The African Roots of Salvador, Bahia

Streets of Pelourinho

Streets of Pelourinho

Salvador, the state capital of Bahia, was also the first capital of Brazilian Republic and even today is the city with most african influence. Salvador is also the third biggest city of the country, right after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and naturally its’ airport is among the busiest of northeastern part of Brazil. In Salvador you can easily feel the african roots of Brazilian culture, hear the rhythms, taste the flavours and feel the power of myths and such african religions as candomble.

If you are looking for culture together with city life, Salvador is probably one of the most interesting brazilian cities to stop by. The main attraction of Salvador is the old town called Pelourinho, located in the upper part of the city, which belongs in the Unesco list of World Heritage sites. It’s dominated by colorful colonial style buildings, beautiful churches and lively streets. Here you will find plenty of charming restaurants, shops of local handcrafts, artists of all kind and “baianas“, the local ladies wearing traditional white dressing and often selling some delicacies. It’s not rare to find people practising capoeira or playing Afro-Brazilian rhythms on the street. It’s here, where samba-reggae was born and became famous thanks to well known Afro-Brazilian band Olodum. Up from the edge of Perlourinho you will also have beautiful view over the Baía de Todos os Santos bay and if you take an elevator down you will find yourself being in front of the Mercado Modelo market, an another excellent place to buy local handcrafts and souvenirs of Bahia.

Mercado Modelo

Mercado Modelo

Salvador has another important historical spots as well, one of the most popular being the church of Bonfim. This church is a pilgrimage destination for the Brazilians, but is worth visiting for anybody who enjoys old architecture and history. To reach Bonfim, you can either take a regular bus leaving in front of Mercado Modelo or alternatively try the touristic Salvador Bahia Bus, which works on “hop on, hop off” basis and in addition to Bonfim takes you to many other interesting parts of the city with fixed daily price. If you choose regular bus, you better be prepared to longer travelling time, due to the number of stops and depending on the type of the bus, air conditioning may not be available either. Just like in Rio de Janeiro, in Salvador organized tours to favela (=slum) can also be found. Part of the tour fee usually goes in the education or in the improvement of the living conditions of the favela inhabitants, so therefore the tours are not only a safe way to visit favela, but also a great way to make this world a better place for everybody.

Church of Bonfim

Church of Bonfim

When choosing your neighborhood in Salvador we would recommend you to stay either in Pelourinho, Barra or Rio Vermelho. In Pelourinho you will find some charming old building that were refurbished to serve as hotels and has turned out to be an excellent place to spend overnight.  Another good options to stay are the neighborhoods of Barra and Rio Vermelho, both just a short drive away from Pelourinho with large variety of accommodation options for all budget and several restaurants and bars for dining as well. The carnival of Rio de Janeiro may be world widely more famous than the carnival of Bahia, but in fact the carnival of Salvador is the world’s biggest street party and attract a countless number of participants to celebrate in the streets of Salvador. Definetely something you should consider about, if you are into carnivals!

Baianas

Baianas

Many tourists travel to Bahia planning to stay at one of the stunning beaches of the state, but once you are in Salvador make sure you stop there at least for two or three nights. Salvador is worth stopping and after having explored Pelourinho, we are sure that you are not regretting at all. We recommed you to combine Salvador with some of the many beach or eco-tourism destination located close by.

In our other blog posts we have already covered destinations that combine perfectly with Salvador, check out our related blog posts:

Our suggested itineraries including Salvador:

Brazil Diversity recommends:

  • Casa do Amarelinho – A small hotel located in refurbished building in the heart of Pelourinho. Excellent level of service with special charm and all the amenities you might be expecting.
  • Catharina Paraguacu – A good tourist class hotel located at Rio Vermelho. Catharina Paraguacu offers you an intimate stay in an old style building surrounded by gardens.
  • Restaurante O Nilo – An excellent restaurant serving arab food in a peaceful corner of Pelourinho. O Nilo has tables both inside and outside, but does not accept credit cards.
Pelourinho

Pelourinho

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Rio de Janeiro, Part II: One of the 7 wonders and other things to see and do.

