Salvador is known as Brazil’s capital of happiness due to its easygoing population and countless popular outdoor parties, including its street carnival. The first colonial capital of Brazil, the city is one of the oldest in the Americas and lies in Bahia, north of Rio de Janeiro. Though a big city Salvador is still very traditional in terms of the people and food.
Anuja and Mayank were in Salvador for the Carnaval in February 2012 and this is their take on the what, when, where and how of the Carnaval in Salvador.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador da Bahia is the biggest party on the planet. For an entire week, almost 4 million people celebrate throughout 25 kilometers of streets, avenues and squares.
Though the dates change each year, the Carnaval is held around the same time in February. The dates are important with the Carnaval ending always on a Tuesday, the biggest day of this riotous festival.
While the world goes to Rio, Salvador is where all the Brazilians go for the Carnaval. In fact one actually sees very few foreigners here during the Carnaval. It’s just locals and lots of people from Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities.
On the Carnaval itself, Rio is probably more spectacular visually with all the costumes and samba schools. The Salvador Carnaval is more of a musical extravaganza and easier to participate in. In fact the main parade in Salvador has no costumes…just trios – a kind of truck or float equipped with a high power sound system and a music group on the roof, playing for the crowd with the artist on top performing to enormous crowds. The parallel Carnaval in the old town, though smaller, has people dressed up in costumes for a more visual and funny experience.
The Carnaval is Salvador has three circuits of which the The Barra – Ondina Circuit is more important. It is important to get information before getting to the Carnaval – like which bands are playing, what are the different Camarotes and Blocos.
Camarotes are the grandstands that line the street in the neighborhood of Campo Grande. One can watch the show from here without being trampled by the crowd. Blocos are the street bands and groups that are the main popular expression in the Carnaval.
Making the decision for which tickets to buy is a difficult task. We went to Camarote do Nana, and the Chicelete Bloco. You get food and drinks in the Camarote and you watch the whole parade with all the Trios go by. The Bloco is more fun, especially for young people if you don’t mind being in a mad, crazy crowd, being pushed and, basically, letting the crowd just carry you with it. Lots of sweat, loads of craziness and a bucket load of adrenalin is what you get in a Bloco.
Each Camarote has its own performances of famous artists, singers and DJ’s. You need to find out who is playing where and Salvador’s best loved performers Ivete Sangalo, Daniela Mercury, Cláudia Leitte, Chiclete com Banana and Carlinhos Brown.
Your abada (t-shirt you get as your entrance tickets) identifies which band or area you are meant to be in. The abadas are oversized and people use innovative ways to make them fit well and you should see the efforts some women make to look hot in them.
Dressing up musts for the Carnaval are:
• Abadas worn innovatively. Girls carry a camisole to wear underneath.
• Tennis shoes. You cannot wear anything else.
• Waist pocket pouch for all your valuables and documents.
You can take a camera along but you have to be super careful with it.
Tickets have to be bought online and then the abadas have to be picked up from the Iguatemi shopping mall. It’s a 3-4 hour process but very smooth and the Carnaval itself is very well organised.
It’s fairly safe with lots of security and police but you have to know where not to go. The popcorn areas from where non-ticketed people watch the Carnaval are slightly off limits. As are empty streets, of course.
The main website for the Carnaval is www.carnaval.salvador.ba.gov.br.
While in Salvador do check out Pelourinho
Pelourinho, the elevated old town with cobbled streets and beautiful, colourful houses, has a different kind of festival that’s more visual. Small groups and bands take out small parades through the day starting in the morning and ending around midnight. You have to take the now-famous elevator Lacerda to get here though you may get a taxi to drop you sometimes.
Spending the whole day in Pelourinho is a great idea. The place has lots of energy on the streets and it sure does give the traveller a great feeling, more so with some great bars and restaurants like:
• Zulu bar
• Maria Mata Mouro restaurant
• Mama Bahia restaurant
• Pizzaria Pelourinho
• La Figa restuarant
• Old bar (started in 1946)
Places to eat and drink in Salvador
• Paraiso Tropical restaurant
• Yemanjá restaurant
• Casa da Dinha – acarajé place in the Bohemian Square for the best acarajé in Salvador.
Acarajé is a sort of meal on the go though there is seating in most of the acarajé places. It is a small, “vada” type thing, made from peeled black-eyed peas, cut halfway with some hot sauce, some sort of yellow paste and salsa filled in and topped with small shrimps. Acarajé tastes very good and symbolises the African connection being available in Ghana, Nigeria and Benin.
Staying in Salvador
We stayed at the Zank Hotel, a small boutique hotel. It was perfect for us being very located from the Carnaval point of view – the main circuit was just a 20-minute walk away. The hotel has very good and friendly staff. The hotel has an old and a new wing and each room is different. In our opinion room number 20 is the best. It has a nice rooftop pool deck and a one room spa.
Pestana Bahia is another option but it didn’t match up to our expectations – a modern, tall building type of hotel in an otherwise old-world city.
The Convento do Carmo is another choice worth exploring for accommodation.
Taxis are easy to find but getting an English speaking cabbie is a must. Our friend Joax made our commute all over super easy. Somebody like him is a must to book ahead.
Language is a problem as such with very few young people speaking English here. However, we managed to get by.
Exchanging money is not the easiest thing and one should try doing it at the airport on arrival.
Salvador has some nice beaches though we didn’t venture out as we were here mainly for the Carnaval.
We aren’t sure if going to Salvador apart from the Carnaval is a good idea. Given the vast areas to explore in South America you may go elsewhere for more visually inviting cities. But if you are there for the Carnaval then Salvador it definitely is!
To follow Anuja and Mayank’s footsteps in Salvador, call Lighthouse on (0) 9818905024 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.