Salvador is not the biggest cities in Brazil (after São Paolo, Rio de Janeiro và Brasília), however it is the oldest colonial city in Americas. Founded and built by Portuguese in 16th century, its architecture was inherited from the vintage European style dating back to the Portuguese colonial period, blended with the characteristic brilliant colors of Latin America. This uniqueness is still well restored until present time in Pelourinho district, downtown of Salvador, also known as an ancient city within a modern city.
On the way from Salvador Airport to our hotel situated in the ancient town of Pelourinho, we were overwhelmed with the magical transformation of the scenery: from large highway with many lanes to narrow cobble-stoned streets; from modern but boring monochromatic skyscrapers to old but vibrant & colorful 2-floor blocks. Listed as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1985, Pelourinho old town is not only famous for its archaic churches and historic monuments, but also for its captivating small alleys traversing faded multi-color blocks.
Get lost in the maze of faded colorful mansions
Walking around the quarter early in the morning was full of joy. The streets appeared to be just awakened, empty and quiet. The first rays of sunlight began to shine down the top floors of the block, illuminating the small alleys. The stone paved road and the faded colorful walls created an old and ordinary ambience.
We strolled up and down hill, from the main roads into the little alleys, were excited to get lost in the maze of colorful pastel cottages, seeming to be the characteristic architecture of the old town in Brazil.
Boutique shops and restaurants were still cleaning, preparing for a new day to start. At every turn, we admired the little but charming things, such as pretty and well designed shop signs, very Brazilian frescoes and unique shop decorations.
It doesn’t matter what side street or road you take in the historic district, they all come back into the main squares of the old town. The central square was tranquil, in contrast with the energetic atmosphere the night before.
We noticed that each house usually had 3 or 4 wooden doors with the height nearly reaching the ceiling. Most of them were painted in green, combined with the colorful faded walls creating a harmonious panorama.
Explore historical churches
Archaic churches are the amazing signitures of Pilourinho city. They were built one after another and seemed to be well blended in resident mansions, enhancing the fabulous vintage for this city. All of these churches have a fascinating history and containing wonderfully made local artworks, glorious altars and chapels filled with impressive artifacts, art collections and paintings.
Visit Bay of All Saints
Not very far from Pilourinho center square is the Todos os Santos Bay, also called All Saints Bay. You enter again the modern world with luxurious yatches and large streets. The Bay is so named because it was first discovered by Europeans in the 15th century on November 1st – All Saint’s Day. Early in the 18th century, it was the main port to transfer African slaves to work in sugar plantations. At present, it is a wonderful place for a schooner cruise, where distant tropical islands are lapped with crystaline and calm waters, inviting you in for a swim or to snorkel.
From City Hall square, you can reach the bay by descending via Elevador Lacerda, a historic art deco elevator with scenic views, connecting the upper & lower parts of Salvador.
Shopping at Mercado Melano market
This market is part of the history of Salvador. Pelourinho actually means whipping post in Portuguese, and in the days when slavery was common (18th century), the below-sea level basement of Mercado Modelo used to be the place where new slaves arriving from Africa were stored while awaiting auction.
Nowadays, it is the house of about 200 little shops selling local art, mostly handmade. It’s a lovely place to buy souvenirs (but remember to bargain hardly) and get to know more about the culture and art of Bahia.
Enjoy bustling nightlife in Pelourinho
If you don’t experience the nightlife in Pelourinho, your visit is considered uncompleted. At night, everything becomes magically different when the city is lighted up, bringing to you a whole new feeling. The streets are much more busier with lots of food hawkers and people wandering & eating.
It was regretful that we visited Pilourinho a few days before the carnival, hence we didn’t participated the main event. However, the city was glamorously decorated with a welcome gate and funny huge statues in traditional Bahia costumes. Lively Latin music stirred up the vibe at the center square, bringing out somewhat festive atmosphere.
We picked an outdoor restaurant nearby – Cuco, enjoyed our great local food while watching people dancing.
A large number of public toilets were arranged, to be prepared for the main event.
Last, but not least, Pelourinho is vintage BUT unpeaceful
Pilourinho is truly a beautiful vintage old town, but it is not as peaceful as it looks. When we walked on the streets early morning, we didn’t see many people. However, much to our surprise, there were many policemen almost on every street corner.
As we passed by, each approached us and reminded us to take care of our personal possessions. We, with phone and camera on our hands, wandering innocently on the streets could become an easy target for the criminal.
After receiving such continual reminders, we decided to head back to the hotel to hide all of our belongings and then went for a walk empty handed. Lucky to us, we didn’t have or witnessed any accident after all.
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Get in Salvador:
Salvador is one of the biggest cities in Brazil, located on the Northeast region of the country, you can access easily by all kinds of transportation.
- By plane: There is no direct flight from Vietnam to Salvador, you need to pass by either Rio or Sao Paulo, even thought Salvador airport is international. Domestically, there are plenty of regional carriers. The flight is short from key cities in the south, such as 1.5 hours from Rio or 2.5 hours from Sao Paulo.
- By Bus: Salvador is accessible via scheduled buses from all around the country. Salvador’s long-distance bus station is in the middle of the new city, 14km from downtown. You then take local buses or taxis to many places in Salvador and the metropolitan area. Bus travel in and out of Salvador can take a lot more time than expected. Count on an average speed of 50-60 km/h when planning your itinerary
Get in and around Pelourinho:
It is 30 minutes drive from Salvador airport to Pelourinho old town. You can either go by bus or taxi. In Pilourinho, it is best to explore it by foot
Where to stay:
We would strongly suggest to stay inside the old town to get a real flavor of this colonial capital. There are plenty of options, but we were very satisfied with Bahiacafe hotel, a charmingly decorated boutique hotel facing one of the square in the ancient city. The lobby, the eating room and little lounge by the window are instagramable.
Breakfast was excellent with lots of fruit and fruit juice.
Where/ What to eat?
There are plenty of choices inside Pilourinho, but most are more expensive than restaurants at modern areas. However, we loved the environment in this ancient city, hence decided not going out. We had dinner twice in 1 place – Cuco restaurant in the center square, not only because of great tasty food, but also because of good vibes. We loved the Moqueca seafood, a traditional food from this Bahia region.
Traveled in Feb, 2018