After spending a week in Rio seeing Paraty and experiencing the carioca version of Carnaval, we decided to continue the party momentum and found ourselves on a midday Monday flight to Salvador, Bahia. Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos is Brazil's first capital, the place where the Portuguese slave trade in Brazil was founded, certainly one of Brazil's most African-influenced cities, and hands down one of the most culturally vibrant. While Rio is the international postcard image of Brazil and São Paulo is South America's financial and business center, Salvador is known by experts to be the cultural heart and soul of Brazil for reasons tied to this rich and complex history. This two-day itinerary will cover blocos, camarotes, and experiencing Carnaval the Bahian way.
When is the best time to visit Salvador for Carnaval?
The best time to hit Salvador for Carnaval is at the culmination of the experience--the last Monday and Tuesday nights of the Carnaval six-day weekend, which always spans a Thursday through Tuesday in February or early March. (Note: though Rio's festival extends a few days longer, officially through the next Sunday, Salvador's celebration has a more traditional calendar, and goes out with a bang on Carnival Tuesday night--don't miss it! You can check out a listing of official Carnaval date ranges for upcoming years on this page.)
Lodging & Flights
You will want to book your flight tickets and your hotel reservation as far in advance as possible. This is not only because this is the most expensive time of year to visit Brazil but also because of the high demand and limited supply factor, which is especially relevant in Salvador. Known for being a poorer city, Salvador does have a handful of medium and higher-end hotels, but infrastructure is limited and prime properties (mostly near the seafront neighborhoods of Barra and Ondina, where the festival circuit takes place) will fill up quickly. Secure your accommodations as early as the September or October before your Carnival visit to ensure best results. And book flights at least two months in advance from your likely ports of entry into Brazil, either Rio or São Paulo, so you don't end up spending $700 US for a two-hour flight!
Where to stay in Salvador Bahia during Carnaval Season?
It's challenging to find luxury resorts and hotels within the city limits of Salvador, Bahia. The majority of facilities in Salvador are pretty standard. We stayed at Hit Hotel right on the Barra neighborhood seafront, to have immediate access to the start of the parades each night. We solely picked this hotel because of its ocean-facing location and it's proximity to the blocos (street parties). The hotel is far from lux but the best we could do for this busy time of year. If this is your first time hearing about a bloco, make sure to read 'A Rookie's Guide to Brazilian Carnaval'.
Day 1: Monday in Salvador
We arrived mid afternoon on Monday for the evening blocos. The penultimate night of Salvador Carnaval is always brimming with energy as locals have already broken in the streets and tourists have had a run through their favorite camarotes overlooking the parade circuit. After checking into the Hit Hotel, we popped out and ate at the restaurant next door called 'Bagatelle' for some quick snacks and beverages before we went to hit up the street parties.
9:00pm: Blocos (Street parties) in Salvador @ Sol
There are two main parade pathways in Salvador Carnival: the more famous coastal circuit (referred to as Barra-Ondina), as well as the more Afro-descendant influenced Campo Grande circuit. Generally speaking, most tourists who want to engage in pipoca (literally, "popcorn"), or free-flowing party in the streets without joining an organized bloco, will simply head out to Avenida Oceânica, the main ocean-facing avenue, and enjoy the trios elétrico (music trucks) passing by thumping their live tunes--from Samba-reggae to Axé. This experience in Salvador is radically different from that in Rio firstly because of the sheer volume and infectious vibrancy of the music, and not least because there is loads more dancing involved than in the Rio street parties, which really boil down to being focused on drinking and flirting only. Keep your wits about you because the crowds are thronging and the energy is palpable. Protect your pockets and keep your belongings out of plain sight, preferably in a money belt under your pants, as the crowd movements can amount to utter pandemonium, especially during the performance of a hit song. Getting from your hotel to the Avenue can be tough, especially as the evening wears on, as Salvador's traffic is pretty much gridlock during the main parade events. As a pro-tip, take a moto-taxi, groups of which you can often find concentrated near regular taxi stands near your hotel. Moto taxis and their drivers, locally just referred to as motoboys, can navigate the side and back streets away from the coastal strip of the Salvador peninsula with much more flexibility than a typical taxi or Uber. Typical rates are negotiable, but generally somewhere between a low end of R$10 and a high end R$20 for a 2 to 5 mile trek.
- Note: Bathroom facilities along the Barra-Ondina and the Campo Grande parade circuits can be limited and have very long lines! Come prepared. Maybe even think of carrying to-go toilet paper... In your money belt ;)
Grab a taxi/Uber from your hotel to the Historic Center, Pelourinho
Spend the afternoon taking in the colonial beauty of Salvador, Bahia
Make sure to try an acarajé - a Brazilian dish that is made best in Bahia!
In the afternoon, hang out at a beach or check out some of the afternoon blocos--remember that you don't have to be out at night to enjoy the Bahian beats! Music is pumping through the city day and night this time of year.
8:30pm: Camarote Harém
Crossing Avenida Oceânica, the main thoroughfare along the seafront, and passing through the intense crowds of the parade circuit to access the camarote's entrance can be challenging and requires some perseverance. Keep your wits about you, be assertive, and walk in a line holding hands with your friends--this is what locals will respond to and respect. Keep your valuables tucked in a travel belt or other secure, hidden pocket under your clothes, and exercise caution as pickpockets in Salvador are aggressive, professional, and quick.
Camarotes in Salvador, and especially some of the larger ones like Harém, are unique in that they allow both for large music in a concert hall-style venue, as well as DJs and parade viewing in a separate section. You'll have access to an open bar and food all night included in the cost of your ticket. The party goes till sunrise! We found ourselves on moto-taxis around 6:30 in the morning, the perfect exit to an epic night of dance and joy.