Although the bulk of Salvador's population identifies their religion as Catholicism, the city's real soul comes from its connections with Candomblé. When the first slaves arrived to Salvador from sub-Saharan Africa, they brought with them their language (Yoruba) and beliefs. These beliefs mixed with other religions in Brazil to become the deity- and ritual-based Candomblé.
According to good old Wikipedia, "there is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé; each person is required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is."
In 1985, UNESCO designated this entire district of Portuguese colonial architecture as a World Heritage Site. It's located in Salvador's upper city, and contains most of the city's historic landmarks.
That history hasn't always been positive, however; Salvador was the first colonial capital of Brazil (founded 1549) and the first slave market in South America. Now Pelourinho is a tourist attraction for architecture, culture, and history buffs, not to mention its appeal for photographers.
As the first elevator in all of Brazil, the Elevador Lacerda has good reason to be a beautiful as it is. Opened in 1863 and measuring 191' it was the tallest elevator in the world at the time, a height necessary for its function of connecting Salvador's Cidade Alta (Upper Town) to the Cidade Baixa (Lower Town). The art deco looks arrived with a renovation in the 1930s, and the elevator has been refurbished many times since; yes, it still works.
Feira de São Joaquim
A traveler should never pass up a good outdoor market, and the Feira de São Joaquim is ideal in that it's frequented mostly by locals and the wares make for budget buys and excellent photos. Food is the chief buy, with bottles of palm oil and stacks of tobacco on show beside baskets spilling forth with fresh produce. There's about 2000 vendors, so browsing here can easily eat up an entire day.
Fita de Bonfirm
Nosso Senhor do Bonfim may be one of Salvador's many churches, but it is by far the most famous. Inside this mid-18th century rococo structure, the walls of a side chapel are papered with devotions from people who've been healed of their ailments after praying here. Outside, the gates are fuzzy with multi-colored ribbons, tied by visitors looking to their dreams realized.
Buy a bundle of the fita (ribbons) and tie them with three knotsa knot for each wish. One should be kept to wear around your wrist, the color corresponding to the Candomblé goddess which best fits your personality.
Farol da Barra
This lighthouse, which sits within the Fort of Santo Antonio da Barra, has guided navigators into Baía de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay) since the mid 1600s (1800s in its present construction). It divides All Saints Bay from the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, and also happens to be the best place to catch the sunset (more on that below).
Pôr do sol
Just as in Rio de Janeiro, a day of sunshine in Salvador da Bahia is plenty reason for celebration. Thus, you'll find that much of the city turns out to watch (and applaud!) as the sun descends into the horizon.
Simply google "sunset Salvador da Bahia" to discover the time for that particular day, and plan to arrive about 20-30 minutes prior. The Farol da Barra (above) is our recommended spot for some of that pôr do sol scenery.
Say "caju" aloud. Does it perhaps remind you of another, more familiar food name? "Caju" is the word origin for "cashew," and in Bahia the meat of the cashew fruit/cashew apple is eaten as well as the nut. Caju is used in juices, desserts, and cocktails. It's a musky flavor best enjoyed by those who have a taste for jackfruit, durian, or moldy cheeses.
This is the main market for handicrafts, including musical instruments and white linen and lace garments which are so typical of the local tradition. If you're looking for food or snacks, head instead to the Feira de São Joaquim (see above), but you're in the right place for nearly everything else.
If you've already figured out your Candomblé "orixá" (goddess), consider a beaded necklace in the correct color as a souvenir (example: our orixá is Yemanjá, goddess of the ocean, whose color is a bright azure blue).
Pestana Convento Do Carmo
Sleeping in a convent may not sound so luxurious, but then you haven't seen the Convento Do Carmo of Portugal's Pestana hotels. Built in 1586 by the First Order of Carmelite Friars, the Convent has only changed in ways to update the technology (free wifi!), lavishly outfit the rooms, and add a courtyard swimming pool. Rooms command around $250 a night, but walking the historic hallways and the colorful surrounding streets of Pelourinho comes complimentary.
Casa de Tereza
While it's not difficult to enjoy a good Bahian meal in Salvador, Casa de Tereza may just be the best restaurant in town specializing in the cuisine. Cravings for a cashew caipirinha, arroz de coco e farofa (coconut rice with manioc flour) and lobster can be fulfilled here, in an environment designed and decorated by local artisans. Browse the small handicraft shop between dinner and dessert, and don't forget to grab a small complimentary housemade soap on the way out.
Sorveteria da Ribeira
If you only have time to visit one place of interest in Salvador, let this be it. Along the waterfront in the low town and around the corner from Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church, this humble ice cream parlor scoops an exotic variety of flavors (30-ish!), with a focus on Bahian fruits. Above, we try Cajá and Biribiri, Acerola and Umbu.
Rooms don't come cheap here (from $250/night), but this small hotel of 2 mansions and only 17 suites sits in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pelourinho district and fills its nooks with garden courtyards and Bahian artwork. In its restaurant you may taste the region's most traditional dishes, updated with fresh and sustainable ingredients, beautifully presented.
Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães
You don't need to know this man for his past in the politics of Bahia, but you will come to learn his name as the namesake of Salvador's airport. Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães Airport-SSA is only 17 miles away from downtown, and your flight will be arriving and departing here. Sit on the right side of the plane for a view of Salvador from the air (see above).
$2.8 billion in renovations and upgrades recently wrapped up in preparation for the influx of World Cup tourists, and you'll reap the benefits from here on. TAM, Azul and GOL are the largest carriers at SSA, but you'll also see American Airlines, Condor, and TAP Portugal on the runways.
We traveled to Brazil as a guest of TAM Airlines, but all photos and opinions are completely our own.
[Photos: Jaunted, Wikimedia]