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.
Founded in 1549, Salvador was the capital in the heyday of the slave trade. The legacy remains today in its large black population, and the resulting culture in many ways outshines the rest of Brazil; in music, many of the greatest names from the mid-20th century to the present hail from Salvador, such as Dorival Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, and Caetano Veloso. In literature, the late Jorge Amado was also from the region. It's a vibrant, exciting city, and its people are quite friendly.
Salvador is on a peninsula on the northeast coast of brazil which shields the large Baía de Todos os Santos ("All Saints Bay") 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.Salvador, Brazil has a tropical climate including rainforests and lush vegetation.
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.
Local residents enjoy sharing their exotic dancing and music skills with tourists. Residents are also considered some of the friendliest people on the planet.Tourist are welcomed with open and friendly arms by the majority of local residents.
People of Salvador, as other people from the state of Bahia, have a reputation of being relaxed, easygoing, and fun-loving, even by Brazillian standards. On the bad side, this is also interpreted as lazyness and disgust of working; in a way, people of Salvador have reputation opposite to people from São Paulo. It's questionable whether this reputation is true, as the behavior of pedestrians and drivers in traffic seems to contradict this. Regardless, few soteropolitanos seem to bother with this reputation, even the bad part of it, and some even make fun of their own supposed lazyness. Also, most people in Brazil agree that soteropolitanos are generally friendly and warm people.
Brazil is a country of social inequality, but in few places this is as evident as on Salvador. The social segregation is also evident, with large number of upper middle class and upper class citizens living in gated communities, which contrast with the huge slum-like neighborhoods located on elevated areas.
The Salvador's Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhães International Airport (IATA: SSA, ICAO: SBSV) is one of Brazil's main airports. All of the biggest Brazilian airlines have flights to the Bahian capital city. The city also receives flights from the main hubs of Europe, South America and the United States.
The airport is 28km from the city center (via the Paralela expressway) or 32km (via the seaside). Two kinds of taxis are available in the airport, the executive taxis (Coometas and Comtas), and the normal taxis. Executive taxis are pre-paid, they have a table of prices rather than a meters. The other taxi option would be the normal taxis which are metered. A third option would be the executive air-conditioned minibuses which depart every 20 minutes to the Praça da Sé, in downtown near Pelourinho via the seaside, stopping at famous beaches like Ondina, Pituba, Amaralina and Itapuã, and Barra as well as stopping by Shopping Barra--an American-style shopping mall located not too far from the Farol da Barra The fare for these buses is R$4. Another option is the urban buses that go to many parts of the city, for the tourist the options are Lapa, Campo Grande and São Joaquim buses, the best thing is ask the driver before taking an urban bus, the fare is R$2,50 (2 reals and 50 centavos). Linha Verde executive buses go to Praia do Forte and depart often from the airport.
Salvador's long-distance bus station is in the middle of the new city, 14km from downtown. Salvador is accessible via scheduled buses from all around the country and from Paraguay. Inside the bus stations there are taxis (local taxis and executive taxis) and local buses which can all take you to many places in Salvador and the metropolitan area. Executive buses in the Iguatemi Station can be accessed from the Iguatemi Mall by way of a busy walkway. Bus travel in and out of Salvador can take a lot more time than expected. Count on an average speed of 50-60 km/h when planning your itinerary.
Salvador is a common stop on international cruise routes and was once visited by the Queen Elizabeth 2 during her sailing career. Note that the docks area can be dangerous. This area is linked to the Pelourinho historic centre by the Elevador Lacerda, and to the city by urban buses and executive buses to Iguatemi.
By footThere are a number of transportation options available in Salvador, including taxis, buses and car rentals. the bus fares are quite affordable, although the taxi fares can be quite expensive if one is traveling a long distance.
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$0.15. 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$2.80, as of June 2012, (even for buses into the neighboring city of Lauro de Freitas). There is also the option of the air-conditioned executive buses for R$3. Remember to board in the back for the full-sized buses.
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.
Other major bus terminals include: Estação Iguatemi (between the Rodoviaria and Shopping Iguatemi), and Estação Mussurunga (located on the Paralela with buses usually connecting to Praia do Flamengo interior neighborhoods in Salvador).