Restaurants and bars:

Churrascaria Majórica –
Restaurant Arab –
Restaurante à Mineira –
Restaurante Espirito Santa –
Rio Scenariuam
Carioca da Gema

What to do and see in Rio de Janeiro? Anyone of us can probably name the three most popular sights of Rio, the world famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the statue of Christ the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf mountain. These three must be visited by any tourist who comes to Rio.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

There are two ways to reach the statue of Christ the Redeemer which was recently chosen among the 7 new wonders of the world. You can either take a taxi up to the hill or pick a small train from the Corcovado station that takes you up through the Atlantic rainforest area. If you are not in a hurry, we do recommend you to try this out, it’s a nice experience and worth it even if you may have to take a queue before boarding the train. Once you are up on the top you still have to ascend 220 steps (or take an elevator) to reach the feet of the statue. Together with the beauty of the statue you can enjoy stunning views over the city. For the best views, try to reach the top of the Corcovado hill during the morning, before the clouds come up. There is also a small chapel up on the feet of the Christ for those who want to get married and immortalize their love in this spectacular place.

View from Sugar Loaf Mountain

View from Sugar Loaf Mountain

Together with the Corcovado, the top of the Sugar Loaf mountain is one of the best places to enjoy breathtaking views over Rio de Janeiro. To reach the top you have to take two steps cable car from the neighborhood of Urca. In addition to the views you can also enjoy the trails surrounded by the tropical vegetation. Sugar Loaf Mountain and the smaller Urca mountain are also popular among mountain climber and together they create one of the largest urban climbing areas in the world.

Copacabana and Ipanema are the most well known and popular  beaches of Rio de Janeiro. These world famous beaches have been numbered according to life guard posts and serve as meeting points both for locals and for tourists. One of the most trendiest points, is the always crowded post number 9 located at Ipanema.  In addition to these two pearls, Rio de Janeiro has many other smaller or less famous beaches. Arpoador, which is especially in favour of surfers, is located in between of Copacabana and Ipanema. Less crowded Leblon on the other hand is the continuation of Ipanema. The beach of Flamengo is not suitable for swimming but offers one of the most beautiful beach views facing the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Niteroi.

Tram to Santa Teresa

Tram to Santa Teresa

Rio de Janeiro is a lot more than just world famous beaches and landmarks. We highly recommend you to visit the boheamian neighborhood Santa Teresa, located up hill close to the center of the city. There are two ways to get up, either by taxi or by one of the charming old style trams leaving from the feet of Arcos da Lapa, an old aquaduct and entrance to the neighborhood of Lapa. You may have to face a queue to take this pictoresque tram, but it will certainly be at least worth of one way trip. Get off at the square of Largo de Guimarães and wander around in the streets of Santa Teresa. You will find a lot small shops selling handmade items of local artist and small restaurants with delicious dishes. Walking in these streets, while the monkeys are jumping up and down in the trees and tucans hiding themselves behind the leaves, you will start  feeling like if you were in a smaller town and forget of being in a city of more than 6 million inhabitants.

When it comes to historical sights, don’t forget to visit the monastery of São Bento, church of Candelaria and the national museum of Fine Arts. Enjoy a cup of delicious brazilian coffee at the fort located in between Ipanema and Copacabana or walk through the tropical vegetation on the top of the Leme mountain to enjoy another spectacular view over the beaches. The botanic gardens of Rio de Janeiro are worth visiting as well. Jardim Botanico, as it’s called in portuguese is a huge park, where you will find parts decicated for oriental vegetation, others for the Amazon rainforest flora. Don’t miss out the orchid house either! If you enjoy football, pay a visit to the world’s largest stadium, Maracana. Assisting a local match is so much more than just a game, the stadium is full of passion when the Cariocas enjoy their favourite sports and there is no lack of emotion while the fans encourage their teams by singing.

