A city which often gets passed up for the pull of São Paulo and Iguazu falls, Salvador da Bahia is a place steeped history and tradition. With a lively music scene and some of the best beaches in Brazil, you’ll kick yourself for leaving the country without stopping off in Salvador.
In this travel guide, we’ll explore where to eat, how to stay safe and what to do in this vibrant Brazilian city.
The Pelourinho in Salvador da Bahia. Photo credit: Andre Orel
Before travelling to Salvador, get to know some key facts about the region:
The recapture of Bahia by the Portuguese in 1625
Locals will like to tell you that Salvador was the first capital city of Brazil. And yes, before it was usurped by Rio de Janeiro in 1763, Salvador served as the first capital city of Brazil for two centuries. Only small snag in the story is that Brazil wasn't technically a country until the 1800s.
Photo credit: Fábio Ericeira
As one of the main hubs for the Portuguese slave trade, much of Salvador’s culture stems from Africa, and Capoeira is no exception. This unique dance-martial art was originally practised by fugitives Bahian slaves as a form of self-defense and is now popular all over the world.
Palm oil generally has a bad rep, but the kind you’ll smell on the streets of Salvador is far removed from the mass-produced stuff you’ll find in your peanut butter. Dendê, as it’s known locally, is hand-picked, unrefined and holds a special place in local religious traditions.
Like most of Brazil, it’s important to have your wits about you in Salvador, but, with a little bit of know-how it can be perfectly safe to visit. Follow our safety tips below to make sure you don’t run into any trouble during your stay.
Very few Salvador locals will walk around the city at night alone and — while buses are safe during the day — they’re best avoided after dark. Use a trusted cab-calling app like Cabify or MyTaxi to make sure you can always get back to your hotel.
The best way to stay safe in Salvador da Bahia — and much of Brazil — is to keep your valuables hidden. Only take small amounts of cash with you and avoid using your phone too much in public.
Visitors coming to Salvador da Bahia expecting a stack of Brazilian barbecue might be disappointed. Bahian cuisine couldn’t be further than the meat-centric cuisine enjoyed by the rest of the country. Salvador’s coastal location, combined with its African routes, means that fish, hot peppers, palm oil and coconuts are local staples.
Photo credit: Beth Watson
At the risk of sounding like a travel blog cliché, you can’t leave Salvador without eating Moqueca. A stew made with coconut, peppers and a seafood of your choice, there’s no better example of Bahian cuisine than Moqueca. Head to Casa Tereza in Rio Vermelho for the widest choice of ingredients (including veggie options)!
Acarajé da Dinha. Photo credit: Aida Jones
Before forking out for an expensive meal, get to know Salvador’s street food, in particular Acarajé. Deep-fried bean curds may not sound like everyone’s idea of a delicious snack, but Acarajé is without a doubt the most popular street food in Bahia. ‘Soteropolitanos’ (Salvador locals) will queue for hours for their favourite stand and get into fierce discussions over the best one in town. The general consensus is that Acarajé da Dinha in Rio Vermelho or Acarajé da Cira, in Itapoã, are two of the best in town.
Photo credit: E-Sergipe
Fresh, steamed crab is ten a penny in this coastal city and normally costs a fraction of what it would in the US or Europe! The best place to chow down on crab is the idyllic Caranguejo de Sergipe, right across from Farol da Barra beach. Just be prepared to crack it open with an ineffective plastic hammer, as metal lobster crackers are seemingly non-existent in Bahia.
Photo credit: Beth Watson
Vegans and vegetarians will be happy to know they are well catered for in Salvador. Health food buffets like Manjericao and Ramma offer a myriad of vegan and vegetarian options alongside fresh fruit juices. Meanwhile Rango Vegan, in the San Antonio neighbourhood, offers delicious plant-based versions of traditional Bahian dishes. To find out how to order plant-based food on your flight to Brazil, visit our vegan and vegetarian airline meal page.
Photo credit: Ben Tavener
After years of living in relative obscurity outside of Brazil, Açaí is now a staple in trendy cafes the world over. The Açaí in Salvador, however, is cheaper, uglier and much nicer. Get your fix at Toca do Açaí in the Barra neighbourhood.
Photo credit: Beth Watson
Porto da Barra beach is known for its incredible sunsets, clear water and vibrant atmosphere. Once rated as one of the best beaches in the world by the Guardian, Porto da Barra is one of the only beaches in Brazil where the sun sets over the sea. A fact that locals are so proud of that some even applaud as the sun goes down. It’s heartwarming.
Moreré beach on Boi Peba island. Photo credit: Panta LH
While there are plenty of islands to visit from Salvador, Boi Peba trumps them all because of its remoteness. On its most isolated beach, Moreré, you might spend an entire day without seeing another person. Just be ready to catch two boats, a taxi and then a tractor to get there…
Photo credit: Portal da Copa
For an easier escape from the city, catch the bus to the idyllic Praia da Itapoã beach. Itapoã offers a lot more room for sunbathing than other beaches in the city and is so picturesque there's even been songs written about it.
As I’ve mentioned, all the best things in Bahia happen at sunset. And the jazz at the Modern Art Museum is no exception. Unwind on a Saturday night with music, beer and a cracking sea view. What more could you even want?
The Pelourinho is to Salvador what Leicester Square is to London. Touristy, crowded and overpriced. But the one thing that the Pelourinho does have to offer is cravinho. A sticky and delicious liqueur that, if not consumed responsibly, can be pretty deadly.
Portal da Copa
Ask anyone in the city and they’ll tell you that Rio Vermelho is where the party’s at. Students gather at the bars to share bottles of beer from around 8pm then pour into the neighbourhood’s many clubs. Head to Commons for tropical vibes and the best mix of Bahian music.
The local currency in Brazil is the Brazilian Real.
Exchange rate: $1 USD= 3.9 BRL
Hostels R$40 per night
Hotels R$100 per night
Top End hotels R$ 200- 400 per night
Food and drink
Meal in a local restaurant- R$20-30
A bottle of local beer (600ml) - R$6-8
The closest airport to Salvador da Bahia is Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães International Airport (SSA). Brazil is an enormous country, so flying is definitely the best way to get around. You can find domestic flights to Salvador with Azul, Avianca Brazil, Gol Transportes Aereos (previously VRG) and Passaredo Linhas Aereas. Find flights to Salvador da Bahia with Copa Airlines, Air Europa and TAP Air Portugal.
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