10 Things to Do in Salvador, Bahia

Photo: A man dressing in filhos de Gandhy and a woman in baianas.

1. Visit Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim.

Salvador, besides being known as “Brazil’s capital of happiness”, is also known as “the city of 365 churches”. True to its name, you can see myriad churches dating back from the 17th century to those built just recently. However, this one should be on every tourist’s list.

The church itself is associated with both Catholicism brought by Portuguese during colonization, and Candomblé brought with the African slaves who worshipped the god Oxalá, the father of the Orixás and the head of the Yoruba deities. Every year in January millions of people gather for Lavagem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim), which is second largest festival in Salvador after carnaval, devotees would dress in plain white to show their devotion to Oxalá. I encourage you to drop by even if you don’t feel up for a grand festive day. It is a great way to start learning the genesis of Afro-Brazilian history and culture.

2. Tie the Fitinhas do Bonfim (Bonfim Ribbons).

Dip into Brazilian culture by tying fitinhas around your wrist. Make a wish in every 3 knots you tie and wear it until it comes off on its own for your wishes to come true! On the fitinha is written: “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia”, which means “In Remembrance of the Lord of Good End, Savior of Bahia”. You can purchase them at Casa da Colina located diagonally across Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church—10 assorted colors for only 1 BRL is the best deal that I had encountered! Don’t rush into buying from parasitic hucksters, they rape your wallet hard without mercy!

3. Try Sorveteria da Ribeira.

Here is the place! With more than 60 ice cream flavors, no doubt it’s a party for your palate! Personally, I suggest you try those exotic, tropical fruit flavors that are unique to Bahia, such as biribiri, cajá, capuaçu, graviola, umbu,… basically those without English translations! Here is the list for your reference:

If you’re taking a cab from Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church, it should cost you no more than 20 BRL.

4. Visit Igreja e Convento de São Francisco.

The convenant and its church are both important colonial monuments in Brazil. The lavish baroque and rococo style church is bathed in 800 kg of gold leaves! You heard me right, one could not help but stand in awe!

5. Roam around Pelourinho, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To be honest, as Salvador is the first colonial capital of Brazil, I was quite disappointed to see that Pelourinho is the only historical site that the city can offer for its past 214 years (1549–1763) of reign. But think positively, at least this Portuguese colonial baroque architecture is still well-preserved and standing strong.

There are many things to do in Pelourinho, such as #4, #6 and #7. And if you are lucky enough, in the afternoon you might stumble across roda de capoeira; at night you might run into the drumming and let alone the beat run throughly your veins!

6. Appreciate Balé Folclórico da Bahia.

It is the only professional folk dance company in Brazil and enjoys high reputation at home and abroad. Needless to say, my friend and I were stunned for the entire hour of the show and impressed by their high-energy, authentic dance based choreography! Through the performance you would have a glimpse of capoeira, the deities worshiped in Candomblé, etc. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with those “deities”, a leaflet in English would be handed to you before the show. Make sure to arrive earlier as seating is on the basis of first come, first served.

From Monday to Saturday except for Tuesday at 20:00, Teatro Miguel Santana, Pelourinho. Admission fee is 50 BRL. Photography is strictly forbidden.

7. Savour the Unique Taste of Bahian Cuisine. 

Bahian cuisine is filled with African influences and local customs, combined with the excessive use of coconuts, seafood, spices and dendê oil, a.k.a. palm oil, all turned to exotic dishes that one must try before leaving. Acarajé, moqueca de camarão/peixe, caldinho de sururú, tapioca de Romeu e Julieta, and the list goes on… But hey! Where to can you try it? As for the street food/beach snack acarajé (a bun made of deep-fried black-eyed peas stuffed with spicy shrimp and onion mixture) get it from lady Dinha or Regina, both top rated by locals. Their stalls are located at Rio Vermelho. Unfortunetly I didn’t get to try since Dinha’s was closed when we arrived, but if you’re roaming around the area, don’t miss it! Locals take it as Bahian pride! As for the remaining dishes, look for per-kilo or open-buffet restaurant, such as Caranguejo de Sergipe where you get to sample them all at once! Don’t you just love that idea?

What about Hotel Villa Bahia shown in the picture? Situated at Pelourinho, its location makes it perfect to lunch before or after having visited Igreja e Convento de São Francisco. We headed to the courtyard for the 3-course executive set lunch. While waiting for the meal to be served, we were overwhelmed by the 17th and 18th century colonial decor it had. Everything was so delicate that I even wondered whether the silverware we were using was from the colonial times as well! The meal was scrumptious; the chef knew how to make Brazilian ingredients play off each other so well that the cost of 49 BRL was definitely worth the gourmet meal, which was equaled by top-notch service. Make sure to arrive before 14:30, their dishes can blow your mind away easily!

8. Soak up the sun at the Bahian beaches.

Salvador is home to many beautiful beaches and it is proved by my Airbnb host from Slovakia. He traveled all the way to here and to become an expat for the sake of surfing every morning! How crazy is that! So for those who love water sports, you might consider extending your stay by a few more days.

9. Visit Salvador’s nearby island. 

Morro de São Paulo located at Ilha Tinharé, is where most of the people opt for diving or simply sitting back and relaxing. However, due to time constraints we decided to take in Mar Grande, which is much closer therefore less time consuming. So here comes my advice: make yourself to Morro de São Paulo. Mar Grande was OK. Unless you are into exploring Bahian islander daily life, otherwise Morro de São Paulo should be your priority!

10. Get your souvenirs from Mercado Modelo.

The 2-story yellow building hosts more than 260 stores where you can find a wide variety of souvenirs at reasonable prices: musical instruments used in roda de capoeira (atabaque, berimbau, caxixi,… ), paintings, ceramics, home decorative items, jewelry and accessories, rag dolls dressed in baianas, you name it! I even found a bizarre liquor made with lobster that gave me goosebumps! But well, perhaps you will like it? Let me know how it tastes!

Até logo! 🙂

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