48 Hours In: Salvador

Brazil’s first capital is now a bustling coastal metropolis that’s certain to seduce football fans. By Nick Boulos

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Brazil hosts the Fifa World Cup from 12 June to 13 July, and Salvador da Bahia is the most alluring venue. It is the nation’s third city – after Sao Paulo and Rio – and was its first capital, from 1549 to 1793. Defending champions Spain kick off against the Netherlands here on 13 June. Fans will discover a city as vivacious as it is cultured and historic.

Next month also marks the annual Festa de Sao Joao, on 24 June, in which the city’s squares are filled with dancing to traditional forro bands.

Touch down

There are no direct flights from the UK. The easiest connections are offered by Air Europa (0871 423 0717; aireuropa.com) from Gatwick via Madrid, and by TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932; flytap.com) from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester via Lisbon. Fares, even during the World Cup, are available for £900 return.

I travelled with Journey Latin America (020 8622 8444; journeylatinamerica.co.uk), which offers tailored trips across Brazil. A five-night trip to Salvador excluding flights costs from £486pp.

Flights arrive at Salvador’s Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhaes airport, 28km north-east of the centre. Airport bus S002 departs every 20 minutes from 7am-8pm and terminates an hour later at Praca da Se (1) near the historic Pelourinho quarter. The one-way fare is 3 Brazilian reais (R3/80p). A taxi costs around R80 (£21).

Get your bearings

Home to nearly three million people, Salvador is the beating heart of the north-eastern state of Bahia. It was colonised by the Portuguese at the start of the 16th century and became their capital and a focal point for the gruesome slave trade, with thousands arriving from Benin, Nigeria, Angola and beyond. That chapter of history continues to influence through a dominant African culture, in everything from food, costume, music and dance.

Today, Salvador combines pretty, colonial architecture with modern skyscrapers and lively beaches, all packed on to an Atlantic-lapped peninsula that guards Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay).

Salvador is divided into the Cidade Alta (Upper City) and Cidade Baixa (Lower City). Its heart is Pelourinho, the cobbled old quarter named after the flogging pillars used to castigate slaves.

The bohemian, beachy neighbourhood of Rio Vermelho bookends the city to the south and the upper and lower districts are connected by the Lacerda elevator (2) on Praca Municipal in Cidade Alta (6am-10pm). The 30-second journey costs just 15 cents (1p).

The tourist office (3) is next door on the upper level (visitbrasil.com; 9am-6pm).

Check in

Villa Bahia (4) at Largo do Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco 16 (00 55 71 3322 4271; en.lavillabahia.com) is located in atmospheric Pelourinho and is among Salvador’s best pousadas. The colonial townhouse has 17 rooms with four-poster beds and a pool. Doubles from R530 (£142), with breakfast.

Casa do Amarelindo (5) at Rua das Portas do Carmo 6, (00 55 71 3266 8550; casadoamarelindo.com), also in Pelourinho, has 10 luxurious rooms with dark wood floors and Jacuzzis. Doubles from R350 (£93), including breakfast.

In Santo Antonio, a 10-minute stroll from Pelourinho, is the Hotel Redfish (6) at Ladeira do Boqueirao 1 (00 55 71 3241 0639; hotelredfish.com). Rooms are large and boldly decorated. Doubles from R220 (£59), including breakfast.

Kick off: dancers perform capoeira on the street  

Day One

Take a view

The terrace beside the Lacerda elevator (2) gives an excellent view across Salvador’s modern districts below and across Baia de Todos os Santos, including the busy harbour and the island of Itaparica on the other side of the bay.

Take a hike

From the lookout, head over to the neighbouring Palacio Rio Branco (7) (00 55 71 3117 6492; 9am-1pm weekends, 10pm-6pm weekdays; entry free). The nation’s first government building has an impressive Neo-classical lobby and a small museum on Bahia’s history. Walk north-east across Praca da Se (1) and on to Largo Terreiro de Jesus, a square dominated by the Portuguese-style Cathedral (8) (8.30am-5pm daily; R3/80p), built in 1862 with Lisbon sandstone. Next door is the salmon-pink Museu Afro-Brasileiro (9) (00 55 71 3283 5540; www.mafro.ceao.ufba.br; 9am-5pm weekdays; R6/£1.60), highlighting the region’s African heritage. Tickets also cover the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology downstairs.

Cross the square, pausing under shady palms, to enjoy spontaneous performances of capoeira – an old and energetic artform developed by slaves, that fuses martial arts and dance.

