Salvador de Bahia is sun-kissed all year round. Here the difference between summer and winter practically does not exist, so its beautiful beaches overlooking the Atlantic welcome tourists and locals in every month. You come looking for the warmth, colour and taste of Brazil on these coasts that over the centuries have seen the traditions of Africa, America and Europe mingle with each other, to create a unique cultural mix.
Salvador de Bahia, also called Bahia by its inhabitants, is Brazil's third most populous city, after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Its neighbourhoods, in fact, are lived in by about three million people, the majority of whom are of African origin. Today it is the capital of the Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, but until 1763 it was the capital of all Brazil, a title that it then had to surrender to Rio de Janeiro.
The soul of Salvador del Bahia can be described, for the most romantic, with three Cs: capoeira, candomblé and cachaca. The first is a dance that originates from fighting, and tells the story of African Americans who arrived in Salvador as slaves. The second is the Afro-Brazilian religion of the Orixas, the demigods whose worship has integrated with other religions in the state of Bahia. And the third is the brandy you get from sugarcane, the fiery soul of the caipirinha, the cocktail that speaks most of Brazil. You will find traces of all three of these words in the daily life of the Pelourinho, Salvador's historic district, with its colourful houses and cobblestone streets full of people. In its squares it is not difficult to come across improvised shows of capoeira, but also simply of music, while strolling with your nose up, letting yourself be attracted by the profiles of the houses in pastel colours and the scents of the Bahia cuisine, which spread through the air from the countless local restaurants.
The Pelourinho is located in the upper part of the city, which is reached from the port via the iconic (and of course very useful!) Elevador Lacerda: its two columns are one of the symbols of Salvador, which every tourist meets sooner or later in his explorations. And in the streets of Salvador you will also see many churches, a tangible symbol of the strong religious nature of this people: churches that dominate the squares such as the Cathedral de Salvador, just a little further away but incredibly valuable like the Igreja de San Francisco, with an unusual face such as Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Mares and intense spirituality like Igreja do Bonfim, adorned with its countless multicoloured ribbons. You will also see historical convents, which today are still as alive as that of Sao Francisco or that have turned into something different like the Convento do Carmo. Guests can shop at Mercado Modelo, finding the most typical souvenirs and the most authentic Bahia flavours, or fill your eyes with the beauty of the Farol de Barra looking at the ocean. You will see the white clothes of the women of Salvador, the bays sung by the great writer Jorge Amado (by the way: his house is now a museum in the Pelourinho), the signs of the city's colonial past, the desire to reinvent itself in the most modern neighbourhoods, without ever forgetting its traditions.
There are many ways to start discovering Salvador de Bahia, but there is one that is particularly exciting: seeing it open up before your eyes as you arrive from the Atlantic Ocean on your Costa cruise. It is a unique perspective, which will make your holiday special from the first moment.
Are you undecided about what to see in this incredible city? We'll take care of it: here is our list of 15 things not to miss in Salvador de Bahia.
What to see in Salvador de Bahia
- Elevador Lacerda
- Church and Museum of La Misericordia
- Terreiro de Jesus
- Cathedral de Salvador
- Igreja de San Francisco
- Barra District
- Farol de Barra
- Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Mares
- Igreja do Bonfim
- Mercado Modelo
- Castro Alves Theatre
- Convent do Carmo
- Morro de Sao Paulo
If you're in Salvador de Bahia, then you'll surely find yourself at the Pelourinho: This is the name of its historic district, the "heart" of the city of Salvador. Its history is made up of ups and downs, but recently it has undergone a major renovation, just think that it has been included amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites thanks to its colonial architecture.
Its characteristic corners, with cobbled streets and colourful buildings, are amongst the most famous images of Salvador. Tourists and locals gather at the Pelourinho (which the Bays call Pelo) every day for its countless shops, restaurants, clubs, museums, monuments... This is where your Costa excursion will bring you. And here the writer Jorge Amado lived too, who wrote about Brazil in a unique way, and whose house is today a museum to visit in Largo do Pelourinho, a "sloped" square bordered by multicoloured buildings.
