Salvador, Bahia is not nearly as popular with tourists as Rio but when it comes to Brazil, this is a hot destination… literally. With a Caribbean climate and a Caribbean lifestyle, Salvador a wonderful destination for backpackers and jetsetters alike.
Founded in 1549, Salvador still has quite a bit of its old colonial charm. The center of the city is a World Heritage Site and said to have the largest concentration of colonial-era architecture in the New World. It was one of the largest slave ports in the New World for many, many years and that influence is still present in the city today. A large percentage of the city can trace there roots back to Africa and many of the religious and cultural traditions trace back as well.
What to Do & See
Ride the Elevator – The old city and the port are literally cut in half by a steep rock wall. The Lower City and the Upper City are connected by a steep road (dangerous, do not walk down) or by a huge elevator. Yep, an elevator in the middle of the city. It’s quite a unique site and a great place to see the sunset and views of the lower city. The Elevador Lacerda runs all day and costs about the equivalent of 10 cents. It use to be free but the city started charging in an effort to keep the homeless children from riding it up and down all day. At the foot of the elevator, there is nice art market (Mercado Modelo) where you can often catch capoeira performances.
See Capoeira – This is considered by many to be the birthplace of this unique martial arts type dance form. With a mix of African tribal influences, capoeira uses slow deliberate movements and a mix of martial arts and gymnastic moves to almost perform the dance of a fight. You can watch capoeira all over the city, from spontaneous street performances to professional on-stage performances.
Walk Pelourinho- This is the old, colonial section of Salvador, located right at the top of the city’s elevator. While it use to be one of the more dangerous sections of the city, it is actually now one of the safest. The beautiful colonial architecture surrounds a number of small squares which fill up with locals playing chess in the daytime and at night come alive with dancers, musician, street food vendors, tourist, locals, and more.
Visit the Beach- Salvador has some great beaches (and some other not to great beaches). One of the more popular beaches is Porto de Barra which can get very crowded on the weekends or Stella Maris which is a favorite of the city’s locals. A few of the beaches have good conditions for surfing as well. Never go to the beach at night though as they can all get a bit dangerous.
Couple Travel Tips
- Leave the valuables at your hotel/hostel and always watch your surroundings. Unfortunately, Salvador has a reputation for being a dangerous city and has a high number of muggings.
- Come for Carnival! Rio gets all the attention but locals and visitors alike swear that the party in Salvador is better, bigger, and all around more fun.
- Get away from the touristy sections of town and experience a different side of Salvador by volunteering with any number of the non-profits working in the city. Salvador has a real problem with street kids but many organizations are helping by setting up programs in music, dance, and even the circus arts.