Salvador is a city on the northeast coast of Brazil and the capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Salvador is also known as Brazil’s capital of happiness due to its easygoing population and countless popular outdoor parties, including its street carnival.
Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil. With a charming Old Town (a World Heritage Site), a vibrant musical scene and popular Carnival celebrations, it is considered one of the birthplaces of Brazilian culture.
The first colonial capital of Brazil, the city is one of the oldest in the country and in the New World; for a long time, it was also known as Bahia, and appears under that name (or as Salvador da Bahia, Salvador of Bahia so as to differentiate it from other Brazilian cities of the same name) on many maps and books from before the mid-20th century.
Salvador is the third most populous Brazilian city, after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and it is the eighth most populous city in Latin America, after Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Lima, Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago of Chile.
The city of Salvador is notable in Brazil for its cuisine, music and architecture, and its metropolitan area is the wealthiest in the northeastern region of the country. Over 80% of the population of metropolitan region of Salvador has some Black African ancestry. The African influence in many cultural aspects of the city makes it the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. The historical center of Salvador, frequently called the Pelourinho, is rich in historical monuments dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
Salvador is located on a small, roughly triangular peninsula that separates Todos os Santos Bay from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay, which gets its name from having been discovered on All Saints’ Day forms a natural harbor. Salvador is a major export port, lying at the heart of the Recôncavo Baiano, a rich agricultural and industrial region encompassing the northern portion of coastal Bahia. The local terrain is diverse ranging from flat to rolling to hills and low mountains.
A particularly notable feature is the escarpment that divides Salvador into the Cidade Alta (“Upper Town” – rest of the city) and the Cidade Baixa (“Lower Town” – northwest region of the city), the former some 85 m (275 ft) above the latter, with the city’s cathedral and most administrative buildings standing on the higher ground. An elevator (the first installed in Brazil), known as Elevador Lacerda has connected the two sections since 1873, having since undergone several upgrades.
The Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães International Airport connects Salvador with Brazilian cities and also operates international flights, and the city is home to the Federal University of Bahia.
Salvador is located on a peninsula which shields the large Baía de Todos os Santos (“Bay of All Saints”) from the Atlantic Ocean. The city is the third largest in Brazil, sprawling for dozens of kilometers inland from the coast. Most visitors head for the coastal neighborhoods that cluster around where the bay meets the ocean.
A 100m cliff runs along the entire bayshore, dividing the city into Cidade Alta, up on the cliff, and the Cidade Baixa down by the bay. The former features Pelourinho, the old city center that packs historical sites, colonial architecture, museums, restaurants, bars, hostels, artisanal shops, and music/dance/capoeira academies into a convenient, albeit tourist-swarmed, set of winding cobblestone streets. The latter features a commercial center with lots of bus traffic coming in from all over Salvador.
Outside of this area, there are many beach districts that stretch from the tip of the peninsula northeast along the Atlantic coast. The Barra neighborhood at the tip of the peninsula is the main alternative jumping-off point to Pelourinho, and a little further to the northeast are the hip neighborhoods of Rio Vermelho and Amaralina, which feature a nightlife less geared to the foreign tourism industry. A decent bus ride beyond these is the neighborhood of Itapuã, which has an energetic beach side nightlife and relatively few foreign visitors. Northward from there are kilometers and kilometers of gorgeous beaches, all accessible by bus.
The bayshore coast north beyond Pelourinho features a more tranquil atmosphere and a locally patronized, though less scenic, beach life. The interior of Salvador is where the “new city” has developed, full of residential neighborhoods, shopping megaplexes, and knotted highways, all of which can be quite alienating without actually having a friend to show you around.
Salvador has a typical tropical climate, with warm to hot temperatures and high relative humidity throughout the year. However, these conditions are relieved by a near absence of extreme temperatures and trade winds blowing from the ocean. March is the warmest month, with a mean maximum temperature of 30°C (86°F) and minimum of 24°C (75°F); July experiences the coolest temperatures, with means of 26°C (79°F) and 19°C (68°F). The absolute maximum and minimum are respectively 38°C (100°F) and 12°C (54°F). The city’s triangular shape guarantees the capital privileged sun conditions (average 2,220 hours of sun exposure per year), while a soft breeze constantly blows.
