7 Reasons to Fall in Love with Salvador, Brazil
Salvador is the perfect entry point for anyone backpacking through Brazil. This stunning coastal city, the capital during the height of Brazil's slave trade, is now a mellow, friendly outpost. And I can guarantee it will take your breathe away. It's no surprise that Savador's city's centre has been declared a World Heritage Site given the sheer beauty of its colourful crumbling buildings and cobblestone streets. Plus, its dark past has ironically led to a beautifully diverse local population. I have never been surrounded by so many curls in my life!
I'd been forewarned about Salvador's safety issues, making me wary of how much I'd enjoy it. Thankfully my fears were largely unfounded; we didn't have any trouble. I think so long as you're a discrete traveller who sticks to subtle clothing, leaves the jewellery at home, hides her phone after use and always books a cab after dark, you'll be absolutely fine.
Our stay in the uber-cool Hostel Galeria, a friendly hostel in the centre of the Old Town also influenced our first impressions. Our booking not only included a tasty traditional Brazilian breakfast (which, for the record, always includes cake. Um, hello, heaven!) but also a daily caipirinha happy hour which made for a great way to get to know the other guests. We spent a total of three nights there, which was just enough to provide you with a killer to-do list to make you fall madly in love with Salvador too:
1) Have a wander through the Pelourinho. This is the heart of the Old Town, which in a previous life was the whipping post for African slaves being punished. Pelourinho means pillory in Portuguese. Today, as you wander among the pastel-coloured colonial homes, you'll feel like you've stepped back in time. The centre is small and walkable, so consider doing a loop to get your bearings first and then pick a cafe to sample a tropical fruit juice (passionfruit, perhaps?) and cool off.
2) Try moqueca. More than once. I could not get enough of this tasty dish. This stew usually contains onions, coconut milk, palm oil (a Brazilian staple), garlic, coriander and your choice of prawns or fish. It's served on a terracota dish which comes out steaming hot (or is kept over the fire) and it's absolutely to-die-for. It's a bit like a curry, but even better.
3) Take a tour of the flashy Igreja São Francisco. This spectacular Baroque church will stun (or blind) you with its bling. Built in the early 1700s, it's a display of colonial wealth in its fully glory. We took a tour with a local guide who seriously knew his stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed not only learning about the church's architecture but also about the rich and fascinating history of Salvador itself.
4) Make the trip to Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. This church is legendary in Bahia; some go there on a pilgrimage. The story goes that in an attempt to raise funds the church starting starting selling fitas (ribbons) for people to wear and make wishes. The tradition stuck and they're still sold today. You buy a fita, make your wish and wear it until it naturally wears off. When it finally does, you rinse it under running water and your wish comes true. I've got two and they are still holding strong. They're looking a little worse for wear but they're not coming off until those wishes have become my reality!
5) Walk the pasarela and watch the sunset in Barra. This neighbouring town has a beautiful little lighthouse and stunning views across the Atlantic. We spent one of our evenings watching the sun set over the top of the cliff and joined the crowds in cheering when it finally sunk into the ocean. This is a lovely Brazilian tradition that you'll see throughout the country and it's worth partaking in at least once.
6) Get your 'nails did' in a local salon. Ok, so this is clearly a recommendation for my fellow beauty backpackers. But, if like me, you never have time for any beauty prep ahead of your holiday, consider doing things locally instead. I had both a manicure and pedicure done in the local salon and had an absolute blast trying to select colours and describe what I wanted in Portuguese. It's a great way to get stuck into the local culture.
7) Watch a capoeira performance, or take a class. This beautiful martial art / dance hails from this corner of Brazil and there's no better place in the world to watch or join in. It has a fascinating history, as capoeira evolved in the Quilimbos (communities of escaped slaves) as not just a form of expression but also defence against slaveowners and potential capturers. The dance has pervaded and evolved throughout history and we were lucky enough to encounter quite a few dancers on the streets. But you can also take a course with some of the expert trainers and learn some basic moves.
So there you have it. Seven reasons why you too could fall in love with Salvador, Brazil. Of course you'll find many more recommendations in the guidebooks, but these were the standouts of our Bahian adventure I urge you not to miss.
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