Salvador lays on a peninsula on the northeast coast of Brazil and is the 3rd largest city in Brazil. It felt like a walk back in time when visiting the small historical town of Salvador, Pelourinho. The city was founded in 1549 and was actually the capital in the height of the African slave trade. The legacy remains today with its large black population, and culinary influence. The town is full of colourful old houses, cobble stone streets and a large selection of restaurants and bars.
There are the 2 large squares Praça da Sé and Terreiro de Jesus which are connected by a cathedral. Terreiro de Jesus is the more popular of them both and on “Blessed” Tuesday nights they have a celebration, which dates back to Salvador’s days of slavery. Respects are paid at the Church and then the party begins. Food and drink stalls line the perimeter of the square and Samba music fills the streets.
What to do in the Old City
- Walk around cobblestone streets and take photos of the colourful houses and adorable side alleys
- Visit one of the first residential neighbourhoods, Santo Antonio.
- Take the 0.15 BRL ($0.08 USD) ride down the Elevador Lacerda. The first pulley elevator was installed in 1610 to transport goods and passengers from the port to the settlement and was then followed by an electrical system in 1928. At the bottom of the elevator, the city’s main market, Mercado Medelo is located and is right by the port. In the markets you can find many different crafts and other souvenirs. If you’re lucky, you may see men performing capoeria, the famous martial arts dance in Brazil.
- Visit one of the many museums listed here.
- Eat, drink, dance, eat, drink and then dance some more. Info on that below.
- Learn Samba!
Bahian cuisine is characterized by the generous use of malagueta chili peppers and dendê oil extracted from an African palm that grows well in the northeastern climate. Several Bahian dishes also contain seafood, usually with some form of shrimp, coconut milk, banana, and okra.
Street food is very popular in Salvador and coming from the African roots, trying an acarajé (shown below) is something everyone should do once. Personally, we can’t say we enjoyed it (we tried 2 from various places) but it was an interesting look into the African influence of food.
It is made from shelled fradinho beans (similar to black-eyed peas), which are mashed together with ground shrimp and spices, formed into a ball, then deep-fried in dendê oil. It is served crispy, split in half and then stuffed with vatapá (a spicy shrimp puree made with palm oil and nuts) shrimps, salad, and hot chili peppers. This was so popular in Salvador, there were lines 20-30 people deep at some stalls on Saturday night.
Coconuts are also drunk often in Brazil, a whole coconut can be as cheap as $1. Perfect for a Sunday morning!
Unfortunately, we were only in the old town for a one night but it’s necessary to mention Bar Zulu. This place is budget friendly but produced food deserving of a much higher price tag. Their classic dish of Moqueca (like a curry stew) was one of the best we’ve had and a twist on the vegetable salad was also a favorite.
Pelourinho (the historical old town) is small and during the summer months it is extremely hot, therefore generally, tourists will head for some of the coastal neighbourhoods. We visited in March and temperatures were high so we spent half our time in one of the most popular beach neighbourhoods, Barra, just 20 minutes south of Pelourinho. Barra is located at the tip of the peninsula, with sea views for days.
The weekends in Barra are quite crowded and there are many vendors selling everything imaginable along the beach. The beaches are quite calm, the waters clear and quite shallow in parts.
People watching in front of the lighthouse at Barra was one of our favourite things to do, especially on Sundays when the crowds were at large. Along Barra’s waterfront, there are many bars and restaurants to sit down and relax. This area is generally safe at night due to the well lit boardwalk and overt police presence, however, always be cautious when there aren’t so many people around and always avoid walking on the beach at night.
Barra’s nightlife quietens earlier than usual, however the town just next to Barra, Rio Vermelho has a nightlife scene worth visiting. Here you can find many bars and late night clubs.
Although there were many different hostels, we spent a week in an AirBnB and really enjoyed it. Our apartment was located with a great view of the ‘Farol Da Barra’ (lighthouse) and the people below, shown above. Generally, any time we have over 4 days somewhere, we prefer to rent our own space and it always works out to be cheaper. Don’t forget to check on AirBnB!
Our highlight in Barra was that similar to our sunset experience in Rio. Most days, but more noticeably on the weekends, people will congregate on the rock behind the lighthouse for the famous sunset. We brought our ‘eski’ (cooler) filled it with drinks and snacks and watched yet another beautiful sunset go down.
During the weekend, locals will bring a variety of instruments and play typical Brazilian music for everyone. Sometimes, during travel you have moments that you re-realise how lucky we are and how grateful we are to be doing what we’re doing. This was one of those moments. It felt so surreal being surrounded by locals, everyone with smiles from ear to ear in a culture that continues to amaze us.
If only we understood what they were singing 😉
Salvador was so different to Rio De Janerio & we’re were glad we were able to experience another amazing Brazilian city with so much culture, interesting food and ridiculously friendly people.
Safety in Salvador
Everyone warned us (yet again) that Salvador was more dangerous than Rio and to really watch your belongings and keep alert. Although we spent minimal time in this unique city, danger never lurked around us and we felt completely at ease. If you follow the rules by staying away from alleys at night, not flashing your cameras/wallets/phones or wearing expensive jewelry out, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. The most unease we felt in Salvador was trying to run along the cobble streets, in flip flops with 22 kg on our bag to our airport bus in a complete down pour of rain.
Where to next?!
Married days survived: 351