Samba, drumming parades, lively music, Capoeira circles and stunning colonial architecture, these were the reasons that made Salvador de Bahia my favorite city in Brazil. Salvador is the African heart of Latin America and the center of the Afro-Brazilian culture. I traveled to Salvador from Maceio with 4 of my friends on a road trip. Every single one of us came from a different country and culture. But all of us enjoyed it so much. Travelling to Salvador was an experience of a lifetime. So, I decided to write the Salvador de Bahia travel guide to make sure you don’t miss anything in this outstanding city.
Salvador de Bahia guide: History and Culture
Salvador de Bahia has a very rich history. In addition, It was the first capital of Brazil. The Portuguese built Salvador in 1549 AD to be their capital in the “New World”. Also, Salvador was the port and hub for the Portuguese slave trade. That’s how Salvador became the African heart of Brazil. The Africans brought into slavery didn’t give up their roots, arts, cuisine or religions. But, they merged their culture with the Brazilian’s forming the Afro-Brazilian culture.
Read the UNESCO’s description about the Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia.
Salvador de Bahia guide: Salvador’s Top attractions
Pelourinho is the historic center and the heart of Salvador. With its colonial architecture, historic cathedrals, colorful houses, live music, Capoeira circles and Samba street parties, it has become the cultural center of the city. The historic center was the place to whip and punish slaves and fugitives during the colonial era. Just walking the streets of Pelourinho is a wonderful experience itself.
Live Music and drumming parades in Pelourinho
While in Pelourinho, you’re very likely to witness street musicians playing live music in the streets. Samba and Forra are the most popular genres played in the streets. You will also find Brazilians enjoying themselves dancing and drinking. Also It is very likely to see live drumming parades, some of them are organized by music movements like “Olodum” and others are just people jamming.
Rio Vermelho is another place you don’t want to miss. It shows another aspect of Salvador which is bohemian, artistic and partying. Rio Vermelho is full of cafes that puts its chairs in the streets. It is the place for musicians, artists and locals meet and spend their nights. Locals and tourists alike go to Rio Vermelho for its nightlife, many nightclubs and Acarajé stands.
São Francisco Church and Convent
The Charming São Francisco Church and Convent lies in the Pelourinho. The Franciscans built the first Church and convent on the same site in 1587. The Dutch destroyed the original church during their Invasion in the 17th century. The current São Francisco Church and Convent construction started in 1686.
São Francisco Church and Convent is one of the most beautiful Portuguese colonial buildings in Latin America. The inner Church walls and ceilings are covered in magnificent golden artwork and paintings.
Although Elevador Lacerda might look like a normal elevator. It was built around 1870 to connect the upper and the lower parts of the city.
Don’t waste your money buying souvenirs anywhere else than “Mercado Modelo”. This giant market has everything with cheaper prices, and you can also bargain the prices.
Mercado Modelo is a huge touristic souvenir market. And like every historical part of salvador, It was part of the colonial slave trade. The Mercado Modelo used to be the customs house where salvers held slaves. Later, It was converted into a huge touristic souvenir market with 2 restaurants at the upper floor. Both restaurants serves traditional dishes in a fancy way. You can reach Mercado Modelo by taking Elevador Lacerda down then just cross the street.
Salvador de Bahia guide: Salvador’s Top beaches and Islands
Farol da Barra
One of the most beautiful and historical attractions of Salvador De Bahia is Farol da Barra. Farol Da Barra is the second lighthouse in the Americas and Brazil. The Portuguese built it in the 17th century to protect “Todos-os-Santos” Bay or All the Saints Bay from invaders. For An incredible breathtaking view of the beach, you can climb the 100 stairs of the lighthouse.
Praia Farol da Barra
The Farol da Barra Beach or Praia Farol da Barra is located next to the lighthouse. It is one of the best beaches in Salvador de Bahia.
Both Farol da Barra and Praia Farol da Barra are only around 5.5 KM from city center. So, It is easy to go there. You can go to both Farol da Barra and Praia Farol da Barra by public transportation buses, taxi, or private car.
Ilha dos Frades
Visiting Ilha dos Frades or the Island of the Friars is one of the most amazing experiences you can enjoy in salvador. Ilha dos Frades lies in the center of the Bay of All Saints. It has almost every aspect of a tropical paradise: beautiful landscapes, crystal clear water, lakes, waterfalls and an Atlantic forest. The natives of the Island are also very hospitable.
The Island’s name “Island of the Friars” came after the murder of two friars by ethnic inhabitants during the early colonial period. Ilha dos Frades also has a significant historical importance like the rest of Salvador de Bahia as it played a major role in the slave trade. The enslaved were brought illegally to the island and were smuggled to the various sugar cane farms in the rest of Bahia.
How to go to Ilha dos Frades?
Ilha dos Frades is easy to reach. You can hire a boat from the marina or go on an organised tour which usually goes to other Islands as well. The boat is a very enjoyable part of the trip and usually serves fruites, beers and cocktails but not for free of course. The whole trip can cost as cheap as 50 Reals without the food and drink which typically costs much more especially if you ate at a restaurant on the island.
Salvador de Bahia guide: Things you don’t want to miss in Salvador de Bahia
You can’t stay a couple of hours in the Pelourinho without seeing the City’s Trade Mark and Masterpiece, which is Capoeira. Capoeira is a martial art and dance. Although it was evolved in Salvador, Capoeira’s origin is believed to be from Angola. It was a ritual practice to connect with ancestors practiced by the enslaved Africans. The enslaved evolved Capoeira and saw in it a practice to survive in the “New World”.
When the Portuguese colonists started to notice the spread of Capoeira they banned it. This ban didn’t stop the enslaved Africans from Practicing it. On the Contrary, Capoeira became to be seen as a rebellious act. Eventually, The martial art and dance of Capoeira is now a heritage.
Acarajé is a deep-fried patty of crushed black-eyed peas, palm oil and pureed onions. It is Stuffed with dried shrimp and vatapá which is a rich and spicy puree of prawns and cashew nuts. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the Acarajé.
Cashaca shots and Caipirinha cocktail
For the party sake, you have to try Cachaca shots. Cashaca is the most popular spirit drink in Brazil. Some might say it is the national drink of Brazil. Brazilians makes it from fermented sugarcane juice and it is very strong. You will find it everywhere: nightclubs, bars, restaurants and even in the streets. For something lighter, you can try the Caipirinha cocktail. It is a very popular cocktail which contains Cachaca, soda, lemon and sugar.
Salvador de Bahia Safety guide
Like most of Brazilian cities, Salvador de Bahia is not the safest city on earth. So, make Sure you read the 10 Safety tips to stay safe in Brazil post.