Unlike the terrain further inland (known as the sertão), rainfall in Salvador is quite abundant, with a total yearly average of 201cm (83″), being heaviest in May at 33cm (12.8″) and generally tapering off until reaching a low of 11cm (4.4″) in January. Tropical cyclones and tornadoes are unknown in this area, on February 12, 2008 a small F0 was formed in the ocean, near by Rio Vermelho neighborhood, creating a little waterspout.
The old city center can be easily explored on foot. To get between the upper and lower sections, take the Elevador Lacerda or the cable car, remember to take small change as the fare is just R$0.05. The streets between the two are considered dangerous even during the day. City buses, as in other Brazilian cities, are constant and confusing. Fares are normally R$2, with air-con “expresses” (really no more express than any other bus!) charging R$3 or R$4. Remember to board in the back!
Know your landmarks and neighborhood names. Any large shopping area will have a complimentary frequented bus stop, and the major intercity terminal, Lapa, is next to Shopping Lapa. If you are trying to make your way out of Pelourinho, you can either take the Elevador Lacerda down to the Comercio and find buses for just about every route, or walk to the Praca da Sé bus stop just south of the elevator, which has a much smaller selection of buses passing through, and many options of executive buses.
Buses are safe to ride at night, as long as you are on a frequented (i.e. coastal) route and dress/act inconspicuously. Service stops at midnight and begins again around 4:30-5AM. There are a limited number of lines that provide night service from midnight-4AM.
Salvador cab drivers must be competing with those in Rio for spots on Formula 1 racing teams. They will certainly get you where you’re going quicker than the bus! However, as buses stop running after midnight, do be prepared to haggle quite a bit with taxistas who refuse to use the meter, especially if you’ve decided to explore far from your bed. Executive taxis (white and blue) don’t have meters, and the prices are on a table, it’s more expensive than city taxis, but they are much more comfortable, they are in stops in the main shopping malls, the airport, bus station, ferry-boat station and big hotels.
The Salvador coastline is one of the longest for cities in Brazil. There are 50 km (31 mi) of beaches distributed between the High City and the Low City, from Inema, in the railroad suburb to the Praia do Flamengo, on the other side of town. While the Low City beaches are bordered by the waters of the All Saints Bay (the country’s most extensive bay), the High City beaches, from Farol da Barra to Flamengo, are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The exception is Porto da Barra, the only High City beach located in the All Saints Bay.
The big hotels tend to be strung out along the orla (Atlantic seafront). There are also smaller hotels in Barra and Porto da Barra, others (generally less expensive) scattered along the principal thoroughfare of Avenida Sete de Setembro (shortened to “Avenida Sete” by the locals), and still others (usually inexpensive) in and around Pelourinho.
There are also pousadas (guesthouses, or bed & breakfasts) in Barra, Pelourinho, and Santo Antônio (and other places as well, to be sure), and hostels (albergues) which are for the most part located in Pelourinho (though a lot of the “pousadas” in Barra are hostels as well).
The capital’s beaches range from calm inlets, ideal for swimming, sailing, diving and underwater fishing, as well as open sea inlets with strong waves, sought by surfers. There are also beaches surrounded by reefs, forming natural pools of stone, ideal for children.
Interesting places to visit near Salvador include: According to the British newspaper The Guardian, in 2007, Porto da Barra Beach was the 3rd best in the world. The large island of Itaparica in the Bay of All Saints – can be visited either by a car-ferry, or a smaller foot-passenger ferry which leaves from near the Mercado Modelo near the Lacerda Elevator.
Linha Verde, or “green line” of towns and cities, with exquisite beaches, north of Salvador heading towards Sergipe state Cachoeira in the recôncavo region – 2 hours by bus: a great centre of Candomblé with a pousada (inn) in the convent there. Morro de São Paulo in the Valença region across the Bay of All Saints – a lively island which can be reached by ferry from Salvador (1 hr), by plane, or by bus to Valença and then by ‘Rapido’ (‘fast’) speedboat or smaller ferry. Morro de São Paulo is formed by 5 villages of the Tinharé Island.
The city is served by many shopping malls: Aeroclube Plaza Show, Caboatã Shopping, Casa Shopping Cidade, Out Let Center, Salvador Shopping, Shopping Baixo Dos Sapateiros, Shopping Barra, Shopping Boulevard 161, Shopping Brotas Center, Shopping Center Iguatemi, Shopping Center Lapa, Shopping Do Pelô, Shopping Imbuí Plaza, Shopping Itaigara, Shopping Orixás Center, Shopping Piedade, Shopping Sumaré.
