If you’re looking for the best things to do in Salvador, Brazil, with kids, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will delve into the enthralling capital of the state of Bahia to unearth all the must-do activities for visitors bringing the little ones this year.
We think you might just be surprised as to what’s on offer. Of course, there’s a necessary mention of that uber-famous carnival; that once-yearly blowout on the streets that has unforgettable parades and samba dances. But there are also tropical islands with gleaming beaches, stunning sections of shoreline for sandcastle building, and even zoos that brim with intriguing animals.
We also think there’s something to be said for simply hanging around the town center. You don’t have to venture to the close-by beach resorts to entertain. Districts like Pelourinho – 500-year-old Pelourinho – offer sightings of gorgeous churches and colonial buildings that are sure to wow all age groups.
Just one look at the map should tell you that Salvador is a beach town at heart. Combine that with a tropical climate that keeps thermometers reading 77-86 F (25-30 C) for most of the year and you start to see why the town is such a doozy for lovers of all things sun, sand, and sea, from international tourists to domestic Brazilian travelers keen on a break from the big cities.
There are some sands within city limits. We put them up there with the best things to do in Salvador, Brazil, with kids simply because they are so darn easy to reach. You’ll only need to hop in a taxi and direct the driver to Barra or Ondina and bingo – there’s the ocean. Granted the sands there aren’t the best for sunbathing and sandcastle building, but there are oodles of coast hotels with swimming pools if you’d like to combine urban sights and sea trips.
Much better beaches await those willing to venture away from the city center just a touch. Here’s a look at just a few that we think you might want to consider:
- Praia do Forte – Clean beaches and turtle nesting grounds beckon here, in the main resort of what’s known as the Coconut Tree Coast.
- Stella Maris Beach – Clean waves and white-tinged sands beneath low dunes are the name of the game at Stella Maris Beach, a strand that’s only a short taxi from the airport in Salvador itself.
- Praia de Itapua – The Praia de Itapua and its surrounding beaches are a locals favorite. Golden sands and historic lighthouses dress the coast, while buzzy jazz bars beckon on the walkways just behind.
The Ilha dos Frades
The Ilha dos Frade beckons out in the bay right in front of Salvador city. It’s officially a part of the municipal area of town but offers a much slower pace of life and a taste of both wild nature and raw Brazilian history. Boats regularly connect over to the island from the main harbor just below the Elevador Lacerda. There are also plenty of planned day trips across that often include hotel pick up and lunch, costing anything over $15 per person.
You’re likely to arrive into the town of Paramana on the northeastern shoreline of dos Frades. It’s a chilled Brazilian harbor with boats bobbing along the jetties and cobbled streets that wind beside old cottages. It really hits a zenith at the photogenic Chapel of Loreto, a whitewashed Baroque church with golden inlays that’s set right on the oceanfront.
Adventures into the center of the island will whisk you away to another world. Deep in there, there are some of Bahia’s last remaining vestiges of primeval Atlantic rainforest. It’s wild, wild stuff, filled with strange frogs and slithering snakes, big orchids and ancient trees. A couple of marked hiking routes lead away from the port in Paramana, most well marked enough for families to complete with kids.
Never forget that there’s a dark human history to the Ilha dos Frades, too. Ask your guides about the ruins of the old slave-trading outposts that were used as holding pens for victims of trafficking in the centuries before the 1900s. Balancing that sobering tale out is a series of truly gorgeous beaches of pristine cinnamon sand and azure Atlantic water.
The district of Pelourinho is a must for anyone hitting the city of Salvador, family in tow or not. It’s the beating heart of the old town area; the historic core of the metropolis. The history here reaches back to the Portuguese colonial period, to sometime in the 1540s when the main municipal office was opened in the middle of thick Atlantic rainforests by governor Tomé de Sousa.
The following 200 years saw breakneck expansions and development that brought all manner of gorgeous buildings, churches, and trading spaces to bear on the town. Today, visitors wander between them on a web of crooked cobbled lanes and alleys, staircases and open plazas. We think a guided tour of the Pelourinho district is a good way to go. Not only will that help illuminate the history behind key structures, but it should also add in some enthralling stories to keep the kids entertained.
If you do decide to wander the area of Pelourinho all on your own, there are some things that you simply cannot miss. Check them out:
- Cathedral of Salvador – A 17th-century cathedral that stands tall on the main square of the district, complete with elaborate European Baroque altarpieces and exteriors.
- Igreja e Convento de São Francisco – There’s hardly a convent in Brazil with interior decorations that can match the incredible Igreja e Convento de São Francisco. Just look up to be dazzled by gold leaf and filigrees aplenty.
- Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia – One of the older churches in the center of Salvador, this one dates to the 1600s.
- Old Customs House – A colonial-style building that once kept track of the goods that came and went from Salvador’s port.
Most people look to Rio de Janeiro for their carnival holiday. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Salvador is actually famed as the home of the carnival and the veritable epicenter of Afro-Caribbean culture in Brazil. Accordingly, it now boasts the second-largest parades in the country, which erupt on the streets each year, usually sometime around early February.
The thing about the Salvador carnival is that it’s not yet turned into the same mass tourism event as the shindigs over in Rio. Yes, there’s a strong international showing when carnival is on, but the locals also come out in force, from right across the state of Bahia and beyond.
Salvador Carnival is split into three main parades: The coastal parade, the Centro parade, and the parade of the historic neighborhood of Pelourinho. The latter is probably the one we’d recommend to first-time travelers coming with children, since it’s the most culturally rich. The coastal parade down in Barra can be more glitzy and showy, while the Centro parade is wilder and draws in literally millions of people!
To be honest, for families with the kids in tow, it’s worth noting that the Salvador Carnival is a seriously wild event. Parties can be downright hedonistic and last all night long on the main evenings. That’s why we can also recommend dropping in the week before the official festivities begin for what’s come to be known as pre-carnival week. There are still some samba shows and plenty of jazz nights to enjoy then, but the vibe is much more low-key and suited to the little ones.
Salvador Zoo & Botanical Park
Last but most certainly not least on our selection of the top things to do in Salvador with kids is the acclaimed Salvador Zoo & Botanical Park. Perched up on the hillsides of Onida district close to the lively promenades and the Atlantic coast, this is unquestionably a fine way to while away the day whilst also offering the little ones an intro into the amazing fauna and flora of this part of South America.
Together, the enclosures here contain over 1,500 individual species and countless types of plant life. There’s a very big focus on preserving and showcasing life from the Brazilian rainforests and the surrounding state of Bahia, particularly those last remaining dashes of Atlantic forest. Cue displays of snapping crocodiles, elusive panthers, all manner of exotic monkeys, long-necked ostriches, and even vibrantly colored parrots. All that’s mixed in with a more traditional array of sub-Saharan African creatures – hippos, zebra – and the more common customers – peacocks, flamingos.
If there’s still time left in the day, you can head next door to find the Museu de História Natural. That chronicles the tale of both animal and human life in this corner of Brazil over the millennia, through collections of reclaimed bones and skeletons and more. Alternatively, it’s a short hop from here to the Onida promenade, which offers evening dining overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The best things to do in Salvador, Brazil, with kids – our conclusion
There are plenty of pursuits and activities that we could put up there with our selection of the best things to do in Salvador with kids. For the purpose of this guide, we’ve whittled it down to just five options, ranging from gleaming beaches to history-brimming districts to those uber-famous carnival festivities that send the city into overdrive each year. We hope you enjoy!