Since the last time I visited Salvador was in 2014 and it was my first big international trip, I decided to review a few other blogs for their tips to the city and add information I would have found useful before making the trip. As well as what I learned from my time there.
Entering what seemed to be a brand new world to this first-time international travel, I learned a lot about what I need to research before heading abroad. As I begin to add a weekly series to my blog (Tips & Notes Before You Travel) for each location I visited. I revisited all my previous notes from Trip Advisor and my word document of notes.
Salvador is the capital of Bahia, has a population north of 2.5 million people, and nearly 100 churches. Beautiful beaches, a cultural neighborhood filled with cobblestone alleyways, and surrounding colorful buildings makes Salvador a very unique place to visit. The city is known for Afro-Brazilian culture (80% are of African descent) and during your stay, I encourage you to visit the deities.
The city has very few English speakers, so a translation device or knowing Portuguese will be very useful.
1.) Do I Need a Visa?
First and foremost for every country, be sure to check out any visa requirements. You can view the exempted countries list here; the last update was May 2020.
For US citizens traveling to Brazil, a visa is no longer required. When I went in 2014 a visa was required so this is great news. Be sure to check any travel restrictions here.
2.) Brazilian Currency
Brazil does have its own currency, the Brazilian Real (BRL or R$). During my time only larger restaurants and hotels accepted credit cards, and most will have a surcharge to pay by credit ranging from 2 – 5% of the total transaction price. There are plenty of places to exchange currency as well as ATM’s. Bringing USD, EUR, GBP is to your advantage as many local vendors will give you a higher exchange rate than the banks. The exchange rate will most likely be in your favor, for USD it’s currently 1 BRL to .19 USD.
You will be able to negotiate prices when shopping, especially if you’re using cash. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the price isn’t right. Also be sure to ask for Coupon Fiscal, which ensures the company/individual pays the proper tax. They do not want to do this, so it’s a great way to get the price down. For almost all forms of transportation (taxi, bus, etc.) you will need to use cash. Uber is available.
Be sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
***NOTE: Make sure your card is charged in BRL*** Always pay in the local currency and stress this to the employees charging your card.
3.) The Language
Portuguese is the spoken language, during my time in Salvador, I met one local that spoke English and she was a receptionist at the hotel. For the rest of my time, I used very broken Portuguese learned from 6 months of Duo lingo. Bring a translating device, I have “Enence instant translator”, this seems to work well and better than using google translate.
4.) Time To Visit and Weather
With Brazil being in the southern hemisphere December – March is the high travel season which is filled with music festivals. During these months it rains little and humidity is low. The rainy season is April – June. I went at the end of June and had perfect weather for my whole trip.
Temperatures range year-round from 24 Celcius (75 Fahrenheit) to 31 Celcius (88 Fahrenheit).
If your plan to travel is mainly for the beach, the water temperature ranges from 25 to 28 Celcius (77 to 82.5 Fahrenheit).
5.) Transportation – Taxis
Taxis are arguably the best way to get around Salvador, being limited to speaking Portuguese the chance of you getting a mark upon cost is high. When I was there many taxis didn’t have a meter and after looking online that still seems to be the case. Be sure to get a price confirmation before leaving your location and carry cash.
Browsing some other blogs I found a useful tip for the taxi meters. “From 9 pm–6 am and all day Sundays and on public holidays, the metered rate goes from ‘1’ to ‘2’. This means your fare will automatically increase by 25%. If you’re outside those times, make sure the meter is set to ‘1’ so you’re not paying extra.”
Uber is now available in Salvador as well. And for a third option, you can try to hire a driver during your stay and negotiate rates. I’ve done this in Fiji and France, it has worked out well in the past but I did not try it in Salvador.
5.) Transportation – Buses & Metro
During my time in Salvador, I did not take the bus or the Metro. The metro only had two stations at the time and was packed and buses were so overcrowded that not once but twice I saw people hanging onto the bus windows on the outside of the bus to catch a ride.
The bus is R$4 which is less than 1 USD at the time of this post. Be sure to bring small change or coins as it’s unlikely a bus driver will be able to break change.
For more information regarding the Metro click here. Google Maps is equipped with the bus routes in Salvador, be sure to download the maps when over Wi-Fi in case you lose internet connection during your transit.
5.) Transportation – Car Rental
Unless you’re an F1 driver I would highly recommend passing. Brazilian drivers are crazy, trying to manage the way they drive plus reading signs in Portuguese would be a challenge. When I was picked up at the airport by the taxi he ran 3 red lights in a 15-minute drive. Red lights almost seem to be a suggestion in Salvador.
6.) The Neighborhoods & Safety
Is it safe to visit Salvador Bahia Brazil? Yes, of course, but be sure to use street smarts and follow some of the notes below.
As advised for the majority of Brazil be careful at night and do not walk alone. Stay off beaches after sunset as well. When I was visiting beaches were empty after sunset. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry and keep your phone hidden except for taking pictures in tourist areas.
During my time in Brazil, I heard stories of people being robbed, even guests from our hotel. They had said they got surrounded down an alley and were told to hand over their wallets and phones. They were given back their IDs and credit cards, but watches, phones, and cash were taken. In my opinion, these people were stupid they went to areas that had signs that said do not go down here in English and they did it anyway.
