Vacation in Brazil: A Complete Family Vacation Guide
I am sorry that I did not have much time to write in the past 30 days as I was on a well-needed family vacation in Brazil. Better late than never, right? So here it goes “Happy New Year!’’. I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season. I can’t believe it’s 2020! Where did the time go?!
One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is travel which is not always possible due to a series of factors, including kids. However, this year (I mean 2019) we braced ourselves to endure an adventure in an overdue trip to Brazil. Of course, we tried to prepare ourselves (mentally speaking) the best we could to face a 22 hours trip with several flights and a 20-month-old baby. We expected meltdowns (a lot of them), fights over toys, etc and fortunately, our almost 6 years of experience as parents helped us to develop some strategies. We brought a few tools that definitely made our “agony” tolerable.
It was still hard for the little one, Amelie while Marie, on the other hand, behaved like a princess, quiet and focused on her games and favorite movies that we expertly uploaded to her tablet.
My husband and I decided a couple of years ago that we would ideally like to ring in the New Year on vacation in Brazil someday. We have been on a few family trips within the US for the last few years. In 2018, we went to Montana in August to visit my sister-in-law and her family and we had an amazing experience seeing that lush place, especially the Glacier National Park and the Sun Road. This year we decided to save for Brazil, more specifically Salvador (AKA Terra da Alegria or Land of Joy).
We had booked this trip for about 4 months in advance because everything gets booked much earlier at the end of the year as if everybody in the world were going to Salvador. If you have never been to Salvador, better to plan in advance because from December to February (Summer in Brazil) is when the party starts. From Breathtaking Fireworks to celebrate the New Year in parties at the 300 beaches in the state of Bahia, to the massive Carnaval in the streets.
So if you have time to read a long post and I am sure you will enjoy it, I am going to detail everything I experienced in my beautiful hometown. Please excuse me as I brag about the beauty and tropical climate of my native city, but who wouldn’t? Salvador is magical! Its energy and beauty, the simplicity of the people who always have a smile on their faces and an open heart to snapshot new friends is contagious.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SALVADOR/WEATHER IN SALVADOR:
The best time to visit Salvador, and pretty much that entire area of Northeast of Brazil, is during their high season. High season begins in December and goes on until about May, except to Bahia where is basically Summer all year round. During this time you can expect more crowds and pricier hotels. I would say from December to February is the most popular time, and the hotels can be extremely pricey during those months. However this year, we were lucky that the dollar exchange rate was 1 USD to BRL = 4.1832. More money to spend!
The weather during this time is extremely hot and humid with a certain advantage that the whole city is super breezy. You also get the occasional showers here and there which is expected anywhere that has a tropical climate. During our trip, the highs were in the mid to high 90s and lows were in the mid-70s. It was perfect for me (although I felt like I was dying in the first few days), however, the humidity might be a little bit too much for some.
This type of weather also results in LOTS of mosquitos! It is worth mentioning that if you visit Salvador in the summer months, you won’t experience seaweed. However, if you go in the Winter, you can expect the beach to be filled with them.
HOW TO GET TO SALVADOR:
There are a few airports in the US with flights to Brazil such as Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, etc. However, you will have to get a connecting flight from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife or Brasilia to Salvador. From there, you will take a shuttle, taxi, Uber, etc. to anywhere in the city that is clean and well cared for. There are lots of transportation companies around the airport. I HIGHLY suggest Foco Car Rental as they have a huge selection of new cars and customer service that is stellar.
WHAT TO DO IN SALVADOR:
Now the fun part! Bahia is not just limited to the long strip of sand that goes along the whole state, but that is honestly where we spent most of our time! In the midwest of Bahia, you can find great waterfalls and mountains if you are into hiking. If that is the case I suggest you visit Lencois to see the Chapada Diamantina that has caves with underground rivers and turquoise waters. But if you are more of a beachy girl Salvador is truly your place, that is where you can find all the beautiful boutiques, hotels, the gorgeous white sand beaches in the north, and all the fun shops and restaurants. I personally think that Salvador has the best vacation spots for families.
