Salvador is the perfect entry point for anyone visiting Brazil for the first time. This stunning coastal city, the capital during the height of Brazil’s slave trade, is now a mellow, friendly outpost. And I can guarantee it will take your breath away. It’s no surprise that Salvador’s city’s center has been declared a World Heritage Site given the sheer beauty of its colorful crumbling buildings and cobblestone streets. Plus, its dark past has ironically led to a beautifully diverse local Afro-Brazilian population.
I’d been forewarned about Salvador’s safety issues, making me wary of how much I’d enjoy it. Thankfully my fears were largely unfounded; didn’t have any trouble. I think so long as you’re a discrete traveler who sticks to subtle clothing, leaves the jewelry at home, you’ll be absolutely fine.
Here’s My Killer Todo List for Salvador Brazil!
1) Explore through the Pelourinho. This is the heart of the Old Town, which in a previous life was the whipping post for African slaves being punished. Pelourinho means pillory in Portuguese. Today, as you wander among the pastel-colored colonial homes, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The center is small and walkable, so consider doing a loop to get your bearings first and then pick a cafe to sample a tropical fruit juice (passionfruit, perhaps?) and cool off.
2) Try moqueca. More than once. I could not get enough of this tasty dish. This stew usually contains onions, coconut milk, palm oil (a Brazilian staple), garlic, coriander, and your choice of prawns or fish. It’s served on a terracotta dish that comes out steaming hot (or is kept over the fire) and it’s really good. It’s a bit like a curry, but even better.
3) Take a tour of the flashy Igreja São Francisco. This spectacular Baroque church will stun (or blind) you with its bling. Built-in the early 1700s, it’s a display of colonial wealth in its full glory. I took a tour with a local guide who seriously knew his stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed not only learning about the church’s architecture but also about the rich and fascinating history of Salvador itself.
4) Make the trip to Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. This church is legendary in Bahia; some go there on a pilgrimage. The story goes that in an attempt to raise funds the church started selling fitas (ribbons) for people to wear and make wishes. The tradition stuck and they’re still sold today. You buy a fita, make your wish and wear it until it naturally wears off. When it finally does, you rinse it under running water and your wish comes true. I’ve got two and they are still holding strong. They’re looking a little worse for wear but they’re not coming off until those wishes have become my reality!
5) Walk the Pasarela and watch the sunset in Barra. This neighboring town has a beautiful little lighthouse and stunning views across the Atlantic. I spent one of my evenings watching the sunset over the top of the cliff and joined the crowds in cheering when it finally sunk into the ocean. This is a dope Brazilian tradition that you’ll see throughout the country and it’s worth partaking in at least once.
6) Watch a capoeira performance or take a class. This beautiful martial art/dance hails from this corner of Brazil and there’s no better place in the world to watch or join in. It has a fascinating history, as capoeira evolved in the Quilimbos (communities of escaped slaves) as not just a form of expression but also a defense against slaveowners and potential capturers. The dance has pervaded and evolved throughout history and I was lucky enough to encounter quite a few dancers on the streets. But you can also take a course with some of the expert trainers and learn some basic moves.
So there you have it. Six reasons why you too could fall in love with Salvador, Brazil. Of course, you’ll find many more recommendations in the guidebooks, but these were the standouts of my Bahian adventure I urge you not to miss.