Salvador Insider tips: our guide to the music and street-food capital of Brazil, and the cradle of Afro-Brazilian culture. If you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro as well, check out our Rio in Five Insider Tips post!
Salvador Insider Tips #1: Eat your fill, acarajé and more
Recommeded by Jorge Amado in his books.
I know, this is kind of cheating. But Amado and his books were the reason why I wanted to come to Salvador in the first place.
Wandering around Salvador, one can’t help but noticing ubiquitous signs and food carts advertising acarajé. This street snack is perhaps the best known and most iconic of all Bahian dishes; there is even a cart stationed just outside the airport.
Eat acarajé until you drop, by all means, but don’t forget to try other specialties, such as moqueca de peixe and ximxim de galinha. A good place to try all sorts of Bahian food is Restaurante do SENAC, smack-bang in the centre of Pelourinho, the historic centre. The restaurant is part of a culinary school, and offers a great value lunchtime buffet. There may be better restaurants around the city, but for those who like to try a little bit of everything, it’s the place to be.
Salvador Insider Tips #2: Spend time on the beach
Recommended by Russell, the owner of Barra Guest House.
Now, normally I am not a beach type, but I loved beach life in Salvador. Praia da Barra, near where we stayed, was a great place to while away sunny Bahian afternoons. Smaller and more down to earth than Rio beaches, they are a great place to unwind after sightseeing around the Pelourinho. We ate camarões on a stick and tucked into deep-purple bowls of acai na tigela, people-watching while the sun set behind Farol da Barra.
Salvador Insider Tips #3: Attend a Candomblé ceremony
Recommended by Atilio, a professor of linguistics.
I have long been interested in culture and religions; as one of the most culturally-unique places in Brazil, Salvador was at the top of my list. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion, a mixture of traditional African and Catholic beliefs. I have no words to describe how amazing it was.
Salvador Insider Tips #4: Visit the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church
Recommeded by Yanira, an Afro-Brasileira woman I met on a train.
For as long as I can remember, I have worn a fita around my wrist, a strip of fabric from the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church in Salvador. It was a token of my love for Brazil and the symbol of a promise I had made to myself, that one day I would visit the country. When I stood in the church, I finally realized I had made it.
The church is a short walk away from the centre, and it is in many ways the real heart of this town. If you can, visit in January for the Festa do Bonfim, a ten-day celebration that culminates with the ritual washing of the cathedral steps by Bahian women in their traditional costume, chanting prayers in Yoruba.
Salvador Insider Tips #5: Don’t be paranoid
Recommended by everyone.
A sure-fire way to not enjoy Brazil is being paranoid 24/7. This is particularly true in Salvador. The historic centre is a place of tiny alleyways snaking up the sides of a hill. Advice came pouring from locals and fellow travellers: Don’t visit! Stick to the main square, or else you’ll be robbed! We did at first, but it felt like being in a museum exhibit. We really wanted to see the place besides the tourists’ circuit – like Favela Rocinha. So we mustered our courage, headed down the backstreets, and had a great time wandering around.
Follow your gut, that’s all I can say. Let your footsteps guide you. If a place looks seedy, don’t go there, you’ll spend the whole time looking over your shoulder. In my opinion, locals (especially in South America) tend to be over-paranoid, not wanting tourists to have bad experiences in their country. Be careful, by all means; but don’t be paranoid, and enjoy this beautiful city.