Sometimes when you’re travelling you get so obsessed with “doing” that you forget to stop and just “be”. With so many sights to see and limited time, it’s easy to find yourself racing through, packing everything in, ticking it all off. But then you arrive in somewhere like Salvador, Brazil, and you’re forced to stop, breathe, and just take it in.
Built on a hill overlooking the ocean, surrounded by spectacular Bahian coastline, and home to some of South America’s oldest colonial buildings, Salvador is undeniably photogenic. But in terms of what there is to do in the city… well, there isn’t much.
Salvador is a place you go simply to soak it up. It’s less about doing than about feeling, seeing, tasting, and hearing. Even the locals are known for their relaxed attitude. It might be the party capital of Brazil but here you’re more likely to see people playing music and dancing in the street in their Havaianas than queuing up outside swanky bars and nightclubs.
We spent a week in the city over New Year and tried to tap into this laid back attitude. So rather than give you a detailed rundown of what we got up to, we thought we’d simply try to share the vibe…
[For those who like a few facts with their fun, scroll to the bottom for a quick rundown of Salvador’s past and present]
Salvador in brief
One of the oldest cities in Latin America, Salvador was Brazil’s first capital city, established in 1549.
It is Brazil’s third largest city after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro but it suffers from more violent crime than either of them. It is ranked 17th most dangerous city in the world on account of its extreme poverty and gang crime.
Sitting on a peninsula overlooking Todos os Santos Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other it quickly became Brazil’s main port and a hub for the sugar and slave trade.
Nowadays it is known as the country’s capital of Afro-Brazilian culture. Of the 2.6 million inhabitants, some 80% have black African ancestry.
In the stage of Bahia, of which Salvador is the capital, 50% of people live in poverty. The average monthly household income in the city is R1,163 (£255/$390). 12.7% of inhabitants have no income at all.
Salvador hosts the biggest annual Carnival in the country and holds the record for biggest party in the world.
Construction on a metro system for the city began more than a decade ago. It officially opened in July 2014 but services just five stations, with plans to extend to 15 more. So far it is estimated to have cost more than $1.73bn.
The historic centre of Pelourinho is a UNESCO World Heritage site but it was pretty much a no-go area until 1992 when the local government embarked upon a project called Recovery of Salvador’s Historic Center. The result is that the historic centre is now safe for tourists. The downside is that no locals can afford to live there any more.