Stepping out of the airport in Salvador, you know something’s changed. There’s that tropical and oh-so-exotic feeling in the air and you’re suddenly surrounded by palm trees and bamboo. The South of Brazil is not to be missed, but you won’t regret squeezing in an trip to the tropics and sampling the delights of Bahia.
As always, we had big plans, but once we actually got to Salvador we only had a week to play with and found we had to decide between visiting the famous national park of Chapada da Diamantina and having a week on the beach. Chapada is full to the brim with waterfalls and caves and is a huge draw for backpackers and tourists alike, but is also an 8 hour bus ride from Salvador which is a big factor to consider if you’re on a tight schedule. I highly intend to go back with more time and money available, but I’d just left Bonito and been spoilt with waterfalls, crystal clear rivers and caves and so didnt feel an overwhelming pull. Plus, as recounted in Part 1, Megan had her foot in a bandage after her encounter with a rock in Paraty and so hiking suddenly didn’t seem like the best of plans. So the beach it was!
A friend recommended O Meu Rei Hostel in the Pelourinho, which is the historical town centre perched on a hill that has been very much flashed up in recent years for the benefit of tourists. It’s quirky, colourful, largely pedestrianised and chock a block full of very tempting souveneir shops. I cannot sing the praises of this hostel loudly enough. It’s run by two wonderful women who are happy to help with absolutely anything. It has a cute TV den with Netflix and two balconies looking out onto the Pelourinho’s streets which let in a delicious breeze. We hung out chatting to them for hours. Great breakfast and a cracking caipirinha! We returned for one more night before heading to the airport and it felt like coming home.
In Salvador you should make sure you stay somewhere you don’t mind spending your evenings because (especially being two blonde females) the Pelourinho is not a place you want to be roaming around late at night. This was however, the only moment we felt like there was any reason to stay in after dark for safety reasons. Generally, we were surprised about just how safe we felt in everywhere we visited, and no one should be scared off a trip to Brazil because of it’s reputation. Arriving in Rio we freaked out a bit and the money belts went on for the first time before we left the airport, but at no moment did we feel threatened, we were incredibly relaxed the whole time. Obviously we took all the sensible precautions like going out with groups we met in the hostels, not taking more than a kanga (sarong) and a book to the beach, and we stayed very much on the beaten tourist track. We were probably lucky, but we felt as safe as anything. My biggest tip is if in doubt, take a taxi. A lot of people are worried about doing everything the authentic backpacker way (long walks with backpacks on sweating in the heat followed by some questionable form of public transport) and don’t think taxis are very compatible with that, but my opinion is that quite frankly my safety and comfort are worth spending a few extra reais on. Save money elsewhere but don’t skimp on this.
A happy day was spent wandering around said shops and visiting the museum of Afro-Brazilian history, which is fascinating but easily missed as it’s hidden inside a building right next to the Cathedral on the main square labelled Faculdade de Medicina. We wasted another few hours in the Mercado Modelo which is worth a look but very samey, the real shops up in the Pelourinho with air conditioning and a bit more variety are where you’ll find the gems. However the mercado does have a great terrace with marina views and reasonably priced Moqueca (pictured below) a wonderfully tasty stew which can be vegetarian or with fish or meat. It’s quite a contrast to most Brazilian food which, in general, isn’t very heavy on the flavour. In fact, the only Brazilian foods I’ll miss are Acai, a more liquid form of sorbet made out of the superfruit and the best beach food ever, and Pasteis, envelopes of puff pastry stuffed with cheese and whatever else you fancy that are a cracking hangover cure.
The next day we attempted to take a trip up the coast to a turtle rescue centre and set off with visions of baby turtles swimming around our imaginations, but we were officially beaten by Salvador’s incomprehensible bus system and quickly had to say goodbye to that idea. Patience and a back up plan are essentials when planning a day out in or around Salvador. However, what started out as a disappointment turned into a triumph. We made it to the famous Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, which is where everyone floods to tie colourful ribbons on the railings whilst making three wishes. A whole room is filled with wax body parts of people who have asked for a cure for some ailment or other and recovered, leaving these offerings in their gratitude.
Leaving the church by the front doors, take a right and a right again and then a left down hill towards the water. You emerge into a beautiful little seaside suburb complete with beach that is completely void of tourists, called Ribeiro. We got chatting to a sweet old man who told us to keep walking all along the seafront to a little church where we would find an ice cream shop and buses to take us home. Negotiating some road works being done on what can only be described as the promenade we strolled along in the sun shine whilst the clear water lapped at the beach. Just to the right of the church is a little ice cream shop where we each got 3 scoops of the best ice cream I’ve tasted outside of Italy for less than 50p each. That’s more like it Brazil. We ate them with our toes in the water happy as anything. Highly recommended for an afternoon stroll!
We took the slower boat to Morro which took about 3 hours and set us back about R$65. We’d booked in to the Che Lagarto which comes highly recommended, with a courtyard communal area, nightly meals which are your cheapest option on an island without supermarkets, and great staff.
I’m warning you now that Morro is a bit disneylandish, with no cars and tiny streets lined with mildly overpriced restaurants and souveneir shops. It’s all about the night scene. Poor Megan, faced with beautiful beaches and blue water and bar upon bar promising dancing all night long was a bit downcast as she still couldn’t walk on her foot and didn’t think she’d be able to have any fun. She was, however, a complete champion. She was in the sea with her foot wrapped in a plastic bag held above the surface of the water and it didn’t take much persuading to get her out till 5am 2 nights in a row. Despite being stone cold sober due to the antibiotics she was the first one on the dance floor, somehow managing to still dance amazingly even with a limp. You’re my hero Megs ❤
The first night, everyone kept asking us if we were going to a night called ‘Funny’. I’ll let you figure out for yourself what that sounded like coming from Argentinians and Brazilians and why it was a bit awkward trying to explain to them why it was so ‘funny’. Latin beats with the sand between your toes, doesn’t get much better than that. The next day was spent topping up the tan on your perfect desert island beach, and the party that night was a bit dead but at about 3am they played an hour of such classics that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the dance floor despite dying in the heat of the tropical night.
Heaven. A town with a beautifully done up tourist centre but with a really strong local community and such a friendly vibe. You know that picture you have in your head of the perfect beach? A crescent of yellow sand fringed with palm trees, perhaps with the water gently lapping at the shore or perhaps with perfect surf waves breaking… Well Itacare gives you all this and everything in between. We didn’t do the treks to the further beaches that are meant to be even more amazing, but the ones a 15 minute stroll from town knocked our socks off. The tapioca on the second beach up is a meal in itself. Between tapioca and Acai the Brazilians really have got beach food sorted.
Having turned a beautiful shade of brown (with perhaps a hint of red) on the beach, we spent our two evenings in the chilled reggae bars in the town sampling caipirinhas made with various exotic fruits. Half of Israel seems to be in Itacare and our Israeli dorm-mates were brilliant value.
The next day it was time for a 7 hour bus and an hour long ferry back to Salvador and our lovely hostel, a last drink and an early night ready for an early start to get us to the airport for our respective flights.
I was lucky enough to be heading off for stage 2 of my adventure, headed for Campo Grande to catch a bus to Corumba to meet Victor and head over the border into Bolivia, but it was sad saying goodbye to Megs. Thanks for being the best travel buddy imaginable and I’m already looking forward to next time!
My next post will be an attempt to describe the incredibleness that is Planet Bolivia!
Photo credits to Megan Byrne.