Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Varig (tel. 071/4003-7000), Gol (tel. 0300/115-2121), and TAM (tel. 071/4002-5700) all fly from Rio, São Paulo, Recife, Brasilia, and other places with connections.
The modern Aeroporto Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhães (tel. 071/3204-1010), Salvador's international airport, is 32km (20 miles) from downtown. The bank machines are all in the arrivals hall area, to the right at the end of the corridor (past the office for Costa do Sauípe). Cambio Gradual offers 24-hour money-changing services.
To reach your hotel, Coometas taxi (tel. 071/3244-4500) offers prepaid fares. The trip to Pelourinho costs R$75 (US$38/£20), to Ondina R$65 (US$33/£18), and to the northern beaches (such as Itapuã), R$35 (US$18/£9.50). Regular taxis are cheaper; on the meter a taxi from the airport to Pelourinho costs around R$60 (US$30/£16).
If you have very little luggage, an inexpensive airport-to-Pelourinho bus runs along the coast, stopping close to (though not at) most of the hotels located along the beach road. Its final stop is Praça da Sé on the edge of Pelourinho. The bus runs daily from 7am to 8pm; cost is R$6 (US$3/£1.60).
By Bus -- Bus travelers go through the Terminal Rodoviaria de Salvador Armando Viana de Castro, usually simply known as Rodoviaria. It's located at Av. ACM (Antônio Carlos Magalhães) 4362, Iguatemi (tel. 071/3460-8300). For ticket information and schedules, travelers need to contact the specific bus company directly. However, the general bus station number will tell you which company to phone. Itapemirim (tel. 071/3392-3944) travels to Recife and Rio de Janeiro; Real Expresso (tel. 071/3246-8355) has scheduled service to Lençóis for people traveling to the Chapada Diamantina; São Geraldo travels to destinations like Natal and São Paulo (tel. 071/3244-0366).
Note: All telephone numbers in Salvador now have eight digits, but you will still find lots of pamphlets, flyers, and other printed materials showing numbers that have not been updated. To get the correct eight-digit number, just add a "3" to the beginning of the older seven-digit number.
Bahiatursa, the state's tourist information service, has booths and kiosks throughout the city. The staff is friendly, although as of press time they had no useful brochures and pamphlets because the new state government was going to redo all of the materials. However, they should be able to help you with general information. There are Bahiatursa booths at the following locations: Salvador International Airport in the arrivals hall (tel. 071/3204-1244), open daily from 7am to 10:30pm; Rodoviaria (tel. 071/3450-3871), open daily from 8am to 9pm; Mercado Modelo, Praça Cayru 250, Cidade Baixa (tel. 071/3241-0242), open daily Monday through Saturday 9am to 2pm; and Pelourinho, Rua das Laranjeiras 12 (tel. 071/3321-2463 or 071/3321-2133), open daily from 8:30am to 10pm. The office at Pelourinho has the best stock of information and pamphlets. The city of Salvador site (www.emtursa.ba.gov.br) and the state of Bahia site (www.bahiatursa.ba.gov.br) are both quite informative.
Salvador is an easy city to get around. Picture a wedge thrusting out into the ocean. One side of the wedge borders the Atlantic Ocean, the other side borders the bay (the Baía de Todos os Santos). The two sides meet at Farol da Barra, the skinny point of the wedge.
Perched on a high cliff on the bay side of the wedge one finds Pelourinho, the historic old downtown. This area is also sometimes referred to as the centro histórico, or as the Cidade Alta, the upper town. This is Salvador's chief area of interest. At the foot of the cliff lies Comércio, a modern area of commercial office towers. This area is also sometimes known as the Cidade Baixa, or lower town. Upper town and lower town are connected via a cliff-side elevator, the Elevator Lacerda. Except for the fun of riding the elevator, and visiting a large crafts market called the Mercado Modelo, there's little reason to visit Comércio (the downtown business neighborhood).
About 8km (5 miles) north of Pelourinho, the Bonfim peninsula juts out into the bay. Located on a headland on this peninsula is one of Salvador's most famous landmarks, the Church of Our Lord of Bonfim, source of many reputed miracles. The area between the church and Pelourinho is occupied by port, rail yards, and working-class housing.
Just outside the southern border of Pelourinho one finds the Avenida Sete de Setembro. This is the beginning of a street that will, under various names, travel south to the point of the wedge, turn the corner, and travel out along the Atlantic coast through increasingly upscale beach neighborhoods to the border of Salvador and beyond. At its beginning near Pelourinho, Sete de Setembro is a modern commercial street with many small shops. A little farther south as it enters Vitória, it becomes more residential. Below that, the street drops down to the coast and continues by the ocean until it reaches the point of the wedge at Farol de Barra.
Barra has a number of good restaurants, and a few good hotels, and on the point where All Saints Bay meets the Atlantic, a tall white lighthouse, called in Portuguese the Farol de Barra. On that same point sits the sizable Forte Santo Antônio de Barra, which also contains the Naval Museum.
As it rounds the corner, the oceanside road changes its name to Avenida Oceanica. (Well, officially it changes its name to Av. Presidente Vargas, but that name is used only sparingly.) The road continues past a number of good hotels to the oceanside neighborhood of Ondina. From here out, road names change frequently, and neighborhoods come thick and fast: Vermelho, Amaralina, Pituba, Costa Azul, Pituaçu, Piatã, Itapuã, all the way to Stella Maris adjacent to the airport. There are pleasant ocean beaches all along this stretch. Particularly noteworthy is the beachside park named Jardim de Alah.