates all year round to the rhythm of music and capoeira. The magic of its architecture, its gastronomy and its culture, intensifies the sweetness of life that reigns there. Bordered by 71 km of beaches interspersed with lighthouses, forts, and bays, relaxation is the key word here. Heir to a mixed population, the warmth and energy of its inhabitants, the Bahians, make it one of the most beautiful cities in Brazil.
When to go to Salvador de Bahia
Salvador de Bahia has a tropical climate, the region of Bahia is also the driest in Brazil. With constant temperatures around 30°C, all year round, you can go there whenever you want. However, there is a risk of precipitation between January and July. Basic festive city, Salvador de Bahia is even more so, during its festival which takes place every year in February. A frenetic spectacle in a city of a thousand colors.
What to do in Salvador de Bahia
Thanks to a strong diversity and a joyful atmosphere there is always something to do or see in Salvador de Bahia. It was divided by the Portuguese into two parts which still exist. An upper part that includes the historical and religious area. And a lower part which concentrates the financial center, the port and the markets. A funicular and a lift (elvador Lacerda) were built at the end of the 19th century and are still active, to connect the two parts of the city. Each of the two parts is home to small neighborhoods each with their own characteristics, here are the most important of them.
The upper part of Salvador de Bahia
It is the historical center of Salvador de Bahia, the Pelourinho, which means the small pillory, in reference to this old square, place of the punishments inflicted on slaves. The historic center has been restored since the 1990s and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is a bit like the soul of Salvador, the essential district to discover the diversity of the city. On a cobblestone path, baroque buildings in pastel colors, enriched with blue and white earthenware, “azuleros” stand there forming a charming little village. Marked by a colonial past still present in the architecture, this melting pot of Bahian cultural history is also the meeting place for capoeira schools, which offer public demonstrations every day. 15 forts, 166 churches and 1000 places of worship to discover, crossing pretty squares where music resounds at every street corner. In the patios located behind the colonial houses, transformed into bars and restaurants, the orchestras improvise there to play live music, in the evening.
Located in the north of the city, a little higher but very close to the Pelourinho district, the Santo Antonio district is a real haven of peace in the historic center. It allows you to enjoy a little more peace and quiet just a stone’s throw from the festive bustle of Pelourinho. It is also a slightly more picturesque part of Salvador de Bahia. At the turn of the streets that links it to the Pelourinho district, there are therefore favelas. Authentic and traditional, for a discovery of Bahian daily life.
The lower part of Salvador de Bahia: the cidade baixa
A few meters from the Ribeira district is the elevator that has been connecting the two parts of the city since the 19th century, the Lacerda elevator. Thirty seconds are enough to connect the Pelourinho district and the main port of the lower town. near the Mercado Modelo. The Mercado Modelo is the most important indoor craft market in the city. If you want to discover another typical Salvador market, which remains rather traditional, go to the Sao Joaquim market. There you can find local and organic fruits and vegetables, just a few meters from the Ribeira district.
On the coastal front, Graça, is a rather residential and bourgeois district of Salvador de Bahia, it is right next to the Barra district. One of the assets of this small district is the treasures that are hidden there. In a mixture of colonial residences and concrete buildings, you can for example enjoy a view of the city above the other buildings, with an altitude of 60 meters. Rua da Graça is the main artery, it connects Largo da Victoria to that of Graça. On the Largo da Graça square, in the heart of buildings and bushes, hides the Nossa Senchora da Graça church. One of the small treasures of this district, because it is one of the very first places of Catholic worship built in Salvador. It also represents the symbol of the construction of the Brazilian nation, being the fruit of love and the first interbreeding between a native and a European immigrant. This couple, Paraguaçu and Caramuru is even considered the ancestor of the Bahian population.
Bordering the Graça district, Barra is located on the tip of Salvador de Bahia, where the bay opens onto the ocean. Along the coast there are abundant beaches, such as that of Porto da Barra, overlooked by the imposing Farol da Barra lighthouse, which stands within the walls of the Santo Antonio fort. This district is characterized as being that of the entrance to life by sea. An emblematic monument of Salvador, the Farol lighthouse is also the oldest in South America. Today there is a maritime museum and a pleasant bar. For those fond of shopping, it is in Barra that the commercial center of Salvador is located.