The Pelourinho was the first district of Salvador when founded, in 1549, thanks to its strategic raised position that allowed it to dominate the surroundings and the harbour. A residential neighbourhood for centuries, it saw a decline in 1900 due to the displacement of the inhabitants of Salvador and commercial activities to other areas of the city: after a dark period, it was relaunched at the end of the last century. Today it is the city's cultural centre, as well as the favourite destination for tourists, who reach it through theElevador Lacerda (or through the steep streets of Salvador!) to explore its main squares, Praca Thomé de Souza and Praca da Sé with views of the Ocean and the Largo Terreiro de Jesus with the Cathedral, but also to enjoy the street music and the life of its lesser-known corners.
The most comfortable way to climb to the historic district of Pelourinho in Salvador? Take theElevador Lacerda. And the best way to admire the view during the ascent? The answer is the same: the Elevador Lacerda is one of the symbols of the city, as well as being a great help for those who have to move on foot between the steep climbs of the centre. In fact, it is estimated that in one month it has about 750,000 passengers, including tourists who get lured by its Deco charm and Salvadorans who use it as the fastest means to go from one point to another of the city.
Before its construction, in 1873, instead of the Elevador Lacerda there was a manual pulley! This is enough to make it clear how important this construction is for the city, initially wanted by the merchant Antonio Francisco de Lacerda, that connects Praca Tomé de Sousa and Praca Cairu. Between the two widenings there are 72 metres of difference in altitude, which the lift travels in less than half a minute. Initially the Elevador had only one tower, the one set in the hill, but In 1930, the second one was added, leaning forward towards the port, with complex renovation work that gave the work its current Deco face.
Its peculiarity is to allow its passengers to enjoy a gorgeous view over the Baia de Todos os Santos from the glass walkway that joins the two towers. In the Elevador Lacerda there are 4 cabins carrying 128 people in total, working nonstop 24 hours a day.
Church and Museum of La Misericordia
Leaving the Elevador Lacerda you will find yourself on the Praca Tomé de Sousa, in the historic district of the Pelourinho: A short distance from here is the site of the La Misericordia Complex, which played a very important role in the history of Salvador. It includes the Santa Casa della Misericordia Museum and the Church della Misericordia: the impressive building that houses the Museum was the city's first hospital, founded in 1549 like Salvador de Bahia itself. Damaged by British and Dutch bombarding between the 16th and 17th centuries, it was then rebuilt in the 17th century, and today it is a very rich museum with a collection of more than 3000 pieces that tell 500 years of city’s history, through the events of politics, society and even health. Some examples? Inside there are tiles (azulejos) from 1712 that reproduce the Procissao do Fogaréu (a Brazilian Holy Week rite), the medicine cabinet of 1867, the first gasoline car in Salvador...
The Church of the Santa Casa della Misericordia, however, was built in 1654 on the same site where a temple was located. During the 1700s, several works were carried out to embellish it: inside there are traces of different styles, from Baroque to Rococo to Neoclassical, with ancient paintings and azulejos. It hosts not only religious functions, but also private ceremonies and concerts.
Terreiro de Jesus
In the oldest part of Salvador we can find the Terreiro de Jesus, one of the most important historic squares in the city. Always a tourist stop in the Pelourinho, the Largo Terreiro de Jesus is officially called Praca 15 de novembro: the name with which it is known comes from the early years of the founding of Salvador, in the late 1500s, when this part of the new city was granted by the then Governor General Tomé de Sousa to the Jesuits. Here the priests built a first chapel and their College, and the population began to call it "Terreiro de Jesus" the square it looked out onto. In 1600, the chapel gave way to the monumental church that still dominates the square today, and which has become the Salvador Cathedral.
Other important Bahia religious buildings overlook the Terreiro de Jesus, i.e. the churches of Sao Pedro dos Clérigos and Ordem Terceira de Sao Domingos de Gusmao, and around the corner are the Church and the Convent de Sao Francisco. But the square is not dedicated only to the functions of the spirit: wide and luminous, with its paved floor of twin-coloured pebbles forming a wave pattern, it also houses a fountain and many tables of the surrounding premises, where you can sit and catch your breath after facing the continuous hills of the Pelourinho district.
Cathedral de Salvador
Its full name would be Catedral Basilica Primacial do Transfiguracao do Senhor, but if you refer to it simply as Cathedral the inhabitants of Salvador will know very well which church you are looking for: the della Trasfigurazione del Signore is one of the most characteristic buildings in the district of Pelourinho in the city's historic centre, as well as the seat of the archbishop.
