By Marisa Megan
As the locals say: “sorria, você está na Bahia!” (smile, you’re in Bahia). Bahia is also the most African state of Brazil. It’s the home of soul and rhythm and famous for it’s colourful nightlife. So if you’re thinking of spending a few days in this exciting city (and you should!), or if you’ve just landed and don’t know where to start your journey, check out this definitive list of Salvador’s must-see hotspots according to our local insider’s.
The Pelourinho is a bit of a tourist attraction, but one that you shouldn’t miss. The heart of the old city, the Pelourinho is a veritable postcard of Salvador. The wonderfully restored pastel-coloured buildings are home to amazing shopping, cultural centres, restaurants, bars and live music.
Founded in 1594 by Portuguese settlers, the historic centre of Brazil’s first city got its name from the main square in which slaves and criminals were once punished. In 1985, UNESCO named the Pelourinho a World Heritage site. It’s been a source of inspiration for Brazilian musicians like Caetano Veloso, as well as international stars like Paul Simon and Michael Jackson, who recorded scenes of a video clip here.
Another thing you must do in Salvador is go to an Olodum rehearsal. The Olodum band is a traditional Afro-Brazilian group that has been around since the 70’s and is best known for their annual Carnaval Bloco. The group hosts shows and rehearsals year round, which will easily be the trip highlight for any Afro-Brazilian music lover.
Another must-see is the sunset over the Baía de Todos Santos. There are several options on where to do it from. The Elevador Lacerda is a beautiful old art deco elevator and easily the most famous sunset spot. While the view is exemplary, many consider it a tourist trap due to the city’s often dubious reputation. Some find they have to be too wary of their things to enjoy the experience. If you prefer a more mellow vibe, find a nearby restaurant such as Amado or Al Carmo where you can grab a drink and a spectacular dinner and enjoy the views without the worry.
In the summer, there is Sunset Jazz at the Solar do Unhão every Saturday in front of the Modern Art Museum (MAM). Local artists play fantastic jazz sets with Baian beats from 6pm until the sun goes down. It’s an amazing mix of live music and incredible views of the bay, all at the foot of one of the most architecturally famous buildings in the city.
Bahia is home to some of the most breathtaking natural paradises on earth, but to really experience them you’ve got to get out of town. The options are endless, but here’s where to start:
Head to Arembepe Beach, about 30 km north of the city. The main attraction is a small hippie village, located quite close to the city centre, where the peace and love generation still sell crafts and locally-grown produce. Many choose to live naturally, in mud and straw houses, and without electricity. This community housed Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the 60’s, American rocker Janis Joplin in 1970 and the Novos Baianos for extended stays on several occasions.
For animal lovers, its good to note that the beach is also home to sea turtle conservation projects. From December to February you can witness baby turtles being released into the ocean.
Skip the over-popular Praia do Forte in favour of a true natural paradise – a sleepy fisherman’s town called Itacimirim. Spread along 8 km of gorgeous beaches, you’ll find natural pools for snorkelling, ideal diving conditions, fresh water rivers colliding with the sea and even some amazing warm-water surf beaches.
Next, its time for a time-travel experience. Wake up early to take a two-hour ferry down to Boipeba. This small island with four villages is a protected environmental area where no cars or motorbikes are permitted. All transport is on foot or by farm tractor. The island is home to native Atlantic Rainforest, salt marshes, sand dunes, extensive mangroves, live reefs, palm-tree lined beaches and consequently a rich ecosystem of flora, fauna, sea life and wild animals. Moreré is the second most visited spot on Boipeba and the top recommendation. There are a few guest houses, bars and restaurants, but no pier for boats to dock, so all transport to and from this charming village is by canoe from the main beach.
Best onward Trips: Itacaré for surfing, Peninsula de Maraú for untouched beaches and native Atlantic Rainforest, or Chapada de Diamantina for incredible crystal clear waterfalls and caverns.