Salvador: Rhythm and religion in Brazil

Bahia's vibrant coastal capital moves to a different beat, as David J Constable discovers

Salvador was the first capital of Brazil, founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century. While that title now belongs to Brasilia, Salvador remains the capital of the vast coastal state of Bahia and is also the nation's Afro-Brazilian hub, a relic of its days as a centre of the slave trade; it was here that captives would arrive from West Africa. The city juts out to sea, protecting the waters of All Saints' Bay (Todos os Santos) from the Atlantic Ocean. It's flanked on both sides by golden coasts and three lighthouses pinpoint the land's outer-reaches; at its most southerly point, Farol da Barra is a prime spot to watch the sunset with views across the bay. It's just a shame that when I arrive there, it's raining.

Housed within the ancient Portuguese Forte de Santo Antonio da Barra, built in 1534 to defend the capital from indigenous and Dutch advances, Barra lighthouse today houses maps, charts and artefacts, many of which were recovered from sunken European galleons that transported goods and slaves during the colonial era.

Following the coast east along Avenida Oceanica, I pass a line of coconut stalls; I'm informed that coconut water is the perfect tonic for a hangover. I stroll past a line of high-rise, beach-front hotels and Restaurant Barravento (00 55 71 3245 5916;, which serves traditional Bahian cuisine such as acaraje (a fritter made from black-eye peas, stuffed with shrimp and deep fried in palm oil). After a left-turn up Rua Marques de Caravelas, I walk past Barra Mall on Avenida Centenario and head for the multicoloured new-builds which introduce me to the vibrancy and energy of Salvador. Red, blue, pink, orange and yellow houses contain shops that open out on to the pavement and botequins selling cheap snacks and drinks, such as Brahma beers and caipirinhas.

Continuing along Rua Marques de Caravelas I follow the road for five minutes and take a right to cross Avenida Princessa Isabel where I reach a wall of green forestry; Praca Santo Antonio da Barra. Following the circumference of the park, I return to the coast, only this time on the upper west-side by Yacht Club de Bahia (00 55 71 2105 9111; Tourists can enter the club for a daily fee but prices vary depending on the season (between R$70/£20 and R$200/£56).

From the Yacht Club I take a taxi to the newly renovated Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova ( The stadium is the beating heart of Salvador and is home to Bahia football club; it will feature in next year's World Cup and will host games during the 2016 Olympics. Opposite is the Dique do Tororo lake with its circle of bronze sculptures of orixas – spirits of the local Afro-Brazilian Candomble religion that originated here during the slave trade and is still practised today.

It's a short walk north-west, along Ladeira Fonte das Pedras and left up Rua da Poeira, from the stadium to the Unesco-protected historic neighbourhood of Pelourinho – nicknamed Pelo. The word Pelourinho means "whipping-post" and marks the place where slaves were bought, sold and beaten. While the district is undoubtedly touristy, it's also the most idiosyncratic with religious and colonial architecture such as the convents of St Francis, St Dominic and St Anthony, amid the ornate mansions.

It's still raining as I walk up Rua Santa Clara, past Colegio Franciscano Santa Clara (00 55 71 2203 4000;, an old Franciscan college, to the crossroads at Avenida Jose Joaquim Seabra. Opposite is Sao Francisco Church (00 55 71 3322 6430), an important colonial monument due to its expository of Baroque art, showcasing the exaggerated illusionistic paintings by Jose Joaquim da Rocha and exuberant shiny decor.

Down Rua Maciel de Cima, a cobblestone alley leading away from the church, I reach Largo do Pelourinho, the square immortalised in Michael Jackson's video for "They Don't Care About Us" and am surrounded by colourful baroque architecture. I can hear the rising boom-da-boom-cha drum beats of the unmistakable Olodum. The name is African, short for Oludumare, which in the religious ritual of Candomble means "god of gods". The band – a cultural and civil rights group that also featured in the Michael Jackson video – stands at the top of Pelourinho Square and beats large drums which hang from their waists, each moving rhythmically on the spot.

Towards the foot of the Pelourinho is The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks, built by slaves in the early 18th century with a baby-blue façade and dark green doors. It's a Sunday morning and I can hear the songs of the congregation inside.

I hail a taxi and head about 10km south, back to the Atlantic waterfront to the bohemian Rio Vermelho district, once home to renowned local writer Jorge Amado, where today you'll find some of the city's most popular bars and restaurants. It's here where the Festa da Yemanja takes place in February, an important celebration in the Camdomble religion, celebrating Yemenja, goddess of the sea.

As the afternoon creeps on, an oily aroma fills the air. The women in traditional Bahian dress are out frying balls of dough into acaraje. The area is filling up; happy hour is early and long-running in Rio Vermelho. I make for Casa de Tereza (00 55 71 3329 3016; on Rue Odilon Santos, where I'm treated to delicious mix se fritinhos (shrimp and black bean croquettes), moqueca (a Brazilian seafood stew) and more than a few caipirinhas. As I leave, three local men sit on crates playing the berimbau (a single-string musical bow) and an old, wiry woman raises her skirt and struts, splashing through the puddles. It may be raining, but spirits are not dampened in Salvador.

Fresh cuts

Restaurante Amado (00 55 71 3322 3520; is a new restaurant on Avenida Lafayete Coutinho, built within an old cargo warehouse. It has spectacular views overlooking Todos os Santos bay and serves elegant Brazilian cuisine with "soul". Head chef Edinho Engel also runs Manaca Restaurant in Sao Paulo.

Travel essentials

Getting there

David J Constable flew with TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932;, which operates flights from Heathrow to Salvador via Lisbon or Porto. Fares start at £543 return.

Staying There

Pestana Convento do Carmo, 1 Rua do Carmo, Pelourinho (00 55 71 3327 8400; Doubles start at US$303 (£202), including breakfast.

Zank Boutique Hotel, 161 Rua Almirante Barroso, Rio Vermelho (00 55 71 3083 4000; Doubles start at R$407 (£115), room only.


More information

Bahia Tourism Board:

VBRATA (Visit Brazil Travel Association):

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments