Salvador Da Bahia – Sensuous & Soulful

Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are the nights to catch the Bale Folclorico da Bahia, whose 40-minute show draws heavily on candomble rituals. And clients who are in Salvador on “blessed Tuesday” night (called Terca da Bencao) will find street music and food in many corners of the Pelourinho neighborhood; at Praca Teresa Batista, the Olodum drum troupe (one of the leading samba schools or blocos) holds its traditional Tuesday show. The local tourist office, Bahiatursa, is a good place to go for music performance schedules.

connecting to africa Without doubt, Salvador is tailor-made for travelers looking for cultural experiences in art, architecture, cuisine, folklore, music and visual arts—all pursuits that mix easily with relaxation on fine beaches and yacht cruises to islands in the bay. However, the most special of special interest markets is Black Heritage tourism.

Similarities between the African and Bahian cultures are striking, as one learns in the Casa do Benin Museum and in the airy, grand Afro-Brazilian Museum whose wall map shows the route of the slave ships sailing from Benin. There is an arrow sweeping across the sea westward from Africa. Close to the South America continent, the arrow splits—one branch veering northward to Charleston, S.C., the other southward to Bahia.

A sense of common Black heritage binds the U.S. and Brazil, says Jose Gherardi, president of Just Brazil by Hotur. “Bahia honors Africa as its ancestral land and offers the purest living example of traditions rooted in original Benin slave culture—in the food, music, religion and dance. While almost everyone enjoys visiting the state of Bahia, its cultural links and traditions make the destination particularly appealing to Afro-American travelers.”

Back in 1982, Just Brazil by Hotur inaugurated a Black Heritage travel program in cooperation with the Brooklyn Museum. “We ran that together for years,” he adds, “and organizing heritage travel for large and small groups is still a niche specialty for our company.”

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Way back in 1987, Brazil Nuts created an African-American tour package called Celebration of Life. “We still offer this tour and remain active in the Black Heritage market,” says company president Adam Carter. He notes that, “Brazil Nuts has been doing theBoa Morte Festival [richly costumed processions and performances of the “spinning samba” found only here] every year in August, as well as five or six customized African American groups annually.”

The 7-night Celebration of Life tour explores the African heritage in Rio for three nights and Salvador for four nights. From Rio’s gafieira dance halls, where freed slaves came to dance, to Salvador’s candomble terreiros, this tour’s experiences are designed to convey the cultural richness, energy and sheer joy of the African diaspora in Brazil. In Salvador, for instance, one day is spent in the colonial town of Cachoeira, cultural home of the candomble religion. A special visit is made to the Sisterhood of the Boa Morte, a sorority that traces is origins back to the time of slavery, and lunch turns out a native Bahian feast. Costs, starting at $1,030 pp dbl, depend on category of hotel and time of year.

beach breaks in bahia Mixing it up is what the vacation experience is all about in Bahia—nowadays called Brazil’s beachside boom state. Salvador visitors, who have a chance to stay in one of the many new boutique hotels set in historic neighborhoods—Pestana Convento do Carmo,Casa do Amarelindo, Zank Boutique Hotel, Solar do Carmo—segue easily from the city’s cultural highs onto the beaches of nearby sun and sea resorts. Consider just a sampling:

• Villa das Pedras, located on car-free Morro de Sao Paulo (one of 56 islands in All Saints Bay with attractions including a fortress and quaint churches), is reached by air taxi or regular catamaran ferries from Salvador town. The inn has a seafront setting on the island’s “2nd beach” and 24 air-conditioned suites are fitted with refrigerator, TV, phone and balconies with hammocks. Rates for two start at $230 with breakfast.

• Pousada Santa Clara is located on Boipeba Island, a 2-hour boat ride from Morro de Sao Paulo, or accessible by air taxi from Salvador. Owned and operated by two American brothers, the pousada combines Brazilian warmth and luxury with American service and amenities including a restaurant, library, and massage bungalow. Starting rates range from $50 to $95, depending on the room choice and season.

• Kiaroa Eco-Resort, located on the Marau Peninsula, is reached via a short flight from Salvador to Ilheus or private air taxi right to the resort. Located on a gorgeous beach and surrounded by the Atlantic Forest, this deluxe and very secluded property has 28 suites and bungalows, as well as a spa, gourmet restaurant and a bevy of activities. Rates start at $230 dbl with breakfast.