Rio Vermelho, Brazil:
Salvador’s trendiest neighborhood has cobblestone streets, plentiful beaches and plenty of stylish hotels, music venues, art spaces, and restaurants.
Salvador, one of the birthplaces of Brazilian culture:
How to spend five days traveling in Salvador.
Once the capital of the country, Salvador is composed of a mix of European, African and native heritage, that is reflected in the local music, dance and architecture.
Salvador’s Top Contemporary Art Galleries and Museums:
You could easily spend a whole day in Pelourinho, Salvador’s colorful historic center. Lots to see and do and there are a number of fine restaurants.
If you like folk dance, you may want to get tickets for Pelourinho’s Balé Folclórico da Bahia:
If you’re looking for a nice place to go for lunch or dinner and if you’re in the mood for a great caipirinha, the Cuco Bistrô should be your first choice in Pelourinho.
Near the beautiful church of São Francisco, Cuco has a charming, cozy atmosphere, an attentive, English-speaking staff, and a varied menu featuring Bahian-style fish and meat dishes. I had the seafood mocequa, which was delicious, and the coffee was the best I tasted in Brazil.
Carnaval in Salvador is a big production. There are two packed routes along which 3 story tractor-trailer trucks go for most of the day and night, with popular, well-known bands and singers and sound systems atop them. The music is important to the local participants; the partying is probably the feature many non-locals come for.
There are 3 main ways to view these parades. One is to mix with the crowds. (Salvador usually gets a million visitors, foreign and domestic, plus the local residents.) Another is to buy, for a price that usually varies with the popularity of the band, a T-shirt that allows you to parade in the roped off area behind a band/singer that you choose, and also have access to a service truck, which means the crowd has the funds to do so. The third is to buy entry tickets to a grandstand or balconied room along the parade route; these provide food, drinks, and bathroom facilities, and some sort of view of the parade as it passes.
In Olinda, you are among the crowds watching in the street as the parade passes. The most well-known feature is the "dolls", tall figures of politicians, artists, and historical characters.
There are also some smaller towns that have a Carnaval, such as Ouro Preto and others. It is perhaps a less commercial experience.
Any time you are among tightly packed crowds in a Brazil that is suffering a severe economic crisis, you need to be very aware of your surroundings. Both those major Canavals are highly policed, but they can't see everything. Those experienced at attending Carnaval in the street go out with absolutely nothing, except maybe a few reais in their shoe.
Indeed Salvador is a very well known alternative for Carnival as MonteCD mentionned
Safety is an issue if you don't take simple measures (which after all have everything to do with common sense).
The thing is that around Salvador there is a lot more to do (if you want to get out the crazyness of Carnival for a day or two).
You can have an island-trip in All Saints Bay and visit the islands Itaparica and Frades.
There is the possibility to go back to the colonial roots of Bahia (and Brazil) having a day trip to Cachoeira (in the Recôncavo Baiano area) where a boat trip amongst the mangroves of the Paraguaçu river is also a nice side-path.
And if you have a few more days to spend you could defenitly visit the Chapada Diamantina National Park (also known as the Brazilian Grand Canyon) which is only 430kms from Salvador.
Enjoy your stay in Brazil :-)
If you go to the Salvador Carnival, I would avoid watching the big parades from the streets. The streets around the popular trios are chaotic as large groups of followers barge through the stationary crowds. Even the police stream through the crowds in very large platoons.
For a hands on experience, buy an abada (bloco t-shirt) which allows you entry into a secured, roped off section where you can parade along with the trio truck. Or buy an entry to one of the viewing areas along the parade route. The more expensive viewing areas may have catered food and drink.
also a fan of Salvador here. but would not visit town during Carnaval - unless going to take part in it full force. and that is certainly not for everyone.
Carnaval there is a different animal... taking part in it requires a lot of stamina; not for the faint hearted... majority taking part in its "blocos/trio eletricos" will be people thru their 30s at the most... I would google a few videos about it to get an idea...
there is always the option of booking a place in a "camarote" and just watch the very high-energy crowds go by... but IMHO, Carnaval in Salvador is not that visually entertaining as a "spectator sport" (it lacks the over-the-top costumes, floats etc one sees in Rio Sambadrome)... you either dive full force into it or go to Salvador in a different time of the year to fully enjoy the city without the crowds, the hassle of moving around etc during Carnaval...
but even a lot of "camarotes" have morphed into youth-oriented indoor parties (DJs, live music etc) which just happen to have a view of the streets where the "blocos" are parading,,, friends went there in last couple of years and said most people in some "camarotes" were behaving just like if they were in a regular nightclub and barely paid attention to what was going on outside, in the street carnaval.
would not visit Recife/Olinda during Carnaval either - again, unless really taking part in it.... some of the carnaval events there are also huge, attract hundreds of thousands of people... I find there is enough to visit there over a short stay, but the logistics during carnaval also become complicated....
maybe fluxtrip, who really knows Salvador well, has other suggestions for someone in their 50s to enjoy Carnaval there without being forced to take part in a several hours-long full cardio workout experience.
But not easy to go without insiders/local knowledge.
On of the best local Carnivals for me still is the one in Maragojipe (where I lived for some years, that's how I know the region ;-), in the Recôncavo Baiano, about 140kms inlands from Salvador.
Maragojipe is a typical fishermens town along the Pariaguaçu, but you need some local insight to be at ease there as there is virtually no tourism, just locals having fun in a very folcloristic carnival without the big "beer business" being organized by Imbew in Salvador (for example).
It is a different suggestion for a day or two where you will be submerged in the local population ;-)