The Bahian Carnival is probably the second most famous carnival in the whole of Brazil, and, by extension, the world. It’s the only one here that can really match up to the scale and size of the parties that hit Rio de Janeiro come February and March, and it’s a fine alternative option for travelers who want to do something a little different to the usual bucket-list blowouts. But where to stay in Salvador, Brazil, for carnival?
Cue this guide. It homes in on five of the absolute best districts and neighborhoods for would-be attendees to what the locals bill as “o maior carnaval do mundo” – the largest carnival in the world. It will outline the pros and cons of staying in different parts of the town when the shindig is happening, and even offers some specific hotel suggestions for those keen on bagging a top-quality stay.
Of course, choosing where to stay in Salvador, Brazil, for carnivals is just one step in planning a trip to this mega Afro-Caribbean blowout on the shores of South America. You’ll also have to time your adventure right. Carnival officially begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, 52 days prior to Easter. That typically falls in February but does change year on year, so check those dates closely before booking.
Welcome to the beating heart of the party. If you’re wondering where to stay in Salvador, Brazil, for carnival and want to be right there in the thick of the action from day one, then there’s simply nowhere better than the Campo Grande and the blocks in its immediate vicinity. The reason? Well…this area is host to the so-called Osmar circuit, which is the principle parade in the event and the most quintessential of all the carnival processions.
It’s got all the ingredients you’re looking for. Big parties erupt on the traditional carnival days of Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday afternoons here and the main blocos (carnival troupes) come to do their thing, showcasing the rich heritage of local Axé music in huge groups of elaborately dressed dancers and singers. Later in the week, the Campo Grande area is taken over by the blocos de samba, which are all about keeping the beat going with Afro-Carib samba tunes.
Most people say there’s a more down-to-earth and working-class feel to the carnival in the Campo Grande neighborhood. The streets are knitted tightly together by narrow alleys and small pathways, squeezing those gyrating bodies and groups of dancers into ever more vibrant pockets of space. The main action tends to follow the same path here, beginning at the Largo do Campo Grande before crossing to Praça Castro Alves nearer to the historic quarter of Pelourinho (more on that later).
Some of the best hotel options in the Campo Grande district are:
- Wish Hotel da Bahia ($$) – This well-rated hotel shouldn’t break the bank, but it will get you into the thick of the action on the Campo Grande itself. There’s also a pool for chilling at the morning after the night before!
- Hotel Bahia do Sol ($$) – A little quieter since it’s just down the road from the Campo, the Hotel Bahia do Sol is better for those who want to escape for a some R&R when the parades are over.
The Barra district is the anchor point of the second main circuit in the Salvador Carnival: the Barra-Onida circuit. This is where the carnival parades move along the shoreline, following a straight line down the main coastal promenades of the city as the Atlantic waves bash against the sands just below.
Historically, the Barra area has been seen as a bit more of an upscale place to hit the carnival. That’s because it tends to be home to the more affluent communities in Bahia; the folk with their own ocean-view condos and shoreline flats. But, in truth, it’s not all that different to the Centro district’s working-class shindig. You’ll still see the Axé musicians and their jazzy followings throughout the week, plus plenty of other bands and parades going by, from all strata of Salvador society.
If you ask us, the real joy of staying here is the proximity to the beaches and the views. The hotels you get in Barra are often just steps from the water-washed Farol da Barra and the salt-caked Morro do Cristo lookout points. You also get oodles of seafood restaurants and coastal cafes on top.
Some of the best hotels in these parts are:
- Monte Pascoal Praia Hotel Salvador ($$$) – An uber-cool pad with an outdoor pool and one of the best breakfast buffets in the city.
- Solcity Hostel ($) – Do carnival on a budget by dropping by Solcity Hostel, where rooms can be under $40 a pop.
Ondina almost seems like the obvious place to stay during carnival, since this is where the party all comes to an end on the Barra-Onida circuit. The district caps off the coastal part of the city, some three kilometers down the shoreline from Barra (see above). The upshot? You’ll naturally make your way back to the hotel as you follow the musicians and floats from the starting point. Perfect.
Of course, all that means that the displays and vibe will be the very same that you’d get in the Barra area. We’re talking perhaps the more glitzy and musical section of the Salvador Carnival, with more showy acts than the ones that take place throughout the Centro district.
What’s super-nice about Ondina is that it’s a top, top place to stay in its own right. We’d consider coming to this part of town whether it was carnival time or not. There are oodles of deluxe hotels in the region, most of them fronting excellent urban beaches that run for miles on end.
Here are just a few of the places that we recommend checking out:
- Vila Galé Salvador ($$$) – A large shoreline hotel that’s got unrivaled views of the Atlantic Ocean.
- EDIFÍCIO METROPOLE ONDINA ($$) – There are some good deals at this Onida hotel, which is a short walk back from the end point of carnival but also has its own pool.
Pelourinho is the core of the historic center of Salvador. It’s a part of town with serious style and charm. Cobbled streets run into café-fringed plazas. The Baroque rises of the Cathedral of Salvador keep watch over the squares. Narrow side streets weave and wind off this way and that. This is the one you want to go for if you want the most photogenic and old-school of the carnival experiences.
The carnival circuit that moves around Pelourinho is known as the Batatinha circuit. It’s probably the third most famous, and many locals will say that you’re not doing the real Bahia Carnival if you stick to this and only this. That said, there’s something more inviting about the decorations and vibe of the place in our opinion, as the streets get commandeered by drumming groups and jazz bands.
Pelourinho is also the best place to seek out characterful historic hotels with a boutique vibe. Here are just a few of the ones that we love the most:
- Bahiacafé Hotel ($$-$$$) – Moody to the T, this hotel has charming rooms in an age-old, colonial-era building in the heart of the district.
- Hotel Villa Bahia ($$$) – Give yourself some luxury when you escape the carnival by staying in the Hotel Villa Bahia, where grand Victorian bathrooms meet four-poster beds.
We don’t think there will be many guides to where to stay in Salvador, Brazil, for carnival that will include the off-the-beaten-track district of Nazare. That’s because this part of the city doesn’t, technically, have any of the main carnival circuits and doesn’t see any major parades. What it can offer is something a little out of the action, so you can up the chance you’ll get a decent night’s sleep and choose a hotel that’s further from the crowds.
Most of all, the neighborhood is known as the home of a series of important municipal and governmental buildings, plus the long shopping boulevard of Joana Angélica. It’s also got a peppering of nice plazas and parks, with a decent array of local bars. It’s actually possible to use Nazare as a base for visiting all the three main areas of carnival, since they are each about 10-15 minutes’ apart by taxi, but be warned that traffic can be awful when the event is in town!
One thing you are likely to find here is that the hotels are cheaper. Check them out:
- Hostel da Residencia ($) – A very simple but uber-affordable hostel option for those who want carnival on a budget.
- Hostel e Pousada La Napoletana ($) – A vibrant hostel with Latin vibes that’s just about within walking distance of the Pelourinho carnival circuit.
Where to stay in Salvador, Brazil, for carnival? Our conclusion
If you’ve been wondering where to stay in Salvador for the carnival, then look no further than this guide. It’s got the lowdown on the very best parts of the city for getting stuck into the mix of Bahian jazz and samba that swings around in the late winter. We’ve listed the districts that not only host their very own carnival circuits, but also ones with fine hotels and access to urban beaches and history sites. Enjoy!