Turn left on Rua das Portas do Carmo and continue to the very end to emerge on to Largo do Pelourinho (10). The baby-blue building at No 8 is where Spike Lee filmed Michael Jackson’s video for “They Don’t Care About Us” with local drum group Olodum. A photo on the balcony will set you back R2 (50p).

Lunch on the run

Across the square at No 19 is Senna Restaurant (11) (00 55 71 3324 4501; 11am-7pm daily except Sunday). It is also a cookery school and museum of Salvador’s old culinary habits. The cosy dining room on the first floor of this 17th-century townhouse hosts a daily buffet (R44/£12) of old Bahian favourites. Try the stewed fish and acaraje – bean and onion croquettes.

Window shopping

At Praco do Artesanato (12), there’s a cluster of souvenir stalls selling native berimbais – single-string percussive instruments made from a calabash shell.

Elsewhere, domino-playing artists display their work along Rua das Laranjeiras (13). The art is bold and bright and captures the spirit of Bahia.

An aperitif

Thirsty locals gather around the tiny bar of Cravinho (14) at Terriorio de Jesus 3 (00 55 71 3322 6759; ocravinho.com.br). The tipple of choice is cachaca, a sugar-cane spirit served from tiny wooden barrels. Do as the locals do and down it in one (from R2.50/70p).

Alternatively, head to the fourth-floor rooftop terrace at the Casa do Amarelindo hotel (5) for a fruity Creole punch (R25/£7).

Dining with the locals

In the back streets of Pelourinho is Maria Mata Mouro (15) at Rua da Ordem Terceira 8 (00 55 71 3321 3929; mariamatamouro.com.br). This charming restaurant has a pretty courtyard and defence walls built in 1549. Highlights of the menu include lamb in tamarind sauce with mandioquinha mash (R76/£20).

Mama Bahia (16) at Rua das Portas do Carmo 21 (00 55 71 3322 4397) serves hearty, unpretentious dishes, accompanied by live guitar music. The star of the menu is moqueca, a rich stew of coconut milk, palm oil and seafood – usually oysters, shrimps or octopus (from R34/£9).

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

The splendid early Baroque church of Sao Francisco (17) on Rua de Ordem Tereira celebrates Sunday mass at 8am (normal visiting hours 10am-3pm Sundays, 9am-5.30pm other days). Brazilian gold and jacaranda wood were used in the construction in the early 1700s. It was built by slaves – some were even permitted to worship inside. Its outdoor courtyard is lined with Portuguese azulejos (tiles) depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi.

Out to brunch

Opposite the church, Le Glacier Laporte (18) at Largo do Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco 21 (00 55 71 3266 3649), specialises in crêpes. Among the 22 options are peppered calabrese sausage and queijo cheese (from R17/£5). There are also weird and wonderful fruit juices such as umbu, abacaxi and siriguela.

A walk in the park

The lush public square of Campo Grande (19) on Avenida Sete de Setembro opens 6am-7pm daily. Under the swaying palm and mango trees stands a statue of a native warrior defeating a dragon that represents Portugal. There is also a number of stalls selling Bahian handicrafts.

Cultural afternoon

Beyond the intricately carved wooden door of the Museu de Arte da Bahia (20) at Avenida Sete de Setembro 2340, is a collection that includes the work of native painters such as the 18th-century artist Jose Teofilo de Jesus (00 55 71 3117 6138; bahiamam.org; 2-7pm weekends, 1-7pm Tuesday-Friday; free).

Take a ride

A taxi to the Barra district (21) should cost about R20 (£5). The main attraction is the crescent-shaped shoreline, popular for its sheltered waters. Try stand-up paddle boarding (R60/£16 for an hour’s lesson) or relax in a deck chair for R3 (80p).

At the southern end of the bay stands the 16th-century Santa Maria Fort (22) at Largo do Farol da Barra. It houses a maritime museum (00 55 71 3264 3296; museunauticodabahia.org.br; 8.30am-7pm daily; closed Monday, August-December; R10/£3). Take the trail around the back of the fort to see where the bay converges with the Atlantic.

Icing on the cake

Try capoeira with a class at the Mestre Bimba Capoeira School (23) at Rua das Laranjeiras 1 (00 55 71 3322 0639; bit.ly/MestreBimba). Hour-long lessons with veteran professor Adubos take place almost hourly, 9am-6pm (R25/£7).

Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?