Formerly the capital of Portugal’s New World colony from 1549 to 1763, Salvador is celebrated as the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture and history. As the first slave market in the New World, Salvador became a nexus of European, African and Amerindian cultures when enslaved Africans were shipped to the city to work on the sugar plantations. From music to architecture, food to religion, dance to martial-arts traditions passed down for generations, it is truly incredible to witness how the city has managed to maintain and preserve its rich multicultural heritage. Located on the northeast coast of Brazil, Salvador perfectly embodies o jeitinho brasiliero, with a diverse people, soulful energy, and raw beauty that is difficult to match!
Evidence of the city’s vibrant history is most easily viewed in Salvador’s historic center-Pelourinho! With huge crowds of starry-eyed tourists and overly eager local merchants and artisans, the cobbled-stone streets of Pelourinho are the city’s main tourist attraction and can be seen splattered across any postcard of Salvador. Once the main square for the auctions and executions of the enslaved population during the colonial period in Brazil, Pelourinho is now occupied by tourists looking to explore and snap photos of the neighborhood’s pastel-colored buildings and famous gold-laden churches, like the Catedral Basílica de Salvador. Personally, the most striking aspect of Pelo was the live music and energy coming from every corner. One of my favorite moments of the trip was when we stumbled across an Olodum rehearsal in centro Pelourinho. Olodum, the internationally acclaimed Afro-Brazilian percussion band, has performed since the 1970s, famously appearing in one of Michael Jackson’s music videos. The sounds of drums pounding out traditional Bahian beats against the backdrop of 17th and 18th century architecture was truly a special experience! In 1985, Pelourinho was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
PRAIA DA BARRA:
Praia da Barra, a beach beloved by tourists and locals alike, is a prime example of the tropical beauty of Bahia right in the capital city! After a quick mergulho, we were able to check out Bahia’s oldest fort- the Farol da Barra. Built in 1698, this lighthouse (fun fact: the oldest in South America!) is now a nautical museum!
O MERCADO MODELO:
FITA! FITA! FITA! It is believed that if one ties a fita (colored ribbon) around the wrist, a binding commitment is made until the fita falls off naturally and the wish is fulfilled. Perhaps the most popular souvenir from Salvador (I bought 20!), fita is not just a souvenir from the church, but a symbol of Salvador itself. Visitors from all around the world have come to the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim to make wishes on the colorful ribbon and pray in the city’s popular shrine, famous for its curative miracles. Built in the 18th century, A Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim contains a sala dos milagres (Room of Miracles) where individuals can leave photos, letters, and yes, wax replicas of body parts of those that need healing.
PRAIA DO FORTE/PROJETO TAMAR:
Located 80 km from the bustling city of Salvador lies Praia do Forte- a long, white sand beach which has been dubbed by tourists and Brazilians alike as one of the most beautiful praias in all of Brazil. Coming from Santa Catarina, a state famous for its beautiful and clean beaches, I was skeptical of all the hype surrounding Praia do Forte. But upon arrival, it became clear why this beach was a must see! Not only is it incredibly picturesque, but it is a center for water sports/activities, leaving tourists with endless alternatives to sunbathing. Praia do Forte is also home to Projeto TAMAR, a Brazilian non-profit organization that aims to protect sea turtles in the Brazilian coastline from extinction. After spending a day shopping in the small ajacent village or relaxing at the beach, a visit to the sea turtle reserve is a special and educational part of the experience!
While capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian hybrid of dance and martial arts traditions, is praised and practiced throughout Brazil, it is distinctly a Bahian art form. Since capoeira is derived from the African presence in Brazil, it makes sense that Salvador is home to the modern capoeira branches. Since capoeira can be seen on almost every street corner in Salvador, it is difficult to imagine that the practice was banned in 1892 and not legalized until 1937! Whether on the beach or in the historic center, you can find a roda almost anywhere in the city…you may even be convinced to jump in, participate, and pick-up the berimbau.
Traveling on a budget can be super challenging, especially when it comes to finding an inexpensive, yet tasty meal that won’t upset your stomach. But never was this challenge more easily conquered than in Salvador due to a little tasty treat called acarajé. Undoubtedly the staple of traditional Bahian cuisine, acarajé is a West African-influenced fritter that is soaked in dendê (palm oil) and stuffed with onions and spicy shrimp. Sold on the popular street corners of the city by women dressed in traditional West African garb, to many, acarajé is the official taste of Salvador. Probably the only thing better than the wonderful taste of acarajé is the price of this Bahian delicacy. Costing only about 2-3 reais per fritter, we ate acarajé morning, noon, and night. Totally worth it!
I am so thankful for the time we spent in this vibrant and culturally rich city!