salvador city guide

Once the magnificent capital of Portugal’s expansive colony, Salvador’s colourful cobbled alleyways and baroque architecture point to its glorious past, while a pool of local artists ensure that an equally rich culture thrives today. Wild street parties are a regular occurrence, with the ding of samba drums reverberating off the city’s walls as capoeira kings form circles in the main plaza to begin their strange dance-fight. While the city has a somewhat seedy underbelly which goes hand in hand with poverty, it contributes to an infectious electricity which we have yet to experience elsewhere.

If you’ve got just 24 hours in the city, here’s how to spend it…

Wake up at Aram Yami Hotel

This boutique hotel in the heart of the old town is the perfect launchpad for exploring the city. The name means sun and night in Tupi-Guarani (the local language) and is said to allude to the balanced energy which flows through the 19th century building. The top suite will further contribute to your good vibes – stay here and enjoy an early morning swim in your private pool before tucking into an all-you-can-eat Bahian breakfast on the balcony, with sweeping views of the bay of all saints below. Rooms from £215.

Walk around Pelourinho

Spend the morning wandering through the colourful streets of Pelourinho, a UNESCO World Heritage site where various cultural centres, music schools and dance collectives fill the pastel-hued buildings with a tangible buzz. The São Francisco church, with its extravagant gold interior is one of Salvador’s most treasured landmarks. Be sure to sample acarajé – a local dish made from deep-fried, black-eyed peas – from one of the street stalls in the square.

Get lost in Mercado Modelo

Just footsteps from the main square, shoot down the side of the cliff in the dramatic free-standing Lacerda elevator (the city lies on two levels) to this traditional craft market. A symbol of Salvador’s diverse artistry, this is the place to pick up souvenirs – but be sure to haggle on the price.

Stop for lunch at Tudo Azul

Grab a taxi to Barra for an indulgent lunch. Right on Salvador’s most popular beach front, this cosy local diner serves up the best of Bahian cuisine. Go for traditional prawn moqueca (a fish stew with coconut milk and tomato), washed down with an ice-cold chopp (draught beer).

Chill out on Farol da Barra beach

One of Salvador’s most prominent beaches and the site of Bahia’s first European settlement, Barra is the place for sunbathing and surfing alike. It gets pretty crowded at the weekend, so grab some beers from the nearby shop and make friends with fellow beach bums. Be sure to applaud when the sun goes down – it’s the done thing.

Go for dinner at Armado

After a long day, the bay of all saints will lure you back in for dinner at Armado, where a killer view awaits. Located in a centuries-old cargo warehouse, the restaurant channels a contemporary-cool vibe and the pescada amarela (fish with banana puree and wild rice) is divine – even more so when accompanied by a citrus-sweet caipirinha.

Get your samba on at a street party

Several caiprinhas down and you’ll be raring to hit Pelourinho for a lively dose of samba. Plan your visit on a Tuesday if you can, when the city comes alive for a huge samba ‘bloco’ street party. If not, you’ll find plenty of local bars with samba nights throughout the week.

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