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Travel in Latin America

Explore Pelourinho, Salvador da Bahia in Brazil
By:Travel Expert

Pelourinho is the name of Salvador da Bahia's old centre, in northeast Brazil. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its more than 800 restored colonial buildings and fabulous baroque churches. The cobbled alleys are lined with once brightly painted houses, colonial churches, souvenir shops and outdoor cafés.

History of Pelourinho and the change due to its UNESCO status

Until the 1990s this was one of Salvador da Bahia's poor people quarters, where crime ruled the lives of many. Thanks to, among others, the governor of those days and UNESCO, the neighbourhood was restored and has become one of Brazil's largest tourist attractions. The downside, of course, was that the original inhabitants were bought out for a song or evicted from their homes to the favelas, slums, that surround the city.

Pelourinho is the heart of Cidade Alta, the upper city of Salvador de Bahia. The area is still common ground for muggers, pickpockets and scammers, so watch your belongings. Having said that, during the day it is a relatively safe place to stroll around and enjoy the life and cultural heritage of Salvador da Bahia. In Pelourinho life is lived outside, with people leaning out of windows, sitting in groups on pavements or outdoor cafés, and entertaining tourists with the martial art of capoeira.

Museums, churches and restaurants along Largo do Pelourinho

Pelourinho refers to the pillories, used until the 20th century to punish slaves and criminals. Along the Largo do Pelourinho stand, among others:

* The house of one of Brazil's and Bahia's famous writers: Jorge Amado. Opening hours are Mon-Sat 9am-6pm and the entrance is free of charge.

* Museu da Cidade, featuring curiosities of Bahian folklore. Opening hours are Mon & Wed-Fri 1-5pm / Sat 9am-1pm and 3 reais are charged [about 2 US dollars].

* Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos – a church for slaves. Opening hours are Mon-Fri 9am-2pm / Sat & Sun 9am-2pm, and a donation is asked at the entrance.

A good place to have a try at a smorgasbord of Bahian dishes is the SENAC, located along this plaza. SENAC is an educational centre for adults to follow courses in cooking and serving while their practical experience is acquired in a restaurant which is daily open for lunch. For 30 reais you can take unlimited servings from the buffet. The typical Bahian moqueca dishes are recommended: seafood stews with dendê palm oil and coconut milk.

During the afternoon baianas de aracajé will set up their food stalls where you can have a try at Bahia's traditional aracajé snacks, or some of the delicious cocada sweets.

Tourist attractions around Salvador da Bahia's Largo do Pelourinho

In the adjacent Rua Gregório de Matos are two blocos, carnival organisations. Filhos de Gandhi dates from 1949 and can be visited on Sunday afternoon. Olodum, known for its African drums and rhythms, can be visited on Tuesday nights.

On the far north side of the Cidade Alto lies Largo do Carmo, which is reached after walking up a steep climb. The plaza is the location of Igreja do Carmo, which dates from 1828. In a small room lies a life-sized carving of Christ with blood made of 2000 rubies.

Next door is the former convent, now partly a five star hotel and Museo do Carmo. The museum of sacred art, religious objects and jacaranda furniture was closed at the time of my visit [November 2010].

Salvador da Bahia – accommodation and transportation

Pelourinho has everything a traveller needs within walking distance. There are many low budget pousadas, or albergues – guesthouses, as well as mid-range to luxurious hotels, although the latter are especially popular in coastal suburbs such as Barra [5 kilometres from Pelourinho]. For specific information on accommodation, visit the Bahiatursa Tourist Information Office on Rua Francisco Muniz Barreto 12.

Salvador da Bahia lies along the Atlantic Coast. It is not just within reach by plane and bus but is also a popular stop for cruises to Brazil:

* Aeroporto Deputado Luis Eduardo do Magalhães is serviced by several airlines and has daily domestic flights to all major cities in Brazil.

* The bus is practical for trips within the state of Bahia or to explore the northeastern shore, for example to visit tourist attractions in Sergipe, or to take a boat trip in Alagoas.

* Cruises to Brazil are likely to stop in Salvador da Bahia, and a visit to Pelourinho is a great way to get a quick but intense feel of the Bahian way of life. If you have more time, enjoy a walking tour in Cidade Alta, visit one of the beaches along the Cidade Baixa [during daylight only for safety reasons], or take a tour to get a glimpse of the local life of Bahians in the Bahía de Todos os Santos.

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