Officially the biggest street party on the planet, Salvador’s awesome carnival offers greater participation and much more fun than its more famous counterpart in Rio
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION The coastal city of Salvador is the capital of Brazil’s Bahia province and the gateway to the beaches of the north
WHEN Salvador Carnival takes place in the week before Ash Wednesday
ORIGINS First held in the 16th century when the Portuguese came to Brazil
POPULATION Salvador: 6 million
Rio Carnival may have the edge when it comes to glitzy befeathered costumes, but Salvador is where the real party is. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Salvador hosts the biggest street party on the planet, with more than two million revelers turning out each year for the festivities. During this anarchic week, almost 19 miles (30 km) of the city’s streets are claimed by wild party-goers, costumed dancers, and live bands playing every kind of music.
There are two procession circuits in the city for floats and trio eléctricos – trucks stacked high with massive sound systems and stages where live bands perform. Three more routes accommodate scores of vibrant blocos (parades). Campo Grande, the oldest of these, runs through the narrow streets of downtown Salvador, while the Ondina route keeps mainly to the beach areas. Pelourinho, Salvador Carnival’s newest circuit, attracts highly rhythmic bands and performers dressed in lavish costumes.
Countless parades and processions weave tirelessly along these routes during carnival, turning the city into a spectacular mosaic of color and motion.
There are three ways to experience carnival as the locals do. You can pay to join a bloco or for access to a camarote (balcony) overlooking the processions, where there is usually entertainment, food, and a busy bar. If you choose either of these options, you’ll be given a free abadá (branded T-shirt), which gives you access to other exclusive areas.
Alternatively, you can simply be out there on the streets with the partying masses, dancing, eating, drinking, and generally soaking up the atmosphere.
Though Rio Carnival focuses on the admittedly splendid samba parade, Salvador offers much more variety. A staggering 10,000 street parties blast their individual sounds across the city at all hours of the day and night, from beside amply stocked bars.
And while most carnival celebrations around the world finish late on Shrove Tuesday, Salvador’s knees-up continues well into Ash Wednesday, with the legendary arrastão (round-up), a parade that winds its way from Farol da Barra to Ondina for one final fling – a no-holds-barred party on the beach.
FORGET RIO CARNIVAL?
HE BUILD-UP Rio Carnival, which was so riotous it had to be banned in the 19th century, is today the most famous party on the planet. Performers charge the atmosphere with their outrageous costumes – mainly erotic variations on fancy dress – and the samba bands energize the crowded streets throughout the night.
THE LETDOWN Not only are prices in Rio extortionate during carnival, but worse still, if you’re a visitor to the city it can be quite hard to participate in the action. It’s one thing to be on the sidelines watching everyone parading, but quite another to be (as in Salvador) part of a full-on street party.
GOING ANYWAY? You’ll have a great time if you choose to go to Rio Carnival, but do remember to leave your valuables in the hotel safe. Apart from that, talk to as many merrymakers as you can and enjoy the brilliant samba.
Getting There and Around
It’s a 40-minute drive from Salvador International Airport to the city center. Moving around within Salvador can be problematic once carnival is underway, because buses and taxis no longer run on most roads. The city center, old port, and Pelhourinho neighborhood are all within walking distance of each other. Barra neighborhood, another popular place to stay, is slightly further away, but offers the added attractions of a lovely beach and trendy bars and cafés.
Where to Eat
In Pelhourinho, the Jardim das Delicias offers respite from the hectic carnival streets on its pleasant garden patio, where fine
Brazilian and international cuisine is served, often to the soothing sounds of jazz bands.
Where to Stay
A good hotel, close to the carnival action in Salvador, is the Pousada Azul, which boasts spacious rooms and friendly service.
86°F (30°C) during carnival.
Budget per Day for Two
From US$200 for food and accommodations. Entering a bloco for the whole of carnival costs US$175–220 per person, and a day’s access to a camarote is US$90 per person.