Brasilia, Salvador de Bahia, Recife…

Brasilia, Salvador de Bahia, Recife…

Brazil’s Federal Capital City is Brasilia is a designed city with a population of around 2.4 million people, some 1170 kilometres inland north -west from Rio and the Atlantic Ocean coastline.

The city of Brasilia officially became the Capital of Brazil in place of Rio de Janeiro in 1960, after a competition process to design a new city started in 1957.

The competition was won by the Brazilian Architect, Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), Urban Planner and Architect,  Lύcio Costa (1902-1998) working with renowned Brazilian Landscape Designer, Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994), and together they created the vision for the new city.

The City took on the shape of a giant aircraft, with the fuselage main body axis being a 5 kilometre long grand park avenue – the Eixo Monumental, something akin to the Champs -Élysées in Paris, with the wings on each side becoming the main dormitory living quarters of the city.

Oscar Niemeyer lived to the age of 104 and is renowned for his love of curves and the flow of shape and Brasilia has a number of buildings that reflect his architectural design philosophy, including the Palace of the Dawn (Palácio da Alvarado), Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) with its incredible glass windows, National Library (BibliotecaNacional), National Theatre (Teatro Nacional), National Museum ( Museu Nacional), Indigenous Museum ( Museu dos Povos Indigenas) and others.

Due to the number of unique buildings and urban plan of the city, Brasilia has been awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO.

 While many world cities have now embraced the idea of a ‘walkable city’ where all facilities are within walking distance, Brasilia was born in the age when cars were king, so the city is quite spread out, though this also creates a feeling of space, with some large park areas and the city almost dovetailing into a large artificial lake forming a V shape mirroring the wings of the city itself. There are good bus services in the city and also a modern Metro servicing around 24 stations.

Like most Capital Cities, Brasilia has its critics but also its admirers too, with many banks, diplomatic embassies and government departments located here. There are also many hotels and places to stay as well as good places to eat.

If you love seeing modern architecture there are some quite amazing Oscar Niemeyer buildings and of course art galleries, the museums, and the amazing JK Jucelino Kubitschek Bridge and other sights, you are bound to have a good time.  The JK Bridge crosses over Lake Paranoá and has three 60 metre high arches criss-crossing over the roadway. The bridge certainly adds to the image of Brasilia and its architectural design credentials.

The Metro also links to the International Airport and flights arrive and depart to many other cities throughout Brazil.

Salvador de Bahia –

Rio is justly famous for its Carnaval parades, but so too is Salvador de Bahia and when you are in Rio, you will also hear people tell you that Salvador is definitely a city Carnaval that you must visit too.

The city of Salvador is located in the state of Bahia on the coast, some 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) north of Rio, so quite a long way north by road, or about a two hour flight.

Salvador was Brazil’s first Capital and the city dates back to 1532 when the first Portuguese arrived to establish a colony in Sᾶo Vicente and in 1549 the first Governor, Tomé de Souza was appointed to rule over Salvador.

In the early days of settlement the Portuguese forced local indigenous people, mainly Pataxό people to do the hard labour, but many died from European diseases, or moved inland to escape from the Portuguese and their guns too.

The first African slaves were brought to Salvador in 1832 and slavery continued over the years up to 1888. This was when Princess Isabel proclaimed the abolition of Slavery on May 13th, 1888 under what became known as the ‘Golden Rule’ (Lei  Áurea).

An estimated 5.5 million African Slaves were transported to Brazil to work in the sugarcane and tobacco fields and other work during the years of Slavery.

Of the 5.5 million slaves transported, some 660,000 would die on the voyages, with around 38% of all African slaves transported to the Americas, ending up in Brazil. The slave ships took Africans from what are now countries – from Sudan, Benin, Nigeria, Angola, Benin and Mozambique – bringing with them their different languages, customs, music, food traditions and cultures.

Today the 13th of May is celebrated as the end of Slavery in Brazil and in Salvador there are a significant number of people with mixed African and Portuguese Heritage who can trace their ancestry back to those times.

Today, Salvador is a large Port City with a population of around 2.7 million people with a lot of colonial architecture and cobblestone laneways in the older parts of the city dating back to the 17th and 18th century.

A number of Cruise Ships come to Salvador as well as tourists flying in from many countries to both see the city and get a feel for the history, music and vibrancy of the culture here.   

The city is divided into different sections or suburbs – from the Comécio business section with its high rise buildings alongside the Baie de Todos os Santos; to the Cidade Baixa (lower city), Cidade Alta (upper city); Barra and other names defining the different parts of the city.

From a tourist perspective the best way to get a feel for the city and the main sights is to take a Hop On-Hop off Open top bus tour of the city, returning to those places of most interest to you.

As with other big cities, you should also be conscious of where you and your belongings are and stay away from areas and times when you could have your belongings stolen or be mugged.

