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The history of Bahia is in some ways the history of Brazil. It was here, in what is now the town of Porto Seguro, that a squadron commanded by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral came ashore in 1500, a historical event that marked the discovery of the new land. Less than fifty years later, construction of the colony’s first capital began on that same ground. Though it would be centuries before the Brazilian nation would be realized, the first stone in its foundation was laid.

In addition to major African cultural influences, traces of the Portuguese presence are still visible in Bahia’s forts, churches, farms, and sugar plantations. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries Bahia was the center of the colony’s slave-trade; by the end of the 19th century, however, it was at the forefront of the abolitionist movement.

Today, no Brazilian state has a larger black population, nor preserves its African legacy with such intensity and pride.

The best place to start getting to know Bahia is in its capital city, Salvador, whose cultural vibrancy distinguishes it from other state capitals.

It is a good point of departure for the wide variety of beaches that dot the state’s coastline – from the gentle waves and comfortable tourist facilities of Praia do Forte in the north to the turquoise waters of the Abrolhos archipelago, a diving destination, in the south. There is more to Bahia than its coastline, however.

Visitors who venture to the inland region of Chapada Diamantina will be rewarded with some of the country’s finest scenery and a chance to experience the rich culture of the sertão backlands.

The most important tourism regions in Bahia, which are de All Saints‘ Bay, Coconut Coast, Cocoa Coast, Dendê Coast, Discovery Coast , Whale Coast, Chapada Diamantina, São Francisco Lake and Valleys and East Bahia.

Highlights
• Tour of cultural and architectural sites of interest in Pelourinho, in the center of Salvador.
• The urban beaches of Morro de São Paulo, Praia do Forte, Trancoso, and Itacaré.
• The untrammeled sands of the Maraú Peninsula, Boipeba Island, and Caraíva.
• The treks, caves, and waterfall of Chapada Diamantina.
• Diving in Abrolhos, an island-chain marine reserve on the pristine Whale Coost.

When to go
• The beaches of Bahia can be enjoyed year round. But cities are crowded and prices are high during the slimmer months (December, January, and February).
• Everyone is welcome to parry with crowds of revelers at Carnival, (generally in February and March).
• Between January and February ritual processions are held in Salvador in honor of Senhor do Bonfim.
• The São João festivities, are held in June.

Salvador da Bahia

Salvador was chosen as Brazil’s earliest capital for its attractive geographical attributes. Seventy meter (230 foot) bluffs divide the upper and lower parts of the city, which are known as Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa, respectively. From the heights of Cidade Alta the entire Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay) can be seen, making it impossible for ships to approach unnoticed, a feature that was particularly attractive to its 16th century founders.

An ancient fault line, the Falha Geológica de Salvador, is responsible for the „two-story“ topography of the city. Urban planning here took after that in the similarly hilly terrain of Lisbon and Porto. The city’s commercial center radiates outward from the port, while the upper level is largely comprised of residential, administrative, and religious buildings.

This division is fundamental to understanding the dynamics of Salvador today: the Pelourinho District, which is part of Cidade Alta, has more than eight hundred 17th and 18th century dwellings, most of which have been restored or are in the process of restoration.

Cidade Alta is also home to some of the most important churches in Salvador. In Cidade Baixa you can visit all fifteen forts that once protected the colonial capital from seaborne threats.

There are also hotels, a variety of businesses, buzzing nightlife destinations, marinas dotted with pleasure boats, and 30 kilometers (19 miles) of city beaches.

Some of Salvador’s most exciting attractions are found on the bay between the Bonfim and Barra neighborhoods. The few locals who speak English are often more than happy to offer suggestions and provide insider perspective.

All Saints‘ Bay

On November 1st, 1501, the expedition commanded by the Italian navigator Américo Vespúcio, by order of Pedro Alvares Cabral saw a „big and beautiful bay“, which was named All Saints’s Bay because of the date: All Saints‘ Day. That was the official birth of the biggest bay of Brazil.

Set in one of the most beautiful national sceneries, with its calm and crystal clear waters, involved by a historical atmosphere and the Atlantic forest contrasting with large mangroves, sand banks and coral reefs, the bay is the starting point of the state that borrowed its name ands keeps attracting tourists from all over the world with its enchants and magic.

Because of the rich nature that surrounds the bay, the Government created the All Saints´ Bay Environmental Protection Area, which comprehends the waters and the 54 islands that belong to the cities of Salvador, Madre de Deus, Candeias, Simões Filho, São Francisco do Conde, Santo Amaro, Cachoeira, Saubara, Itaparica, Vera Cruz, Jaguaripe, Maragogipe and Salinas da Margarida, a total of 800km² of nature in all its splendor, with good touches of history.

Coconut Coast

The Coconut Road was built in the end of the 1960s. It’s the first stretch of the ecological road BA-099, with 53km, that cuts the North seashore of the state. The road starts in the surroundings of Salvador International, cutting the cities of Lauro de Freitas and Camaçari.

It’s the oldest ecological road of the country, inaugurated in 1993, when it was extended from the Green Line, which goes from Praia do Forte up to the settlement of Cachoeira do Itanhim, in Jandaíra, through an extension of 192km, until the border with the state of Sergipe.