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.
You can find more about about the Salvador bus routes and time tables one the website for the Superintendência de Transporte Público  (in Portuguese only).
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 - as a general rule very few taxistas will use the meter, so haggling is common on most journies. 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. Most of the executive taxis don't have a very good online presence and often English speaking staff are hard to come by. Salvador Airport Transfer has a website that allows prebooking prior to arrival in Salvador, and claims to have English speaking staff, should you need to give them a call.
Renting a basic car with air conditioning (100+ kilometers or KM free) costs R$ 110-140 per day, plus fuel. It's not hard to find your way accross Salvador avenues, but although people from Bahia have a reputation of being relaxed and easygoing, traffic is agressive (somewhat like Rio de Janeiro), and you will frequently see drivers attempting dangerous overtakes on you. Pedestrians are also careless and unexpectely run to cross roads and streets. If you are not used to this type of traffic, consider asking for a private driver, which is possible on many car renting agencies. Renting a car may be a good idea if you plan to visit the beaches from the northern part of Bahia, with more time flexibility than allowed by travel agencies.
Cycling is not really a good option to get around in Salvador, as there aren't enough cycleways and parking for bicycles, and drivers don't have any respect for cyclists. An exception is the cycleway in the east coast of Salvador, which has 12,55 km and goes from Amaralina to Piatã beaches. Be aware that as the cycleway is not very used, a lot of pedestrians use it for walking.
You'll find a huge variety of things to do in Salvador. Some of the popular activities include:
A good brazil tour guide in Salvador, known as a guia de Salvador, will be able to show you around lots of the attractions and activities if you want to explore on your own. A good option to get a general idea and find your way around in the city is the "Salvador Bus", an open-top tour bus passing by the main points of interest and offering explanation on the way.
One of the main attractions in Salvador is the carnaval. Salvador's giant Carnival, the biggest of the world, according to the Guiness book of records, lasts for one week and is extremely popular with Brazilians and tourists alike. In 2013, the event happens on February 7th - 14th and consists of parades,live entertainment, music, dancers and vendors. The main parades follow three circuits: one in the historic center Pelourinho (with mainly traditional groups in costumes), one on Campo Grande, where most bands play samba, and in recent years the most popular one in Barra / Ondina, where modern Brazilian Axé music mixes with percussion and all kinds of rhythms and styles, and the bands parade between "Camarote" boxes on one side and the beach on the other. Options to participate are either by watching from the camarote boxes, or purchasing an "abadá" shirt to join a group that accompanies one of the bands throughout the parade. One can expect to have a lot of fun if they vacation in Salvador, Brazil during Carnival. Salvador also has many other attractions that tourists will find enjoyable. these include golf courses, museums and even an old 17th century fort. Anyone wishing to visit Salvador Brazil will find their trip to be entertaining, fun and full of wonderful memories.
Go to the beach
Visiting a Salvador beach is a highlight for many tourists. One of the main central Salvador beaches is Porto de Barra. It was originally the site of the first settlement of european newcomers to Bahia. It can get very crowded on weekends. The northeast region of Salvador concentrates most beaches with good water quality. Flamengo and Stella Maris are the most popular beaches among tourists and upper class locals. They have excellent tourist infrastructure and rough waters excellent for surfing. Jaguaribe, Piatã and Itapoã, with calmer waters, are mostly frequented by locals and can become quite crowded at weekends. They are a good option with you want to mix with the local population, but don't bring anything besides your clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen, and some cash, as muggings are quite common.
The other beaches of Salvador aren't suited for bathing, but still can be good for walking, cycling, or taking pictures. Farol da Barra has a beautiful view (specially during the sunset), but it's difficult to walk due to the rocks. "Farol" means lighthouse, and this beach is known for its lighthouse as well as being popular with surfers. A much safer choice is nearby Plakaford. Here the calm waters and soft sandy beaches are welcoming for families and children. In the city south, there is an array of beautiful beaches that include Tinhare and Boipeba.
Salvador shopping is the bargain hunters paradise. There is nothing that you cannot find in a mall. If you plan to buy popular art, crafts and clothing, check the small stores at the Old Town or head to the Mercado Modelo (Model Market). Locals like to shop at American-style shopping malls.