Jardim dos Namorados is located right next to Costa Azul Park and occupies an area of 15 hectares in Pituba, where many families used to spend their vacations in the 1950s. It was inaugurated in 1969, initially as a leisure area. It underwent a complete renovation in the 1990s, with the construction of an amphitheater with room for 500 people, sports courts, playgrounds and parking four cars and tourist buses.
Costa Azul Park occupies an area of approximately 55,000 square meters, and is located in the neighborhood that goes by the same name. It has football courts, gymnastics equipment, cycleways, jogging tracks, two playgrounds with an area for bikes, sidewalks, restaurants, green areas, a parking lot with room for 150 vehicles and an amphitheater capable of receiving 600 people.
Park of the City is an important preservation area of Atlantic forest. It was completed renovated in 2001, becoming a modern social, cultural and leisure place. The new park has 720 square meter of green area right in the middle of the city. Among the attractions are Praça das Flores (Flowers square), with more than five thousand ornamental plants, especially flowers. Besides its environment, the park has an infrastructure for children, with a special schedule of events taking place every October.
The park has also a medical station, special areas for encounters of students, tourists and senior citizens, a wide parking area with room for 270 vehicles, a 4,000 meter long jogging track, surrounding the entire park and an amphitheater with capacity for 600 people, where several cultural activities happen. Leisure and Gymnastics equipment can be found as well and the security is done by Florestal Police.
Created by state decree in 1973, Pituaçu Park occupies an area of 450 hectares and is one of the few Brazilian ecological parks located in an urban area. It is surrounded by Atlantic forest, with a good variety of plants and animals. There is also an artificial pond in the park, built in 1906 along with the Pituaçu Dam, whose purpose was to supply water to the city.
There are a number of possible leisure activities, ranging from cycloboats rides on the pond, to an 18 km (11 mi) long cycloway circling the entire reserve. Completing this infrastructure there are several options for children to play, snack bars, ice cream parlors and restrooms. A museum is also located in the park. Espaço Cravo is an outdoor museum with 800 pieces created by Mario Cravo, comprising Totems, winged and three-dimensional figures, as well as drawings and paintings.
At the center of the Cidade Alta there are the two large squares Praça da Sé and the Terreiro de Jesus which are connected at the corner by the cathedral. The latter is probably the most lively part of town, with food carts and stalls through the day and revelers in the evening hours. Museu Afro-Brasileiro — A museum that documents the slave trade and subsequent development of the city. Largo do Pelourinho — A fairly small triangular plaza, is among the oldest parts of town. You can guess from its name meaning “plaza of the pillory” what went on around there.
Mercado Modelo — The city’s main market located in the lower town is and a good place for crafts and other souvenirs. In the adjacent square you can often see young men performing capoeira, the famous martial arts dance which originates from the area. Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim — A small church located in a neighborhood to the north, is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in all of Brazil. The colorful votive ribbons or fitas of Bonfim are an easily recognizable item throughout Brazil and even beyond. Children outside the church will (for a small fee) tie them around your wrist and tell you to make a wish for each one. If the ribbon wears off naturally, the wish will come true; if you cut it off before then, it won’t. You can get to Bonfim by city bus in about fifteen minutes.
Abaeté Park — A protected state park around the lake with same name. The lake is famous because of the stark contrast between the dark water and the very white sand dunes. There is a entertainment area with a lot of bars and live music. Solar do Unhão — The best place in Salvador to watch the sunset. It is an old style house located at the Baía de Todos os Santos. Inside there is a small museum (Museu de Arte Moderna) with local art pieces. Sometimes on Saturday afternoons there is a jam session.
As with other large Brazilian cities, Salvador is notorious for street crime; muggings and knifings are rife! Avoid travelling through the city by yourself at night. Salvador is particularly bad, and is notorious as a tourist trap.
Even though you think it might be safe, the sun is out and there are people about, you can still get mugged. When you go to the police they are pretty lax. In fact, it is rumored that the police and street children work together. With this said, it is pointless to trust the police.
People with darker complexions will have an advantage over those with pale skin. Blacks are likely to blend in well; other dark-skinned people may be inconspicuous in many places but whites are particularly targeted. AVOID carrying any kind of satchel or bag, as this is a mugger magnet! When you go to the beach, it’s best to go in slippers and shorts, or bikini and light clothing; it might look ok, but chances are you will get robbed at some point if carrying anything that could be of any value.
Often there are heavily guarded areas with many police, but just outside of that area are the muggers waiting for the tourists. If you come to this city, try to find a host who can also help serve as a guide on how to conduct yourself to stay on top. Never ever go downtown alone. These days the Pelourinho, formerly one of the most dangerous areas, is heavily patrolled by police. Remember they are there for a reason, though. But also other areas, which are strongly frequented by foreigners, can become dangerous, especially at night, i.e. the Barra harbour area. Avoid dark and lonely places at night, i.e. the Jesus Christ Statue at Barra. NEVER go to the beach at night!
The long sloping road leading from the old town to the harbor should be avoided even during the day. ALWAYS take the elevator. If you are staying in the touristic Barra area, beware of the favela near Shopping Barra, especially at night. The area just to the east toward the beach can be dangerous as well. Beware of vehicular traffic. Crossing the streets is always dangerous even when using a pedestrian crosswalk with the traffic light red for cars. As one member of Supergrass band once said: “In Brazil green means go, and red means go faster!” ONLY start the crossing when vehicles have already stopped.
Salvador’s historical and cultural aspects were inherited by the miscigenation of such ethnic groups as Native-Indian, African, and European. This mixture can be seen in the religion, golden cuisine, cultural manifestations, and customs of Bahia’s people.
In ancient Greece there was the museion, the place where “the knowledge of mankind was kept”. From this source, which was dedicated to muses and considered a temple, the Greek people took the knowledge necessary to improve their quality of life. The artistic, cultural and social heritage of Salvador is preserved in museums as well. From Museu de Arte da Bahia (MAB), which is the oldest in the State, to Museu Náutico, the newest, the first capital of Brazil preserve unique pieces of history. Every museum in the sate is an unusual journey. The collection have such an immense symbolical value that no financial figure could ever measure.
Even so, the importance of Salvador’s museums has drawn the interest of experts from Brazil and abroad. There we can find valuable pieces of religious art, ornamental items from the old manors and also objects that belonged to the old families and public figures of the state. The Arte Sacra and Abelardo Rodrigues museums are must, see programs. They both have the biggest sacra art collection in the country. Another obligatory tour is to Museu de Arte da Bahia.
Museu de Arte da Bahia has paintings, Chinese porcelain, furniture and sacra images from the 17th and 18th centuries. Museu Costa Pinto has private, owned items such as, pieces of art, crystal objects, furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, tapestry, sacra pieces and Chinese porcelain. The golden jewelry and the 27 ornamental silver buckles are the most precious in the entire collection.
Another important museum is Museu da Cidade, where many items that help to preserve the heritage of old Salvador are kept. There we can find thematic objects that belonged to public personalities in the state like dolls, orixá statues and religious images. There is also an art gallery located inside of the museums. There is also Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado, with pictures, objects and the life’s stories of the author of memorable novels that portray old Bahia like, Gabriela – Cravo e Canela, Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos, O País do Carnaval and Tieta do Agreste.
Some churches and monasteries also have museums located in their premises. Examples of this are the Carmo da Misericórdia and São Bento Museums. After the renovation of the Forts, were created Museu Náutico, in Forte de Santo Antonio da Barra (Farol da Barra) and Museu da Comunicação, in Forte São Diogo. Other important museums that are scattered through Salvador are: Museu do Cacau, Museu geológico do Estado, Museu tempostal, Solar do Ferrão, Museu de Arte Antiga e Popular Henriqueta M Catharino, Museu Eugênio Teixeira Leal and Museu das Portas do Carmo.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador de Bahia is the biggest street party on the planet. For an entire week, almost 2 million people celebrate throughout 25 kilometers (15 miles) of streets, avenues and squares. The direct organisation of the party involves the participation of 25 thousand people. Its dimensions are gigantic. Salvador receives an average of 800 thousand visitors from municipalities located as far as 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, from several States of Brazil and from a number of other countries (Europe, the United States of America and many others).
Rei Momo: The King of Carnival, Momo, is handed the keys to the city in the morning, on the Thursday before Fat Tuesday, and the party officially begins. Camarotes: These grandstands line the street in the neighborhood of Campo Grande. Watch the show from here without being trampled by the crowd. Trios Eléctricos: Outfitted with deafening sound systems, these 60-foot-long trucks carry a kick line of gyrating, scantily clad dancers along with the city’s best-loved performers, among them Ivete Sangalo, Daniela Mercury, Cláudia Leitte, Chiclete com Banana, Carlinhos Brown, and others.
The music played during Carnaval includes Axé and Samba-reggae. Many “blocos” participate in Carnaval, the “blocos afros” like Malé Debalé, Olodum and Filhos de Gandhi being the most famous of them. Carnival is heavily policed. Stands with five or six seated police officers are erected everywhere and the streets are constantly patrolled by police groups moving in single file.
The Osmar Circuit: goes from Campo Grande to Castro Alves square, The Downtown Circuit, in Downtown and Pelourinho, and The Dodô Circuit; goes from Farol da Barra to Ondina, along the coast. The Osmar circuit is the oldest circuit. It is also where the event’s most traditional groups parades. In Dodô, where the artist box seats are located, the party becomes lively toward the end of the afternoon and it continues until morning.
The handcraft legacy of Bahia, which was strongly influenced by the three people responsible for the construction of its cultural and ethnic identity. Using only raw materials (straw, leather, clay, wood, seashells and beads), the most rudimentary crafts are reasonably unexpensive. Other pieces are created with the use of metals like gold, silver, copper and brass. The most sophisticated ones are ornamented with precious and semi-precious gems. The craftsmen and women generally choose religion as the main theme of their work.
Capoeira Martial Art is a unique mix of dance and martial arts of Afro-Brazilian origin, combining agile dance moves with unarmed combat techniques. Its origins go back to the times of slavery, and Salvador is considered the centre of origin of the modern capoeira branches.
The initial purpose of Capoeira’s emergence was to boost the slaves morale, remind them of their homeland through music and to defend themselves against aggression from their owners.
The art of Capoeira is uniquely identified by swinging hips, arm stands, head butts and sweeping feet movements. The art required a good level of agility and core strength. In the first half of the 20th century, Salvador-born masters Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha founded capoeira schools and helped standartise and popularise the art in Brazil and the world. The practice of Capoeira was banned in 1892, though in 1937 it was made legal.
Capoeira practices are accompanied by special music and songs. Musical instruments used in capoeira music include the caxixi, atabaque and berimbau, percussion instruments of African origin. Capoeira has moved from the senzalas and quilombos of Brazil to New York, Berlin, Australia, and just about every place in between.
Although the creation of Salvador was masterminded by the Kingdom of Portugal and its project conducted by the Portuguese engineer Luís Dias (who was responsible for the city’s original design), the continuous growth of the capital through the decades was completely spontaneous. The walls of the city-fortress could not hold the expansion of the city, towards the Carmo and the area where now stands Castro Alves Square. At the time of its foundation, Salvador had only two squares and the first neighborhood ever built here was the Historic City Center.
Pelourinho and Carmo came subsequently, created as a consequence of the growing need of space that the religious orders had. With the rapid expansion, the neighborhoods grew and many of them were clustered in the same area, so today there aren’t accurate records as to their exact number. For urban management purposes, the city is currently divided on 17 political-administrative zones. However, due to their very cultural relevance and to postal conveniences, the importance of the neighborhoods of Salvador remains intact. They represent the city’s lively atmosphere and its cosmopolitan character.
Salvador is divided into a number of distinct neighborhoods, with the most well known districts being Pelourinho, the Historic Centre, Comércio, and Downtown, all located in West Zone.
Barra, with its Farol da Barra, beaches and which is where one of the Carnival circuits begins, Barra is home of the Portuguese Hospital and Spanish Hospital, the neighborhood is located in South Zone. Vitória, a neighborhood with many high rise buildings, is located in South Zone.
Campo Grande, with its Dois de Julho Square and the monument to Bahia’s independence, is also located in South Zone, as is Graça, an important residential area.
Itaigara, Pituba, Horto Florestal, Caminho das Árvores, Loteamento Aquárius, Brotas, Stiep, Costa Azul, Armação, Jaguaribe and Stella Maris are the wealthiest neighborhoods in the East Zone. Rio Vermelho, a neighborhood with a rich architectural history and numerous restaurants and bars, is located in the South Zone. Itapoã, known throughout Brazil as the home of Vinicius de Moraes and for being the setting of the song “Tarde em Itapoã”, is located in East Zone.
The Northwest area of the city in along the Bay of All Saints, also known as Cidade Baixa (“Lower city”), contains the impoverished suburban neighborhoods of Periperi, Paripe, Lobato, Liberdade, Nova Esperança, and Calçada. The neighborhood of Liberdade (Liberty) has the largest proportion of Afro-Brazilians of Salvador and Brazil.