Things to do in Salvador, Brazil’s boldest beach city
If you’re headed to Brazil as a gay traveller, your compass is likely pointing toward Rio de Janeiro—and not just because of the Godlike men crowding Ipanema Beach. While Rio offers an abundance of sights, sounds and flavours—not to mention, the 2016 Olympic Games—a more dynamic destination sits northward along the coast, in Brazil’s Bahia province: Salvador. From breath-taking colonial architecture to bold Afro-Brazilian culture, to an alluring spate of beaches and islands around its periphery, Salvador is not only an edgy alternative to Rio de Janeiro, but a commanding destination in its own right. And, with the watchful eyes of Christ the Redeemer hundreds of kilometres away, you’re free to search for your own saviour in Salvador’s cobbled streets.
Traipse through the Pelourinho
The colourful façades of the Pelourinho, Salvador’s historical district, look best under morning light, so get a good night’s sleep and rise early on your first day in town. Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, the periwinkle-coloured church at the very centre of the city, makes a great logistical starting point, as well as an apt thematic one: Dating back to the 18th century, it was built for slaves, by slaves.
Explore treasures like Igreja e Convento de São Francisco and the Museu da Cidade, then break just after mid-day for a Salvadoran lunch of Gateau Bacalhau à Portuguesa on the tucked-away patio of Restaurante Maria Mata Mouro. Continue pressing slowly toward the art deco Elevador Lacerda and neoclassical Palacio Rio Branco, whose plaza makes an ideal viewing spot for sunset over Baía Todo os Santos.
Bebidas, Baianas and Acarajé
As the blue hour descends upon Salvador, head toward colourful Largo Terreiro de Jesus. The square is not only the perfect spot for an evening caipirinha, but also to spot a baiana, a local woman in elaborate, traditional dress—one of the most iconic symbols of Salvador.
Scour the streets between Catedral Basilica de São Salvador and Igreja de São Domingos Gusmão, the two churches on either end of the square, to catch a capoeira performance that fuses dance, acrobatics and martial arts. If you’re feeling frisky, hail a cab to Barra, Salvador’s de-facto gaybourhood, or simply end the evening with an acaraje, a famous Salvador street food consisting of a shrimp-stew topped black-eyed pea fritter, on your way back to your hotel.
Set sail for Itaparica
It’s not surprising that Salvador, with its coastal location, is home to countless amazing beaches, from those in the aforementioned Barra district to Morro de São Paolo, a paradisiacal island just offshore. If you’re in the mood for a more cultural seaside excursion, take the Elevador Lacerda down to eclectic Mercado Modelo, where you can shop before boarding a ferry to Itaparica Island.
Whether you grab a taxi to the 17th-century Forte de São Lourenco, or simply set off on foot along the coast and take in idyllic island scenery—and, perhaps, practice your Portuguese with a handsome local—Itaparica’s authentic, cast-away feel belies its short distance from the centre of Salvador.
Where to stay in Salvador
Located just a short walk from the Pelourinho, Aram Yamí Boutique Hotel offers intimate luxury in a 19th-century Baroque building. Enjoy sweeping views of Todos os Santos Bay from your private terrace, or splurge on a suite and watch the sunset from your own private pool.
Exclusive Mr Hudson offers
Itaparica | Photo: Robert Schrader
Largo Terreiro de Jesus | Photo: Robert Schrader
Photo: Robert Schrader