The beaches of the Coconut Road are known for their calm, warm waters. The area also has lagoons, rivers and astonishing landscapes. The nature wonders of the region of the Jacuípe, Pojuca and Joanes rivers are also part of the attractions; Joanes River is an excellent spot for nautical sports.

The road revealed areas of primitive nature wonders in Bahia’s North seashore. Its design allows the socio-economical integration of various neighboring cities, improving the development of the region, specially in the leisure segment, with a variety of tourism equipment that make it easier for the visitors to explore nature wonders such as the flora, dunes and an extensive hydrographic net. Some antique buildings also became great attractions of the region.

Garcia D’Ávila Castle is one of the most important and significant monuments of the Brazilian historical and cultural heritage, located near Praia do Forte. It’s the first big Portuguese building of residential military architecture in Brazil, with characteristics of a medieval castle.

Unfortunately, in the 19th century, it was already in ruins and was recorded by IPHAN, in 1938; today it’s under restauration. Its owner, the Portuguese nobleman called Garcia D”Ávila, arrived in Bahia as the royal storekeeper and became one of the biggest landowners in history, with 129 farms that occupied 800.000km², which is one tenth of the Brazilian territory. His domains spread until the states of Piauí and Maranhão.

Cocoa Coast

Around 180km, between the cities of Itacaré and Canavieiras, form the so called Cocoa Coast. Home to nature wonders, rivers flanked by cocoa farms, beaches of vast untouched coconut groves amid the Atlantic Forest and dense mangroves, the region enchants for its landscapes and the opulence of the golden years of the “black gold”.

The architecture preserves the colonial houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, in streets paved with stones, churches and old mansions, important part of the national history that date back to the period when the production and exporting of cocoa were the primordial activity of the Brazilian economy. Scenery of movies, soap operas and novels – most of Jorge Amado’s work, translated in several countries, is set in Ilhéus, main city of this coast – , the region besides being part of history is the right destination for those looking for fun and close contact with nature.

Canavieiras, Ilhéus, Itabuna, Itacaré, Santa Luzia, Una and Uruçuca offer a variety of options for tourists. The abundance of beaches includes from surfing and fishing spots to calm waters and true deserted paradises. Extreme waterfalls – like Cleandro’s, in Itacaré-, rivers and rapids are an invitation to practice adventure sports such as rafting, rappel and canoeing.

Dendê Coast

Located between the mouth of Jaguaripe River and Camamu Bay, the Dendê Coast is a true mosaic of beaches, bays, mangroves, rocky walls, sand banks, springs, lagoons, rivers, waterfalls and estuaries. Its 115 km of seashore comprehend Valença, Morro de São Paulo, Boipeba, Igrapiúna, Cairu, Camamu, Taperoá, Nilo Peçanha, Ituberá and Maraú.

The untouched beaches of limpid and warm waters, with different formations of coral reefs and framed by vast coconut groves, are among the best in the country. The fluvial archipelago of Una River shelters a variety of paradisiacal islands – Tinharé, Boipeba, Cairu. The dazzling Camamu Bay opens up in ten unexplored islands with primitive vegetation and coconut trees. The endless mangroves work as a nursery for many kinds of fish, crabs, shrimps and oysters. An extensive counter coast of placid waters is ideal for sailing, diving and fishing.

The impressive waterfalls are the right location for extreme sports. Environmental Protection Areas preserve a rich fauna and flora. The abundance of dendê trees, spice that gives a peculiar flavor to Bahia’s cuisine, gives the final touch to the local scenery. In this paradise of great ecological diversity, nature divides the landscape with a rich historical heritage of Colonial Brazil. The primitive settlements preserve their traditional cultural characteristics.

Discovery Coast

Considered the starting point of the Brazilian history and culture, the Discovery Coast was declared World Natural Heritage by UNESCO, in 1999.

Surrounded by several natural attractions – such as beaches, bays, inlets, cliffs, coral reefs, mangroves and navigable rivers – the region has favorable conditions for adventure tourism and ecotourism. Many paradisiacal beaches enchant the visitors. In Porto Seguro, the most sought after ones are Tacimirim, Taperapuã and Mundaí; in Cabrália, Coroa Vermelha, Mutary and Arakakaí stand out; Trancoso has the beaches of Nativos dos Coqueiros and Nudism with good options for swimming; in Arraial D’Ajuda, the beaches of Degaldo, Mucugê and Parracho attract lots of tourists; those who visit Caraíva must visit Espelho beach, which, located in the middle of a cliff, is among the ten best ones in Brazil; at the Discovery Coast you can also find the beaches of Santo André, das Tartarugas (turtles) and Santo Antonio.

The region’s nature wonders are well known by visitors, especially those who enjoy extreme sports that for now seem to have a closer contact with such attractions. During ultralight flights it’s possible to admire all the beauty of the region, from a different angle. The Discovery Coast has ideal spots for diving, windsurf, surf, kite surf, trekking, horse rides, among others. It’ss worth remembering that the fun doesn’t end here. The region has a much differentiated nightlife.