The church is located where at the end of 1500 the first chapel of the Jesuits of Salvador del Bahia could be found. The first stone of its construction was laid in 1657 and was consecrated 15 years later, although ti see it completed, citizens had to wait until the end of 1746, with the installation of the statues on the facade, which was made in lioz limestone, brought for the occasion from Portugal. Today the Terreiro de Jesus, one of the most famous and beloved city squares, dominates, and in front of its monumental and candid profile, conceived in the Mannerist style, the city life of the Bahia people and tourists, who flock to the premises next to the Cathedral, is concentrated.
Igreja de San Francisco
In Salvador you will find one of the masterpieces of Brazil's most important Baroque art: It is the Igreja de San Francisco, that is, the Church of San Francesco, one of the pearls of the central district of Pelourinho. Together with the adjacent convent, it forms a monumental religious complex that is located in the Largo do Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco, around the corner from the Terreiro de Jesus that houses the Cathedral of Salvador.
The work for its construction took approximately the entire first half of the 1700s: the Church is located where at the end of 1500 there was a convent, which was later rebuilt due to the increase in the population of friars. Its brown facade is flanked by two windowed towers covered with white majolica tiles. These tiles were not added until 1805 to the building.
But what makes this church famous is its interior, very rich and fully decorated. The optical effect is that of a golden building: much of the interior of the church is in fact covered with carved wood and covered with gold, and even the ceiling is gilded, also covered with decorations along the entire length. Near the Church is located The Convent of Sao Francisco, particularly famous for its two-storey cloister covered with azulejos, i.e. glazed and decorated ceramic tiles that have come directly from Portugal. The azulejos date back to about 1743, and depict scenes and judgements with morality in the foreground, while on the second floor there are also allegorical scenes, landscapes and images of hunting or fishing.
The district of Barra in Salvador de Bahia has a feature that makes it unique: it is located exactly on the tip of the peninsula on which the city stands, between the Baia de Todos os Santos and the Atlantic Ocean, and for this reason from its shores you can see both sunrise and sunset over the sea.
Of course, thanks to its location in Barra there are also several city beacheswith golden sands and crystal clear waters, perfect for those who love diving. Walking on the Praia do Porto from Barra it's easy to forget you're a walk from the centre of a metropolis! This neighbourhood of Salvador has a more residential vocation than the Pelourinho, and if you take a tour inside it on your Costa excursion you will see many newly built buildings. If you want to sit in a trendy bar and enjoy a caipirinha or a squeeze of sugarcane juice, Barra is spoilt for choice. Here you also come for the beautiful, recently renovated waterfront, on which to stroll away from the noises of the city.
Farol de Barra
It is the most popular attraction in the Barra district of Salvador: the Farol de Barra, with its position on the tip of the peninsula from which to see the sun both rise and set on the sea, it is one of Brazil's most famous "postcards".
The black and white striped lighthouse is 22 metres high, and has looked out at the ocean since the 17th century. It has the Museu Nautico da Bahia behind it, housed in an old fort. Next to the rocky headland on which the Farol de Barra was built is the Praia of the same name, a long clear sand beach lapped by the Atlantic Ocean, which on the coast takes on the shades of turquoise and emerald green. Here the Bahian inhabitants stretch out to sunbathe, perhaps with coconut water in hand, as they watch surfers ride the waves on the horizon. And for tourists it is a must-see to enjoy some Brazilian beach life in a magical setting!
Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Mares
In Salvador de Bahia there is also a Neo-Gothic church: It is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Mares, that is, the Church of Our Lady of the Seas. It is located in the square of the same name, the Largo dos Mares, in the district of Uruguai, a short distance from the Baia de Todos os Santos and to the right of the old town. Passing around here with your Costa excursion you can't help but be amazed in front of this building with large windows and roses, more than 50 metres high.
The Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Mares was built between 1930 and 1956 close to where the previous Parish was located, which was dilapidated in the 1920s however. Once the new church was completed, the old church was torn down. In this way it left room for the square onto which the church still faces, which seems even more huge and imposing because it is a part of a landscape of buildings that aren't too small.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Bonfim
On Sagrada Colina, on the peninsula of Itagipe in Salvador de Bahia, there is a famous church throughout the state of Bahia, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Bonfim. Passing in front of this building from the Rococo facade with your Costa excursion, you may see hanging outside its gates many colourful ribbons: they are the famous "fitinhas do Bonfim", ribbons that the faithful tie here as a sign of devotion or to request graces. They are 47 centimetres long, like the right arm of an icon of Jesus Christ brought here by the Portuguese captain Theodosio Rodriguez de Faria.