Barra da Tijuca

Barra da Tijuca

A seeker of an active holiday will also find plenty of things to do in Rio de Janeiro. If you are into surfing try out the beaches of Barra da Tijuca and Recreo, they are just one hour away from the heart of the city and offer great waves for the lovers of surf. These beaches are also less crowded and for example a small beach of Prainha, surrounded by the mountains is an excellent place for a swim in beautiful settings. Big emotions and bird’s view over the city are guaranteed if you decide to try hang gliding at São Conrado neighborhood. You may not know, but the world’s biggest urban rainforest area is also located in Rio de Janeiro. Visiting the National Park of Tijuca, is an excellent way to escape from urban life and feel the touch of the nature. For the first time visitors, it’s recommendable to take a tour with a local guide in order to avoid getting lost. The light hikes through the tropical vegetation will take you to waterfalls and viewpoints with breathtaking views over the city.

Once the night falls, we recommend you to head to Lapa. The most trendy, slightly bohemian neighborhood full of bars and restaurants. This is were the Carioca’s go to enjoy a drink and live music. The easiest and the safest way to reach Lapa is by taxi. Don’t consider taking metro, even tough the nearest station is not that far away, at the night time walking through the empty streets of Centro may not be very wise idea. The buildings of Lapa has been refurbished respecting the old architecture, which turns it to be a culturally interesting place to visit as well. Once you reach Lapa you will see a lot of people on the streets, especially during the weekend. Just join them and start bar hopping until you find your favourite place. There are plenty of options for all tastes and budgets. Also check out our recommendations for night in Lapa (see below).

Check out our other blog post about Rio de Janeiro:

Our suggested itineraries in the state of Rio de Janeiro:

Carnaval of Rio

Carnival of Rio

Brazil Diversity recommends:

Restaurants, Bars & Shopping

  • Churrascaria PorcãoA famous Brazilian steakhouse with excellent choice of meats served right at your table. Serves also delicious side dishes and deserts. Try out Porcão located in Flamengo and enjoy stunning views of Sugar Loaf Mountain.
  • Churrascaria Majórica – A typical Brazilian steakhouse, where the quality of meat is highly appreciated. Located at the neighborhood of Flamengo and very growded especially in the weekends.
  • Restaurante Arab – Restaurante Arab serves tasty arab food and can be found both from Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and from Copacabana. We recommend you to have a dinner at Arab of Lagoa Rodgrigo de Freitas where in the evenings you can enjoy live music and stunning views over the Lagoa.
  • Restaurante à Mineira – Located at Humaitá neighborhood. A buffet restaurant specialized at delicious dishes from Minas Gerais state.
  • Restaurante Espirito Santa – This small, but charming restaurant is located uphill at Santa Teresa and is very popular especially during weekends. Espirito Santa serves Brazilian flavours and has a small terrance with few tables for those who prefer their meal at fresh air.
  • Rio Sul – If you are into shopping check out the shopping center of Rio Sul, just a short step away from Copacabana. Here you will find a large number of both national and international brands.
  • Rio Scenariuam – One of the most interesting places to explore the nightlife of Rio. Rio Scenarium, located in Lapa,  is an like an antiquarian with a large number of old items being part of the decoration. It’s a show house, where you will enjoy traditional Brazilian music, samba and forró. Like in many Brazilian bars you will also have a possibility for dining in Rio Scenarium. During the weekends, try to arrive before 11pm. just to avoid long queues.
  • Carioca da Gema – One of the most tradional music houses of Lapa. Carioca da Gema is quite small, but the quality of the music, mainly traditional samba, and the atmospheare takes it to the top of the list when it comes to nightlife in Rio de Janeiro.

Vote for your favourite Diversity!

Each and every traveller is on the road seeking for something, therefore our preferred holiday type may reflect our values and spare time activities. Many of our friends also share our passion for travelling, though it doesn’t mean that our interests are equal. Among our friends, there are those who look for ultimate comfort and total relaxation on the beach, just to compense the stressfull every day life. Some choose the destination so that they practise their favourite hobby under a sunny sky…or a blue sea, and others prefer finding out as much as possible of the culture and the history of their destination.  There are travellers who travel on the other side of the globe, just to be in touch with the wildlife and those who cannot stay out of the shops, not even during the holiday and for them returning back home with a number of new items is the fullfillment of the trip. We also know backpackers, charter lovers, travellers who prefer the beach and those who prefer the mountain.

Let us know what is your favourite Brazilian diversity by choosing one or more of the following options:

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