In Salvador there are a number of old Portuguese Forts and a number of museums and churches to see, including -

  • In Barra – look for the Forte Antȏnio da Barra on the headland with its great wall defences, nautical museum and lighthouse dating back to 1698. This Fort is close to a number of beaches and there are also two other forts nearby too.
  • In Cidade Alta/Pelourinho region of the city there are a number of museums, churches and the main Catedral Basilica (Cathedral) that dates back to 1772. Look to see the Igrej e Convento Sᾶo Francisco  and its great interior that dates back to 1723 and the Igreja da Odem Terceira do Carmo with its museum that dates back to 1828. The17th Century City Hall ( Cámara Muncipal) and Square (Praça Municipal) are located here too close to the historic Elevator Lacerda that makes it easier to get from the Comércio lower ground to Cidade Alta.
  • In Cidade Baixa – look for the Mercado Modelo (Market) and the Museu de Arte Moderna  Art Gallery.
  •  Pelourinho – is where you will find lots of bars, restaurants, live music, shops and street activity.

There are a number of festivals that happen during the year, but the really big one is Carnaval in February and it is equally huge to the one in Rio, so you need to book early to get a good place to stay. There are also Cruise ships that arrive and moor in Salvador for Carnaval too.

There are different circuit routes that the Carnaval takes place in and all can be incredibly crowded too as dancers, revellers, musicians, bands, Dj’s and the crowds come together to celebrate. It’s noisy too, but a great time for all people who love to party. As per always, be aware of your safety at all times too.

Here in Bahia you will also see a sport called ‘Capoeira’ where two people fight with their feet in almost a dance movement. ‘Capoeiras’ take place within an open circle ring space and if they are good, the crowd will also add to the atmosphere with their own drumming, music and shouts - Great fun to watch if you can.

There are great long beaches all along the coastline of Bahia, and around Salvador too – so if looking for a good place to stay, you might well consider a beachside location or if you want to be close to the action, stay in and around Cidade Alta or in the Pelourinho area.  Click on the Hotels section of this website and you will find lots of options for places to stay.

Recife and Olinda -  

Recife is around 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Salvador on the coast with a population of around 1.7 million people, with the greater city region having a population of around 4 million people. Recife also has a big Carnaval celebration too in February when the whole city becomes alive with dancers, parades and activities. If you love hearing the sounds of African-Brazilian drums and great Brazilian music as well as enjoy beaches, then Recife is a great place to head to.

The city is almost surrounded by water with the 5 kilometre long ocean beaches on one side, canals and three rivers with bridges connecting a number of islands and the mainland creating a city with great beauty.

There is a massive line of high rise buildings set back from the beachside, so this part of the city has a feel a lot like Copacabana Beach in Rio.

The old part of the city – Recife Antigo is located on one of the islands, while Boa Viagem Beach, just one of the beaches, is said to one of the most beautiful in the world.

The city dates back to the early 1500’s with the city of Olinda, just a few kilometres north of Recife founded by the Portuguese in 1535 and Recife just two years later. Between the years 1631 and 1654, Recife came under Dutch control, before the Portuguese re-took the city.

From a tourist view, the old city, Recife Antigo, is the most interesting with its 3 and 4 storey Portuguese Colonial Buildings and warehouses radiating out from the Point Zéro De Recife Plaza. These building are often painted in bright colours – reds, yellows, blue, purples and white, making for a colourful spectacle. The name ‘Point Zéro’ signifies that this is the place where the Portuguese first marked the spot where the city’s plan was conceived in 1537. Here in Recife Antigo there are places selling local crafts, restaurants, bars, tourist Information Centre and even a Jewish Synagogue/cultural centre and a shopping Mall set up in an old Customs House building.

Olinda, within sight of Recife is located on hills so you get a great view over Recife and the coastline in the distance. This city also has lots of colourful Colonial buildings and it too celebrates Carnaval each February with lots of music, dance and parades too. Olinda doesn’t have the high rise buildings and commercial business activity like Recife, so it is smaller with a quaint historic feel, with the Churches, colourful houses, plazas, cafes and bars.

Great Beaches of Brazil -

There are so many beautiful beaches in Brazil, that you are spoiled for choice. Most famous of course are Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio, but Boa Viagem in Recife, although not as famous, is equally stunning too.

Here in Recife you could also head offshore to Fernando de Noronha – although it is over 400 kilometres off the coastline, a National Park that encompasses 21 Islands and is renowned for its marine life, fantastic scuba diving, surf breaks, hiking trails and crystal clear waters. To get there you need to fly, and would need to book your accommodation beforehand, but being a small island, it has only a permanent population of about 2500 people, so a great contrast to be big cities of Rio, Sao Paulo, Salvador and Recife.

Closer to Recife other beaches that have become popular are Porta de Galinhas and Tamandaré. The further away from the big cities, the less likely you are to encounter English, but also get a real feel for Brazilian lifestyle.

With thousands of miles of coastline, the ideal would be to travel by car, stopping wherever you find a place that you like, but of course that also takes lots of time too. One of my all-time favourite beaches in Brazil is Ubatuba – that is roughly midway between Sao Paulo and Rio, but there are hundreds if not thousands of Brazilian beaches to choose from.

Happy travels

Geoff Stuart


Happy Traveller

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