Highlights and main attractions of Salvador de Bahia and the northeast

Whereas Rio state feels like the sultry soul of Brazil, Bahia reverberates like her pounding heart, beating in time with frenzied tamborims and drums. Salvador de Bahia is the capital of the state and Brazil’s oldest city, where African spices and music fill the airspace and colourful costumes abound, jostling for position alongside the equally vibrant Portuguese buildings. It is a mysterious and quirky city where the sense of history is almost tangible.

Salvador de Bahia is located midway along the Atlantic Coast heading north, a two hour flight from Rio. Every Tuesday and Saturday the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town or ´Pelourinho´ comes alive with live music being played on the steps of churches that, although many of which are crumbling and in need of restoration, still loom majestically with their faded glory. Dancers fill the streets, street vendors sell caipirinhas, acaraje and tapioca, drum corps throw giant steel drums into the air, catch them again and pound them into submission, moving slowly through the streets whose colourful mansions clash against the dancers’ vibrant costumes.

Once the centre of African slave trade and with a tangible Afro-Brazilian charm, it is true that the city has a gritty realism to it. 

Where is Salvador de Bahia?

Exploring Salvador and the northeast

After a few days spent staying in one of Salvador’s boutique pousadas such as the 19th Century Casa do Amarelindo, the paradise beaches of Bahia are sure to appeal. The island of Morro de Sao Paulo, once a base for swash-buckling pirates, is another naturally beautiful attraction just 60 kilometres by boat from Salvador. Cars are forbidden on the island, and the crumbling fort walls hint to a chequered past of power struggles from European invaders, far away from magnificent beaches. Although Morro has these beaches in spades, its history gives it more depth. It also has a series of rocky, palm-fringed bays to the north towards Gamboa village perfect for exploring the island’s nature.

Perhaps you would prefer to go inland to the cliffs, waterfalls and emerald valleys of the Chapada Diamantina National Park, a paradise for trekkers and nature lovers. Encircled by luscious green hills with the Lençóis River cutting through it, the colourful ex-diamond mining town of Lençóis is impressive enough, without the spectacular 1500 square kilometre Chapada Diamantina on its doorstep, and its cooler climate and explorations in the mountains, plateaus, plains and valleys of the park, at times even venturing into different eco-systems, provide a welcome contrast to Bahia’s beaches.

Alternatively, hire a car and head north, exploring the beaches and towns en route such as Olinda and Recife, from where it is a short flight across to the idyllic wilderness island of Fernando de Noronha. Further north still is the windsurf spot of Jericoacoara and the sweeping sand dunes of the Lencois Maranhenses National Park, whose network of white dunes and turquoise lakes offers one of Brazil’s most astonishing natural marvels between the rainy months of January and April.

With everything from colonial beaches to sweeping beaches, Salvador and the Northeast have the perfect mix for adventure.

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