Contrary to what happens in most littoral areas, where the day activities are more attractive than the night ones, at the Discovery Coast night leisure is also a must. It’s difficult to decide whether to enjoy the day or the night. Generally, visitors end up enjoying both, showing that sleeping is not the priority. The hours are so atypical that in many of the region’s cities, shops are open until late, selling clothes, crafts, etc.

The events promoted by show houses, beach kiosks and night clubs, which always end at dawn, guarantee the fun throughout the night. The fun never ends. For more than 500 years this region has been visited by various explorers seeking for the most unusual products. Nowadays, the explorers are better known as“tourists“, that look for high doses of adrenaline and lots of history, in a scenery composed by sun, sea and tranquility.

Whale Coast

At the far south of Bahia, the Whale Coast is a real untouched paradise. An endless blue sea, with crystal clear water, home to the biggest and most diversified compound of coral reefs of the South Atlantic – a total of 17 specimens at the National Marine Park of Abrolhos – shelter a vast fauna and flora, volcanic islands, mangroves and tide channels; it’s a landscape of astonishing beauty that enchants and fascinates.

The tropical climate and the sun, which reigns all year round, are an irresistible invitation for nature lovers. Seafood and the spice of dendê oil are the trademarks of the local cuisine. Among rivers, waterfalls, beaches, mangroves and coconut groves, diving in the warm and calm water is a must; humpback whales regularly visit this coast, regardless of the curious eyes of the visitors.

At the villages and settlements, the local communities preserve their traditional culture. Kingdom of tranquility surrounded by nature, the Whale Coast is the right choice for those looking for relaxing by the sea, enjoying the best of life and the mesmerizing sceneries of the region.

Chapada Diamantina

The vast Atlantic Forest, flower fields and plateaus of an endless green divide the landscape with stretches of caatinga. Huge rock walls, canyons, grottos, caves, rivers and waterfalls complete the exquisitely beautiful scenery of Chapada Diamantina.
Initially inhabited by the Maracás Indians, the actual occupation occurred during the golden times of mineral prospection, from 1710, when gold was found near Contas River, marking the arrival of the explorers.

In 1844, the colonization was boosted by the discovery of valuable diamonds in the surroundings of Mugugê River, and the traders, settlers, Jesuit priests and foreigners that lived in the villages controlled and regulated by the power of wealth.

Lençóis, Rio de Contas, Morro do Chapéu and Andaraí are some of the cities where it’s still possible to travel in time and relive the golden period of the region. The architectonical compound dates from Colonial Brazil and preserves an important part of the national history.

Chapada Diamantina is home to a large diversity of fauna and flora. There are more than 50 kinds of orchids, bromeliads and other native flowers and also rare specimens of animals, such as the great anteater, the giant armadillos, wild cats and innumerous kinds of birds and snakes. The Chapada Diamantina National park, created in the 80’s, is the organ responsible for the protection of all this exuberance.

Chapada Diamantina gathers a variety of natural and cultural attractions in the heart of Bahia; the right choice for those looking for peace and quiet or history and adventure.

São Francisco Lake and Valleys

It’s necessary to visit São Francisco River to understand why so many writers revered it. During this enchanting contact, which can be made in various cities of Bahia, it’s possible to a little of the inspiration that has already swept many composers.

In this area of Bahia, several cities offer visits a variety of leisure options, from the famous bungee-jump from the top of bridges and several extreme sports, to get-togethers in bars and restaurants to contemplate the sunset. It’s worth reminding the visitor that any activity chosen will be special because in the “Old Chico’s” (as the rivers is called by locals) company, everything is unforgettable.

Paulo Afonso is one cities of the region that stands out. It rises, in the tourism scenery, as one of the entrance gates of the Lake Region and has as the main attraction, ecotourism and adventure tourism. There, the visitor can practice extreme sports, o explore trails in the caatinga and visit São Francisco River’s canyon, poles of fish culture and the facilities of São Francisco Hydro-electric Company (CHESF).

The biggest artificial lake of the world is located in Paulo Afonso, the famous Sobradinho, which has also been sung in many songs. It has an area of 4 thousand square meters and storage capacity for 34 billion cubic meters of water from São Francisco River. It’s the stage of sports modalities and amateur and professional fishing.

Juazeiro da Bahia, main bordering point between the states of Bahia and Pernambuco, maintains a prosperous commerce by the margins of São Francisco Ricer and a modern agro-industrial pole, with intense exporting activity. The city still keeps some monuments of civil architecture of the last century and was modernized with the urbanization of the fluvial shore and the reconstruction of the arches of the Eurico Gaspar Dutra Bridge, now occupied by small bars and restaurants.

East Bahia

East Bahia, bathed by São Francisco River and its tributaries, is the paradise of the crystal waters that run through all the far east of the state. It’s a region of unique beauty with waterfalls, caves and cave pictures.

The cities of Bom Jesus da Lapa, Barreiras and Corrente river valley offer a variety of attractions for those who like adventures and for the ones who enjoy peace and quiet.

Bahia Travel Guide – Brazil Travel Guide

 
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