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The capital of the Brazilian State of Bahia, Salvador is a picture-perfect city with a tropical coastline that wraps from the Bay of All Saints to the South Atlantic Ocean. Having earned the nickname of the Capital of Joy, the city is famous for mouthwatering street food, exuberant music, and wild Carnaval festivals—all of which have been influenced by Salvador’s well-preserved African heritage. The historic center of the city dates back to the mid-1500s and features candy-colored houses, cobblestone alleys, baroque churches, and bustling squares. Long-standing forts line the waterfront of neighborhoods like Barra, while the district of Rio Vermelho is the heart of the city’s culinary and nightlife scenes. Salvador’s dynamic culture can be seen throughout its various museums, which celebrate everything from art and history to religion and food. Outside the city, the Bahia coast is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth, making it easy to see why locals say, “Sorria, você está na Bahia!”—”Smile, you’re in Bahia!”
Salvador is broken up into countless districts and smaller neighborhoods, but the majority of the city’s attractions are concentrated along its southern coast.
Pelourinho — Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Pelourinho—or simply Pelo—is the crown jewel of the city, marked by pastel-hued homes, stuccoed windows, and colonial cathedrals like the periwinkle-painted Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. More laidback than Salvador’s other tourist destinations, the neighborhood quietly hums as people meander their way between the shops and food stalls around Terreiro de Jesus Square. Within the district, find cultural attractions including the Afro-Brazilian Museum, the Museum of Bahian Gastronomy, and the Museum of Brazilian Music. At night, visitors come here to take in a mesmerizing show at the Bahia Folkloric Ballet or at various small theaters throughout the neighborhood.
Comercio — Directly to the west of Pelo, Comercio is—as the name suggests—the commercial center of the city. The district is mostly made up of high-rise apartments and office buildings, but there are still a few gems to be found. The art deco Lacerda Elevator connects the hilltop historic district to the waterfront, and offers views of the coastline in all directions. Down by the terminal, the Mercado Modelo boasts more than 250 shops selling arts, crafts, souvenirs, and food. South of Marina Pier sits the former Solar Unhão sugar mill, which now houses a restaurant and the Museum of Modern Art. Come here in the evening for the best sunset views in the city, but take a taxi as the area has been known for muggings.
Barra — Sitting on the tip of Salvador’s peninsula, Barra is a busy neighborhood and resort destination nestled by the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. On top of swimming and sunbathing at the , visitors flock here to walk along pedestrian promenades, kick back at a local beach bar, or peruse the boutiques at sprawling Barra Mall. In the northeast corner of the district, the Palace of Arts combines an early 20th-century mansion, a contemporary wing, and a garden with statues by Rodin.
Rio Vermelho — East of Barra, the rest of Salvador’s coastline is more or less one beautiful beach retreat after another. Of these, Rio Vermelho is a particular favorite, thanks to some of the city’s best waterfront hotels, restaurants, and nightlife options. The district is a mix of upscale living and bohemian flavor. Near the water, the newly renovated Fish Market boasts 11 seafood eateries, while Guedes Cabral and Odilon Santos streets are the place to be for options ranging from Brazilian to Asian to Italian. Once the sun goes down, Santana and surrounding squares fill up with locals and visitors who come to hear live music, watch capoeira martial arts, and dig into acarajé, a plate of tasty fritters made with black-eyed peas. Just outside the eastern border of the district, the Salvador Zoo and Botanical Park houses more than 1,500 different animals.
For some of the most spectacular views of Salvador, make your way to the Lacerda Elevator, a symbolic site with a history dating back to the early 1600s. Today, the structure that stands has been beautifully renovated to restore its art deco design, and offers sweeping vistas of the city from 236 feet (72 m) above sea level. Head to the observation deck to gaze out upon views of the Monument to the City of Salvador, the Bay of All Saints, and São Marcelo Fort in the distance.
Explore the must-see sites of Salvador in just a few hours. With a local leading the way, immerse yourself in the city’s rich history and current culture as you weave your way between the statue-lined Tororó Lake, the modern Fonte Nova Arena, and the towering Our Lord of Bonfim cathedral. To see a great example of the city’s colonial architecture, travel to the snow-white Monte Serrat, an 18th-century fortress that watches over the bay. Cap off your tour at Mercado Modelo with time to shop for handicrafts.
Once you’ve explored Salvador by day, lose yourself in the magic of the city at night. At a festive venue, take in a spellbinding show that draws on tales from local folklore while combining traditional dances like maculele, danca do caboclo, and samba de roda. As you watch, dine on a feast of your choice of Brazilian specialties or international cuisine.
There’s so much to see and do in Salvador, but there’s just as much in proximity to the city. Travel out of the hustle and bustle to the tranquil beach of Morro de São Paulo, or to the secluded village of Mangue Seco, a tiny fishing town that’s home to just 200 people. To see Salvador from a new perspective, hop aboard a schooner for Itaparica, the most popular of the islands in the Bay of All Saints. As you sail off into the water, gaze out upon views of the postcard-worthy coastline while a band serenades you with the rhythms of the region. Upon arrival on the island, it’s up to you what you want to do. Swim, snorkel, horseback ride, or simple kick back and relax on the beach.