The first thing that anyone wanting to shop in Salvador should know is that it is essential to barter. very few vendors will stick to their given price. If pushed they will always go lower. If you are looking for souvenirs you may want to check out Litoral Norte located at Rua Gregorio de Matos 30. They sell tshirts and other items. Most will cost you no more than $5. If you want local art you should visit Pelourhino. There are many galleries that double as stores. Galeria 13 at Rua Santa Isabel 13 displays work by local artists.
Bahian restaurants are considered to be among the best in Brazil. The majority of Bahia restaurants offer South American cuisine but there a few that offer other specialties. For example, the Maria Mato Mouro located at Rua 3A Ordem de Sao Francisco, Pelourinho serves a wide range of seafood dishes from all over the world although most are from South America. One of the most popular dishes is the grilled bahia fish badejo. This restaurant is open daily from noon until 1am and offers main courses from $15 to $25. The Terreiro de Jesus is a great place to sample the local cuisine from street stalls, served by Afro-Brazilian baianas in their traditional white dresses. A must try dish is the Abara. This is a wrap with bean paste, dende oil and onions all cooked in a banana leaf with spices for flavour. if you prefer western food then you will find many fast-food places like Burger King, McDonald's, Subway or Pizza Hut. You also will find casual dinner chains like Outback Steakhouse.
Be sure to try acarajé, small fritters made from black-eyed peas and onions fried in palm oil slathered with spicy vatapá (shrimp paste).These are sold by Baianas on the street.
Here are a list of restuarants to try:
No trip to a Salvador restaurant is complete without dessert. The Bahia region is famed for it's sweet tooth. A Cubana located at Rua Alfredo de Brito 12 is open daily from 8am until 10pm. It is an old fashioned ice0cream parlor or sorvetoria with 28 homemade flavors.
There are a number of hotels in Salvador brazil that tourists can stay in when on vacation. Some of the hotels are luxury hotels located on the beach. Salvador also has discount hotels that offer cheap rates for those on a budget. Some of the cheap hotels may not offer all of the amenities that luxury hotels offer. There are also hostels in Pelourinho that are reasonably priced, but noisy at night.
There are 3 hostels affiliated with Hostelling International, two situated in Barra and one in Pelourinho. All are quality youth hostels.
Due to high social inequality, Salvador is notorious for street crime, and for a tourist that wanders carelessly in the streets, the likelihood of a mugging or armed robbery is considerably higher than in São Paulo and perhaps even Rio de Janeiro. Salvador recognizes the importance of tourism to the city economy, so most important tourist sites such as Pelourinho and Mercado Modelo, as well as main popular festivals like the Carnival, are usually heavily guarded.
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 others are immediately labelled as either upper class citizens or tourists, and may be specially targeted.
If you are moving on foot, by bicycle, or by bus, it's best to go out during the day. Avoid bringing anything valuable, just enough to enjoy your day. The Flamengo and Stella Maris beaches are among the safest places to go during the day, and they are the best option if you just want to enjoy a good beach without much local culture. In other places, try to stay at areas guarded by police.
As a general rule, be suspicious if people approach you directly in a friendly way as they either want money or to sell you something.
At night, it's better to take a cab to go out. Stay at reasonably crowded places. If you don't see other tourists where you are, then it's probably not a place you should be unless you are feeling particularly adventurous.
When Shopping always check the price first, especially if you are white and have blue or green eyes, many locals will see you complexion and feel they have the right to charge you double for services and products. Always ask for a Coupon Fiscal it ensures that the company or individual you are purchasing from pays the proper tax, and it can usually result in them "suddenly" giving you a 10 - 15% discount if you don't want the Coupon as they have to pay 27% tax what you buy and the Coupon ensures this. Be particularly aware of Banca and Kiosks on the street as they will undoubtedly charge you more for being an estrangeiro (foreginer). All the little extra money you are charged can seriously eat into your budget and leave a sour taste in your mouth as nobody likes being ripped off.
For a nice day trip, catch the ferry to the laid-back island of Itaparica. Salvador is also the gateway to many other nearby attractions such as: