Salvador Carnival: What, When, How

Salvador is the capital of Bahia state, and it’s situated in one of the liveliest cultural centers in all of Brazil. If you’ve never experienced Carnival further north up the coast, you owe it to yourself to take in the 6-day festival, February 23 to March 1, 2017.

Rest assured that even if you’ve survived Carnival down south in Rio, it’s absolutely true what they say: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” The atmosphere in Salvador is electric — literally — as Trio Elétrico trucks take to the streets to blare mood-setting music, each truck featuring a different artist. Ultimately it’s this core of music-making — and unique delivery of it — that distinguishes Bahia Carnival from Rio Carnival (where there seems to be more of a visual focus via the Sambadromo parades of floats). Expect diverse sounds playing across the city, which is divided up into various blocos, and in terms of dancing, expect to get well beyond the iconic samba. Brazil’s best and brightest musicians know they’ll have a constant and captive audience here (Daniela Mercury and Olodum have played Salvador Carnival), and they come to connect and celebrate with fans.

If you pay for access to a bloco (the area immediately surrounding a chosen Trio Elétrico truck), you’ll dance up close and personal to axê and afro-baiano hits. If you can’t part with the money for a bloco ticket, my best suggestion is to go with the camarote instead. The camarote is a sort of balcony area nearby the music making, where party-goers get a bird’s eye vantage point. While it’s kind of a drag to watch the crowds go crazy down below (you do indeed miss out on some action), it’s a good perch from which to have the people-watching experience of a lifetime. Note: don’t by any means resort to the chord area. It’s simply no use to be just barely out of reach of the Trio and be stuck without the necessary elevation of the camarote area to take things in visually.

And have you ever wondered why everyone partying on the streets seems to be wearing the same thing? Well, that matching T-shirt (the abadá) is the ticket — literally. It demonstrates that a person has paid up and is eligible for entrance into that specified Carnival party zone. No need to buy the abadá in advance — you’ll find plenty of opportunities once in town.

Now, you do need to think about where you’ll grab a minute or two of sleep! Since there will be more partiers than available pillows about town, plan ahead: make lodging reservations in advance by hunting online via reputable services. If you’re coming with a group, consider a short-term apartment lease so to enjoy the comforts of home when you’re not enduring 16-hour celebrations in the street.

A few more basic human tips: wear comfortable and sturdy shoes (make sure they’re well broken in) and just accept that you’ll dole out plenty of cash along the way. Remember, too, that you have to be responsible during this wild celebration. Stick together. Hold tight to your valuables. Do like the Brazilians and moderate alcohol intake (in favor of dancing, of course). And hydrate!

So get ready for carnival in Salvador, where a steady stream of parades, complete with music, dance, and rich costumes, are carefully scheduled to provide visitors an unbroken relay of “wow.” While the timeline of events is tightly conceived, though, have no fear: surprises are rampant, and unexpected thrills will no doubt come your way.

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