Salvador, the third-largest city in Brazil, is the country’s oldest metropolis, yet it has a lower profile than party hot spot Rio de Janeiro or the commercial nerve centre of Sao Paulo.
The laid-back coastal city, which lies on the All Saints Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, is in the heart of Bahia, the Brazilian province known for its rich African cultural heritage. The city is also known for hosting memorable street carnival parties.
Salvador has been selected as one of Brazil’s 12 host cities for the Fifa World Cup next year and this month’s Confederations Cup.
Even on a three-day stay visitors can make the most of a short visit to the city.
After breakfast at the hotel, spend the day in Salvador’s historic centre, Pelourinho, which is on Unesco’s World Heritage Site list. Its golden churches reflect Brazil’s colonial past, when Salvador served as the capital city for more than 200 years.
In the 1950s, the city centre fell into decay, but thanks to an urban revival, partly funded by the Brazilian government, boutique hotels, hostels, gift shops, galleries, museums and restaurants have opened in the old city. Visit the boutique hotel Casa Amarelindo. The 10-room hotel has a bar with a deck overlooking the All Saints Bay. Many modern hotels are also available a taxi ride away from Pelourinho in the lower city.
Try a lunch buffet of Brazilian food at Senac Hotel School, which also offers cooking classes.
Must-see sights in the old city include the Golden Church and the Afro-Brazilian Museum, which illustrates the influence of the culture on the Bahia region. The slave trade was based in Salvador because of its port. More than a million Africans passed through the city over three centuries. The colourful houses and cobblestone streets make it easy to imagine what Salvador was like in colonial times.
The town square may look familiar from the 1995 Michael Jackson video for They Don’t Care About Us, which featured the city’s famous Olodum drummers.
For a casual supper, dine at one of the restaurants in Pelourinho. Mama Bahia in the old city serves authentic moqueca seafood stew, made with palm oil and coconut milk.
A traditional one-hour dance show put on by the Bale Folclorico da Bahia Foundation in Pelourinho is an inexpensive and entertaining look at Bahian folklore and religious dances. Tuesday is the big party night in Pelourinho, with outdoor concerts and bar stands. Sip a caipirinha drink, the classic Brazilian cocktail made with lime, sugar and a sugarcane liquor called cachaça. A warning – take care of your valuables at street parties after dark.
On day two visit the lower city or cidade baixa, which is connected to Pelourinho by a large elevator. Bonfim Church is the best-known attraction.
The church, believed to have healing powers, has a room filled with mementos left by people who say they were cured in the church.
Then hop in a taxi to the waterfront neighbourhood of Ribeira to the Sorveteria da Ribeira ice cream shop (www.sorveteriadaribeira.com). A banana split will easily fill two people.
Check out the Dique do Tororo park to see the giant statues from the local Candomble religion on a lake.
Take some time to watch the frenetic pace of construction on the new soccer stadium. The stadium, called Arena Fonte Nova, is on a hill above a lake. Salvador’s original stadium was demolished to make space for the new one.
Watch the sun set on the bay at the Barra Lighthouse on the edge of the city.
7 pm – Head to Rio Vermelho, a district a few kilometres away on the water where restaurants and clubs light up late at night. For a more casual evening, Rio Vermelho boasts outdoor street stalls serving cachaça and other local dishes.
For a more formal evening, have dinner at the modern Salvador Dali restaurant or one of the city’s meat churrascarias (steakhouses) such as Boi Preto or the chain Fogo de Chao. Zen nightclub has live musical acts and a sushi restaurant on the roof.
Take a break from the city and head out on a schooner ship to go island hopping. Tour operators in the old city offer affordable tours from the port for full-day excursions that include lunch and stops at nearby islands with remote beaches, such as Frades or Itaparica island.
If you have a few extra days, sail to Morro de Sao Paulo for quality beach time.
After your boat tour ends, walk across the street from the port to the stalls of Mercado Modelo. The outdoor stalls are a treasure trove of crafts but the good stuff is inside the complex, where there is an amazing array of local art, clothes and trinkets for sale. – Reuters