When I booked this trip, my whole purpose was to take a well-deserved break after a particularly hard semester in Law School (yes, it was several years ago, and yes, for those of you who didn’t know, I’m a lawyer). So, I added Salvador da Bahia to the list just thinking of drinking and sunbathing. Don’t get me wrong, I drank my weight in caipirinha. I’ll blame the heat. And the fact that they sell them literally in every corner! Anyway, where I was heading was to the fact that I discovered so much more. So I put together a guide through the best things to do in Salvador, Brazil, so you don’t miss out on any of the wonders this corner of the world has to offer!
I went on this trip with a classmate, and it was a last-minute decision. While we were studying for our last exams of the semester, we commented on how much we earned a week at the beach, where alcohol could stop every legal thought we might have. And just like that it was settled. Brazil was calling. We didn’t know much about the place and we had no time to do any research, so we decided on booking a pack –the sort with hotel and activities planned for you– something I almost never do. But this time it was absolutely worth it. Instead of spending 8 days doing nothing but drinking, we ended up going to amazing places I didn’t know existed. And, of course, drinking too!
Guarajuba was the perfect first day in the area. Only 50 km from Salvador, this former fishermen village has a different vibe than the city –more laid back and less crowded. It was a time for sunbathing in a sandy beach, try some local food, and make our first Brazilian friends.
Praia de Forte and Tamar project
An extra 30 minutes north, in the beautiful Praia de Forte, you can visit the turtle sanctuary, Tamar project. It was created in 1980, with the main objective of protecting sea turtles from extinction on the Brazilian coastline. The centre collects the eggs, looks after them until they hatch, and then releases the baby turtles into the sea. If you go during January or February, you can see the turtles hatching ❤️
Ilha dos Frades
A quick boat ride across the Todos os Santos bay gets you to Ilha dos Frades. This mainly uninhabited island is a peaceful oasis. We met some locals and gave it a shot at learning capoeira. Needless to say, we failed miserably. Quick tip: don’t try it in the sand, it just makes it waaay more complicated.
40 more minutes on a boat get you to Itaparica. Immediately you can feel it’s a bigger island. People are dancing and drinking everywhere. After a bit of exploring we found the Fonte da Bica, the ‘fountain of life’. Having that blessed water explains the energy of the island’s inhabitants. Although it could also be the caipirinhas. For sure one or the other.
Praia de Itapuã
Praia de Itapuã was the place to be in the 60’s. That brought composer Vinícius de Moraes to live here. Nowadays the calm sea, palm trees, and the fame brought by the writer of ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (the girl from Ipanema) still makes it a nice getaway from Salvador.
🎶 Olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça
É ela a menina que vem e que pasa
Num doce balanço caminho do mar.
Moça do corpo dourado, do sol de Ipanema
O seu balançado é mais que um poema
é a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar 🎶
Morro Saô Paulo
But the best of the best was kept for last. My favorite spot in Bahia was Morro Saô Paulo. This untamed nature heaven is a 2-3 hours boat ride from Salvador. It has 5 different beaches, becoming less and less touristy as you go. Beaches 4 and 5 are quiet and full of bright-colored fish. You can reach them in a couple of hours walk. It’s absolutely worth to walk with your feet in the warm Atlantic, taking in the views!
If you want even more peace, head to any other place in the Tinharé island. You’ll escape the tourist for sure. Or do like me and go off season 😊
Salvador itself is a lovely, eclectic mix of cultures. In both people and architecture you can find a blend of Amerindians, Africans and Europeans. The fact that this was Brazil’s first colonial capital city only adds to it splendor.
Get lost in the Old Town. Every narrow street has a hidden treasure. Walk around Pelourinho, a UNESCO Heritage Site where you’ll find colonial baroque Portuguese architecture from the 17th through the 19th centuries.
Don’t miss the views form the Lacerda Elevator. You’ll get a stunning panorama of the bay, and an aerial view of Mercado Modelo, a the most famous market of the city, located in an 1861 neoclassical building.
And, please, venture away from the touristy spots. If you’re staying in a hotel on the sea side, all you’ll hear is how dangerous the city is, and that you shouldn’t go without a guide. Don’t pay much attention, they’re just trying to sell you a tour. Be careful as you would be in any city in Latin America, but don’t miss out on exploring. We went out at night, to find some local food, to the area that was “beyond the limits for tourists”, and I felt perfectly safe. Wear a smile and locals will be drawn to you, making you feel at home, and helping you out as much as they can.
Was it worth a spot on my Bucket List?
I’m not a fan of destinations that are known because of their beaches, so I was a bit skeptical about how much I’d actually like it. But I really did! The mix of history, architecture, wildlife, relax and drinks (and then some more drinks) make Salvador an interesting and fun place that can keep you entertained for days on end. Make sure you read some travel advice before you go to Brazil, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing trip!
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