Go for the culinary, architecture, historic importance, sightseeing.
You must have a real good excuse to plan a trip to Brazil and not include a few days in Salvador. It is no coincidence that Salvador, the 3rd largest city in Brazil, is the second most popular destination in the country.
Salvador was founded in 1549 by the Portuguese and during the colonial period became the major point for African slave trade in the country. It was once the capital of Brazil (actually, the 1st Capital of Brazil), and today it is the capital city of the State of Bahia, which is located in the low end of the Northeast Region of Brazil.
Salvador is a jewel, engrained with history since its early discovery years by the Portuguese and polished by the influence of the largest Afro-Brazilian population in the country. That mix reflects in the city's architecture, cuisine, music, religion and cultural manifestations.
On top of that, the city is built on a very privileged coastal location and seats on the tip of a peninsula that separates the All Saints Bay (Baía de Todos os Santos) from the Atlantic Ocean. That means, beach lovers have a plethora of choices to find a place to chill, including Porto da Barra, which was elected the 3rd best beach in the world by The Guardian, in 2007.
Baía de Todos os Santos is the largest bay in Brazil, with a great number of islands, the largest and most famous of them all is Itaparica; which most certainly deserves a visit. My suggestion is to take the ferry that leaves near Mercado Modelo, close to the Lacerda Elevator (these two references are also attractions worth visiting). Spend at least one day in Itaparica and observe how easy life can be. Stop for a caipirinha (or two) and order some fried sardines for a real treat.
The entire coast that extends North of Salvador to the state line with Sergipe and is easily accessed by Estrada do Coco (Coconut Road), aka Linha Verde (Green Line), is full of beautiful beaches and small villages, such as Arembepe, an old hippie village; and Praia do Forte, famous for its turtle protection project (Projeto Tamar).
Finally, if you are a real beach bum, take a 2-hour ferry to Morro de São Paulo (an island where cars are not allowed), and spend a few days exploring the various beaches of the island, each one of them with its own identity.
Back to Salvador, the historic downtown is a must-place to visit. In general, it is divided into Lower City and Upper City, with a great deal of noteworthy attractions on both areas. In the Lower city, near the port, stop to visit the Mercado Modelo, a Public Market where you will find a souvenir for yourself or a gift for a friend, perhaps a few colorful "Bonfim" lucky charm ribbons (tie it on your wrist with three knots, and make three wishes; when the knots break, the wishes will be fulfilled - so they say). As you get in or out of the market you will likely have the chance to see a demonstration of a local martial art/dance called Capoeira. After that, walk a few minutes and take the 72-meter high Lacerda Elevator, built in 1873 to improve the connection between the Lower city and the Upper city. On the Upper level, walk around the Pelourinho, the old city center; which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. You will be amazed by the well-preserved colonial buildings, churches, innumerous shops and good smell of food coming out of the restaurants.
Downtown Salvador is a great place to visit but chose to stay in Barra, Pituba or Rio Vermelho, which are very nice residential neighborhoods with easy access to the beach, shops and great restaurants. These places are also close to the Farol da Barra (Barra Lighthouse), one of Salvador's coastal landmarks.
Salvador is also blessed by the Afro-Brazilian influence in its unique culinary style, using ingredients like Palm oil, coconut milk, cashew nuts, dried shrimps, fresh seafood and a number of regional fruits. There is a great number of famous dishes that would likely fill an entire book, but in particular I cannot leave Salvador without having at least one Acarajé (Acarajé means "to eat a fireball" in Iorubá, an African language) from Dinha or Cira on the streets of Salvador, and a Moqueca in Pelourinho. The Acarajé is a sort of a dough made of beans, fried on palm oil and filled with Vatapá, dried shrimp and very hot sauce (which is optinal). The Moqueca is a seafood stew with garlic, tomato, onions and palm oil; it's served with white rice and farofa (a fried cassava flour). Having said that, try as much as you can of the local culinary. There are other dishes like Tapioca, Abará and Bobó de Camarão; desserts like Cocada, Pé de Moleque, Quebra Queixo, Creme de Cupuaçu; and typical fruits like Siriguela, Umbu and Jambo.
Finally, a few words about Brazilian's most famous cultural manifestation, the Carnaval (or Carnival, in English). Salvador is very proud of its street Carnaval and "competes" directly with the (more commercial) Carnaval in Rio; although their styles differ completely. In Salvador, there will be a band playing local music with electric instruments from the top of trucks with huge and powerful sound system, following the truck are the people who have paid well in advance for a ticket. Carnaval in Salvador is not for the faint-hearted; it requires lots of energy and, once in a while, you will witness some kind of altercation, which may be violent at times - just like any other huge event would.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Carnaval of Salvador da Bahia is the biggest party on the planet. For an entire week, almost 4 million people celebrate throughout 25 kilometers (16 mi) of streets, avenues and squares. It takes about 100 thousand people to organize the event. Salvador has about 800 thousand visitors for this event.
The are many more reasons to visit Salvador, and I just hardly scratched the surface to give you a feel of why Salvador is in my list.
For the avid anglers that a reading this, I am afraid this is not your top destination; although the ocean fishing in Baía de Todos os Santos has a pretty good reputation, the overall infrastructure still has to improve quite a bit to be able to accommodate serious anglers from around the globe.
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