Pelourinho, Salvador: A City Within a City

Salvador, Brazil's Old Town
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You can't go to Salvador, a major city located on a peninsula on Bahia's coast, without spending time in the old city of colorful colonial buildings, cobblestoned streets, and a sense of history clustered around the Largo do Pelourinho, also known as Praça José de Alencar. This part of Salvador is known as Pelourinho, the city within a city.

Nicknamed Pelo by residents this area is in the older part of the upper city, or Cidade Alta, of Salvador. It encompasses several blocks around the triangular Largo, and it is the location for music, dining, and nightlife.

Pelourinho means whipping post in Portuguese, and this was the old slave auction location in the days when slavery was common. Slavery was outlawed in 1835, and over time, this portion of the city, though home to artists and musicians, fell into disrepair. In the 1990's, a major restoration effort resulted in making the area a highly desirable tourist attraction. Pelourinho has a place on the national historic register and named a world cultural century by UNESCO.

Easily walkable, Pelo has something to see along every street, including churches, cafes, restaurants, shops and the pastel-hued buildings. Police patrol the area to ensure safety.

Getting to Salvador

  • Air: International and domestic flights fly to and from Salvador's airport about 30 km from the city center. Check flights from your area.
  • Land: Buses run daily to and from other Brazilian cities, including Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Fortaleza, Belem, and Porto Seguro.

When to Go

Salvador is an all-weather city. The winter months, June through August, can be very rainy, and some days cool enough for a jacket. Otherwise, the city is hot, but the heat is tempered by ocean and bay breezes. Do not forget your sunscreen. Carnaval in Salvador is a huge event, and reservations are required.

Practical Tips

  • Stay in a hotel or pousada anywhere in Salvador, perhaps in accommodations recommended by TripAdvisor, and take a cab or bus around the city. You can reach both levels of the city by the Lacerda Elevator. Take a walking tour around the upper city.
  • Local cuisine is a mix of Brazilian and African cuisines, with an abundant use of the coconuts, ginger, hot peppers, shrimp, spices, and flavorful dendê oil, made from palms. Go easy with dendê until your stomach is used to it.
  • Pelo has many restaurants, though, for better value, you may be better off eating elsewhere in the city. No matter where you are, try as comida-a-quilo restaurants, where you serve yourself and pay by weight. Some suggestions from Fommers.
  • Pelourinho offers a variety of nightlife with bars and restaurants. Blocos practice almost every night in preparation for Carnaval.
  • Shop for handicrafts in Mercado Modelo, Praça da Sé, Terreiro de Jesus and numerous shops and galleries in Pelourinho, but be prepared for inflated prices. Mercado São Joaquim, also known as Feira São Joaquim), is a better choice.

Things to See and Do

  • To see the city's oldest architecture, take a walking tour through the Pelourinho district.
  • Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado, the Jorge Amado Museum contains his papers and offers free videos of Dona Flor or one of the other films based on Amado's books.
  • Museu da Cidade displays costumes of the orixás of Candomblé, and the personal effects of the Romantic poet Castro Alves, one of the first public figures to protest against slavery.
  • Leaving Pelo proper, you'll see dozens of other churches and sites of interest.
  • Don't miss a Candomblé ceremony. They are free, but you may not take pictures or videotape the proceedings. Check with Bahiatursa for schedules and locations. Candomblé in one of Brazil's religions.
  • Capoeira, the combination of martial arts and dance, is taught and performed regularly. You can get a schedule from Bahiatursa or see a show at Balé Folclórico da Bahia.
  • Music and Dancing:
    • Olodum play on Sunday nights in the Largo do Pelourinho and draw crowds of dancers into the streets
    • Filhos de Gandhi rehearse on Tuesday and Sunday nights.
    • Other music venues around Pelourinho include Coração do Mangue, Bar do Reggae dancers spilling out onto the street just about every night. Gueto, is the place to go for dance music.
    • Tuesday night is probably the biggest night in Pelourinho. "Traditionally, important religious services, known as Tuesday's Blessing, have been held every Tuesday at the Igreja São Francisco. The services have always drawn locals to Pelourinho, and since the restoration of the area, the weekly celebrations have turned into a mini-festival. Olodum play at the Teatro Miguel Santana on Rua Gregório de Matos, and other bands set up on Terreiro de Jesus, Largo do Pelourinho and anywhere else they can find space. Crowds pour into Pelourinho to eat, drink dance and the party lasts until the early hours of the morning."