Bohemian and new could describe this neighborhood. By the sea, Riovermelho is home to artists from Salvador de Bahia, it is also known for its sellers of acarajés (traditional Bahian donuts) and its fishing community. This bohemian district with many small houses combines places for going out and festive atmospheres. It stretches between the Largo da Mariquita, where the fish market is located, and the Largon de Santana, where the chapel dedicated to Santa Ana is located. Passing through Rua Alagoinhas, you can see the house of the famous deceased writer Jorge Amado.
Animation, and beaches, in this rather chic and popular district. Located on the eastern side of the city, it has the longest beaches on the coast of Salvador de Bahia, with very good waves, which are a delight for surfers. 10 km from the city center, bars, hotel, restaurants, cafes and shops merge to
The Pituaçu district is the must for a bicycle tour. Venture into its eponymous park, to appreciate the vegetation in the voice of extinction. It is the largest green space in Salvador on 200,000m2, fauna and flora cohabit near a pond, to offer you 17 km of cycle path. The boats and pedal boats circulate freely on the pond, take them at sunset, to appreciate the surprising shades of color.
Several cultural activities are organized there such as the craft fair on Sunday, or the permanent exhibition of 1000 sculptures by the artist Mário Cravo, recognized throughout the world. You can go there every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Ondina and Itapua
These two districts mainly concentrate the seaside pleasure of the city. Along the coast and facing the Atlantic, the beaches await you. You will find hotel complexes there, with magnificent swimming pools which form almost natural tanks at low tide. Many restaurants offer traditional Bahian dishes, try the acarajés from Cira and Deia, a delight. If you want to try some wilder beaches, head further north, towards Stella Maris and Flamengo beaches.
How to move?
The heavy traffic in Salvador sometimes makes the journeys interminable, when the arteries are blocked, it can take you many minutes to reach your destination. Nevertheless for night outings or if you have the time, they remain the right compromise, for a broader vision of the city.
Taxis have two systems, either you take one for a race that you rent alone, or you take a seat in the taxi, which you therefore share with others, if the latter is not full. You have the choice, the little extra of sharing and that it promotes encounters.
The buses are clean and serve popular places to visit very well. Their passage is frequent, except on public holidays and Sundays. Most lines run until 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. The operation is a little different, the entrance is from the back and the exit from the front. After taking your ticket directly on the bus, if you are standing up and someone is approaching your bag don’t have it. It is a custom, seated passengers offer to hold the bags of those who are standing, to relieve them.
The metro is still under construction. The Lacerda elevator and the funicular are not just simple attractions, but on the contrary a good means of transport when it comes to going from one side of the city to the other. The Lacerda elevator operates from 5 a.m. to midnight, it is taken from Place Thomas de Souza (upper town) or Place Cairu (lower town) to go from one side to the other
What to eat?
As for its culture, Bahian gastronomy is made of mixtures and crossbreeding between African and Brazilian recipes. The base of his recipes is essentially made of ingredients such as coconut milk, ginger, peppers, coriander, prawns, cassava flour and dende palm oil.
From one district to another you can taste traditional dishes such as acarajés, a kind of acras, made of dumplings of peeled red beans, salt, onions, all fried in dendé oil.
La moqueca-de-peixe, a fish, shrimp, oyster or crab stew, with lots of dendé and coconut milk. A shrimp soup, called bobó-de-camarão. Caruru, sautéed shrimp mixed with a very spicy sauce made with cayenne pepper and small okra.
On the meat side, try the sarapatel, liver and beef heart with tomatoes, peppers, onions and sauce. Or the xinxim de galinha, a whole chicken in coconut and soy sauce, served with prawns, cashew nuts and grated ginger.
Where to sleep in Salvador de Bahia?
Pousadas, guesthouses or small hostels are very common in Salvador de Bahia, especially if you want to stay in the historic center, around Saint Antonio. As with the very pretty Villa Bahia, in the Pelourinho district. You can be immersed in this urban soul, close to many festivities.
But if you choose to be closer to the coast and the beaches, ie in the lower part of the city, many hotels offer more than adequate services, with swimming pools overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.