Capital of Portugal’s New World colony, Salvador is considered to be one of the birthplaces for Brazilian culture. With a strong arts movement, Salvador combines modernity with the charm of its Old Town (a World Heritage Site). Also known as Brazil’s “Afro-Brazilian” jewel, much of its activities have elements of Africa as well.
You can entertain yourself at capoeira circles (a sort of Brazilian martial arts dance) that form suddenly at night, while enjoying the delicious food Salvador has to offer, or participate in the Candomblé Festivals where religious followers seek to connect with the African Gods. As most of Brazil’s coast cities, Salvador boasts an amazingly beautiful coastline, where you can will away days of relaxing.Photo credit: WeVe1.
As Brazil’s capital of happiness, festivals occur extremely frequently in the town of Salvador, but its residents also pay homage to their religion often, so you will certainly experience a blend of fun and piety that ensures you don’t get sick of either. Also, the Old Town and new city provide a nice contrast, and you can never go wrong with a Brazilian beach.
- Carnaval – What better than the festival Brazil is known for? I’ll answer that for you: pretty much nothing. Though all of Brazil celebrates Carnaval, Salvador actually boasts the biggest one (as noted by the Guiness book of records). Running from the dates February 7th – 14th, Carnival offers an infectious amalgamation of Brazilian and African dancing and music, parades to dazzle the eye and an atmosphere that will leave you wondering if you haven’t crossed into a different dimension. Though I would advocate for a study abroad trip to Salvador during any time of the year, February is certainly the best time to do it.
- Beaches – Simply, a must-do. Often considered the main highlight for students studying in Salvador, beaches here provide beautiful views, surfing and tanning. The main, central beach of Salvador is Porto de Barra, though it can get quite crowded on weekends. Flamengo and Stella Maris are also great choices as they boast great tourist infrastructure and waters perfect for surfing. Jaguaribe, Piatã and Itapoã are the beaches most frequented by locals, so it can be a nice place to get away from all the tourists. However, as a not local, you should be careful as muggings sometimes do occur (though you should be wary wherever you travel in the world).
- Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfirm – A small church located in the north of Salvador, it is one of the most popular places for pilgrimages in all of Brazil. Colorful ribbons called the fitas of Bonfirm are an easily recognizable characteristic all throughout Brazil. In essence, children outside the church will tie (for a bit of money) a ribbon around your wrist and tell you to make a wish. If the ribbon falls of on its own (naturally), the wish will come true. If it does so unnaturally (say cut off or ripped off), the wish won’t come true.
- Mercado Modelo – This is the city’s main market where you can buy a bunch of different things. It is a good place to do some shopping, maybe buy some souvenirs, and the capoeira circles that form close to here can inspire you. Just imagine a sort of breakdancing martial arts.
Culture Shock and Support
Study abroad trips will always provide you with a completely new experience. The culture, food and atmosphere are so different from the US. This can be a bit scary for first-time travelers, and adjusting to the culture might be a bit difficult at the beginning. As such, be sure to pick a problem that caters to American students, so that you can be well informed of the cultural differences and avoid making a faux pas.
However, remember that you have your fellow students! If you’re missing the long hours of studying and the obnoxiously loud people back in the US, well, then you’re weird. On a more serious note, talk to your fellow peers! If you’re experiencing some homesickness, there is every chance that they are as well. Don’t be embarrassed if you need to talk to someone about home, it is completely normal and who knows, you may become even closer friends!
Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to worry about money? Alas, we do, so here are some scholarships to help you out!
- Fulbright offers a large selection of scholarships for those traveling to Brazil.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships
Salvador is on the Brazil Real. Just to give you an idea, 1 Brazilian Real equals about 43 cents in US dollars. As such, Salvador is extremely, extremely affordable. Souvenirs will cost about 5 dollars at most (check out Litoral Norte), and vendors are always easily persuaded into giving you lower prices. You’ll probably find that you have more than enough money left over at the end of your trip, so bare that in mind throughout your travels! ATMs can be found all over Salvador, so drawing money won’t be a problem. Do try to draw money from inside the banks for safety reasons.
The Old City can easily traversed around on foot. The city buses run around constantly, but they can be confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals if you’re having trouble trying to get to your destination. After 2 weeks or so, you should feel relatively comfortable with the system, and the price can’t be beat. As most study abroad destinations, public transportation does have a closed window from 12-4:30. You can get taxis during this time, but be prepared to haggle.
My next tip would be to haggle everything. All of the prices vendors give you will always have a lower price they’re willing to sell it to you for. It’s always good to save money!