Fitinhas are also a symbol of religious syncretism of Salvador, because in the tradition of the place every colour corresponds to one of the Orixà (or Orisha), the African-American demigods whose cult has always been alive amongst the Bahian people. Over the years, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Bonfim has witnessed the coexistence of different traditions and cults, becoming for this of the most beloved spiritual places of the place.
Crossing the Iguatemi area with your Costa excursion you will almost feel like you are no longer in Salvador de Bahia: this is the city's new shopping, medical and financial centre. About 13 kilometres from the old town, Iguatemi is home to Salvador's most modern buildings, with skyscrapers that are becoming a trendy residential area.
The development of this neighbourhood began in the 1970s with the opening of a first mall, and never stopped. Over time, many new businesses, the city bus terminal, and several services have been added... Today Iguatemi is a particularly busy and lively area, almost a second city centre.
Do you want to go shopping in Salvador and buy something typical? Your destination then is definitely the Mercado Modelo. There is also a Costa excursion that will accompany you here, leaving you time to wander freely for make your purchases! It is located in the Comercio neighbourhood, close to theElevador Lacerda and at Pelourinho, and looks like a Neoclassical-style building, opened in 1912 to meet the city's food needs, and that also sold items for the Candomblé, Inc., that is, the cult of the Orishas, African-American demigods celebrated by the Bahian people.
Today, in its 8410 square metres, it houses more than 260 craft stalls and local specialities, and at the back of the building there are several restaurants offering typical Bahian food. It is impossible to leave this whirlwind of colours, scents and flavours empty-handed! The Mercado Modelo has an adventurous history: it has survived five fires.
Castro Alves Theatre
Seeing the Castro Alves Theatre from the outside, maybe as you pass here on your Costa excursion, you will be amazed by the cleanliness of its forms: this modernist-style building, low and elongated, discreetly integrates into the surrounding landscape. It looks onto the square in Largo do Campo Grande, on the border between the neighbourhoods of Garcia and Canela, south of the old town, and had a troubled history: it was to be inaugurated in 1958, technical and political incidents caused its opening to be put back until 1967.
Dedicated to the 19th century poet Antonio Frederico de Castro Alves, known as the "slave poet" for his civil commitment, the Castro Alves Theatre is today one of Salvador de Bahia's cultural centres. In addition to the performances in its inner hall of about 1500 seats, it also offers shows under the stars: behind it, in fact, it hosts the "Concha Acustica", a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheatre surrounded by trees.
Convento do Carmo
The Convento do Carmo was erected in 1586 as the first home of the Scalzi Carmelites in what is now the district of Santo Antonio além do Carmo, a short walk from the Peloruinho in Salvador de Bahia. The clear and imposing facades of this building, looking down onto a paved street and lined with colourful houses, once protected two cloisters in which the monks met. Today, due to the scarcity of new vocations, the Convent no longer exists as such: it has become a fine historic hotel with restaurant, in which guests seek the peace in which the previous tenants lived.
Next to the Convent are the Igreja do Carmo, a Baroque-style church with gothic details that houses a precious icon studded with rubies, and the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo de Salvador, also built in the same style: the two religious buildings so close to each other are a particularly striking image of the centre of Salvador.
Morro de Sao Paulo
Crossing the Baia de Todos os Santosfrom Salvador de Bahia you arrive at a tourist resort completely removed from the metropolitan atmosphere: Morro de Sao Paulo, on the island of Tinharé. In fact, you find yourself in a small terrestrial paradise, with white beaches in the shade of palm treesand waters, where the inhabitants of the state of Bahia go to dive, swim in the natural pools created by the coral reef, go trekking in the shade of the mangroves and spoil themselves with a caipirinha or coconut water while enjoying the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean, which here remains calm for several metres from the shore.
Morro de Sao Paulo looks at the ocean from a verdant headland on which a lighthouse stands, or "farol" in the local language. Behind it there are several worldly or wilder beaches, to be reached by boat.
Discover Salvador de Bahia with Costa Cruises
Does your Costa cruise stop in Salvador de Bahia? Get ready to live unforgettable moments and discover the rich and multicultural soul of Brazil, on the shores where the African-American tradition is stronger and mixes with the legacy of the conquistadors. Enjoy thoroughly that wonderful whirlwind of emotions, colours and saudade that only a city like Salvador can offer you.