Even at night, there are safe places to visit. If you’re looking for nightlife with bars and clubs head over to Rio Vermelho.
The main tourist areas are Itapua, Rio Vermelho, Barra, and Pelourinho. Stay away from the suburbs (perifierias) and avoid the favelas.
***Tip: I always carry a small second wallet with a little bit of cash in it, a few visa prepaid gift cards with no money on it, and a photocopy of my driver’s license. This is the wallet you hand over if you’re being robbed, it has cash so you should be able to leave unarmed and with your regular wallet. ***
I stayed in Itapua at Mar Brasil Hotel which is about a 20-minute taxi ride to the heart of the city. At the time I stayed Airbnb was up and coming so I have nothing to compare to. The hotel was also 5x the cost because it was during the World Cup.
At the time of this post Hotel prices in peak season range from USD 40 to USD 100 per night. The place I stayed at is USD 46 per night.
Airbnb is a little as USD 17 a night to have the entire place to yourself.
8.) Food & Drinks
Safe to drink the tap water? Nope drink bottled water. I did brush my teeth with the tap water as I was told it’s safe but looking back that was probably risky. I didn’t have any issues but I don’t recommend doing it.
Fortunately for me, right before I left I watched Anthony Bourdain’s parts unknown episode which took place in Salvador Bahia. I took 3 things away from his food category. 1.) Try the toasted cheese on the beach 2.) Drink as many Caprihinas as possible 3.) Seafood dishes are extremely popular
Queijo Coalho aka Toasted Cheese is a delicious cheap snack from street vendors and vendors walking on the beach. This snack will be cooked right in front of you and put onto a skewer. You will also be offered honey and oregano to add to the melted cheese.
Caprihinas my favorite drink of all time and the national drink of Brazil. This is made with cachaca which is a sugarcane hard liquor. A full lime, sugar, and cachaca are the only ingredients to make this drink. Do not pass this drink up. The legal drinking age in Brazil is 18.
The top dishes (I did not try) are acarajé, a fried bean and shrimp street snack, and moqueca, a rich fish stew. I am not a fan of seafood so I cannot provide much insight.
Tipping is not customary in Brazil but service people are grateful when they receive tips. During my time I tipped around 10% and in most cases, the bartender, taxi driver, hotel maid would even try to return the extra money to me. They were grateful to receive the extra tip.
Trip advisor has a good article on Brazilian tipping etiquette.
10.) Activities & What to See – Beach
My top activity in Salvador was to go to the beach daily. The beaches are very clean and most people keep to themselves, with the exception of the occasional entrepreneur looking to sell you anything from food & drinks to knock-off sunglasses. During the World Cup, I even had someone paint my face. Trip advisor has the top beaches listed here.
10.) Activities & What to See – Football Match
Depending on the season you could attend a football (soccer) match! The stadium is stunning and nothing would be more thrilling than going to a match with the locals. The local team is Esporte Clube Bahia, and it was established in 1931. You can get more information from the club here. The season runs from April – November.
10.) Activities & What to See – Visit Islands
If you want to take a day trip to one of the islands (Itaparica Island, Morro de São Paulo, or Boipeba), you’re going to have to catch the ferry. There are two terminals – the tourist terminal and the main terminal. Terminal Turistico Maritimo de Salvador is the tourist terminal which is located near the Merdad Modelo. This terminal is much smaller than the main terminal and is more expensive. Cars and cargo are not accepted at this terminal. During holidays and weekends expect long queues. If you want to learn more here is a link to Trip Advisor Reviews.
The main terminal (Terminal Maritimo de São Joaquim) has longer hours, more departure options, and have ferries that will carry cargo and cars. The fares are lower but these boats are typically much slower, so if you’ve got limited time or are going for a day trip only, you’re better off at the tourist terminal. The rate is between R$5.10 – R$6.70 for a passenger.
10.) Activities & What to See – Shopping & Souviner Markets
In Pelourinho you’ll find everything from cheap and tacky to beautiful handmade goods. Or try Mercado Modelo, near Elevador Lacerda. This is a typical souvenir market; hot, crowded and the vendors can be aggressive. Luckily, there are a variety of food stands serving cold beers to get you through the heat.
Purchase a Senhor do Bomfim bracelet. These colorful ribbons are what cover the doors and gates at Senhor do Bomfim church. It’s tradition to tie them onto your wrist with three knots, while you make three wishes. When the bracelet finally falls off, it’s believed your three wishes will come true
10.) Activities & What to See – Elevador Lacerda
Something that I highly recommend, this elevator is very unique and gives you a fantastic view of the harbor. You will need to bring cash!! I saw at least 5 people have to turn around because they didn’t have the cash to use the lift. The ride cost R$0.15 which is approximately USD.03. It operates daily from 06:00 (6 AM) to 22:00 (10 PM). The lift is 72 meters (191 feet) high.
10.) Activities & What to See – Dique do Tororó Esculturas Orixás
A free attraction that is a must see! A short walk from the football stadium. This is Salvadors only natural water spring. The spring has 8 statues/sculptures which represent important deities of cult in “Candomblé”
11.) Things to Bring
On top of your typical travel list, items to carry with you at all times:
• Bring your driver’s license if you plan to drive.
• Bring an international adapter. The one I have works great, and I bought it off of Amazon for 12 USD, here.
• Portable Charging Pack