The entire city is gorgeous and I would recommend spending a week, if you can, exploring the area so you get to see everything! Salvador is full of character and I love it so much. It’s one of the best vacation spots for couples in the world and one of the most perfect spring break destinations for those who want a getaway from the offseason.
Summer Vacation Perfection
Salvador is one of the best family vacation spots in the world in my opinion as it has activities for every age. It was the first capital of Brazil and its architecture seems a lot like Lisbon as it was founded by the Portuguese. Bahia, the state, owns the biggest coast in the country with ONLY 300 BEACHES that I’ve mentioned. It owns beautiful islands such as Itaparica and Morro de São Paulo and the gorgeous Costa Do Cacau, Costa do Descobrimento, Costa do Dendê and Estrada do Coco. The whole state has thousands of miles of clearwater and white sand lined with palm trees and resorts.
There are also taxis everywhere throughout the city that can take you from one end to the other and anywhere in between. If you want the cheapest form of transportation, I suggest hopping on public transit, that costs R$ 4.50 (a little over a $1.) Northern Salvador has little caravans that you hop on and off wherever you want along the Estrada do Coco for just a few bucks.
The best Vacations for Kids
At the Estrada do Coco, I recommend doing day trips to visit Costa do Sauipe, Imbassai, Praia do Forte, Arembepe, and Jacuipe. You can also see turtles and sharks at the natural reserve known as Project Tamar at Praia do Forte. During this trip, we watched the release of baby turtles, set free into the ocean which was a great experience for the kids and me. They have guides covering all the process of preserving the turtles by giving them a safe place to come and deposit their eggs. However, these guides are mainly Portuguese speakers. You may find it helpful that they have a lot of signs posted throughout the reserve, with explanations in regards to the turtles and what they do at Project Tamar.
If you have the time, navigate further south and spend some time in Porto Seguro that is part of the Costa do Descobrimento (or Discovery Coast) called this way because this is where the Portuguese settlers made landfall when they arrived in the continent in 1500. If you do enjoy history, I would not skip this. Porto Seguro owns some of the most beautiful beaches in Bahia. Take time to enjoy Trancoso, Arraial da Ajuda on your way there.
A place that you must not skip on your trip to Salvador is Pelourinho. Pelourinho is one of the most famous spots in Salvador. The old city of colorful colonial buildings used to be an auction location in the days of slavery. Over time this portion of the city became home to artists and musicians. Even Paul Simon and Michael Jackson filmed clips there along with a local band called Olodum.
Museu do Carnaval
This is one of the most popular museums in Salvador. This museum is dedicated to Carnaval. We didn’t get a chance to visit, but if you have time and enjoy museums, I’ve heard great things about this!
WHERE TO STAY IN SALVADOR
There are so many inns and condos that you can rent out at Praia do Forte and hundreds of hotels along Salvador. Some of them are really luxurious, located right in the most touristic places. However, the beaches in the north own just simple but well-cared inns that are located mainly in small villages. As I mentioned, we stayed in a condo, which is for families with kids way more comfortable than hotel rooms in my opinion. It gives you more space and the atmosphere of a home that will not disturb too much your kids routine.
If you want to avoid lower rate hotels in Salvador, you are going to want to check out the following:
- Hotel Fasano is located at the Praca Castro Alves (Castro Alves Square) with a cinematographic view of the Baia de Todos os Santos.
- Fera Palace Hotel Another gorgeous hotel, located right on the Historic Center of Salvador. The property has a very classic and stunning architecture! I’ve heard a lot of great things about it and hope to visit one day.
- Iberostar – All-Inclusive- The property is stunning and huge. It’s about 1h30m away from the main area in Salvador. If you’re into the resort lifestyle I totally recommend this one!
If you’re looking for more budget-friendly accommodation in the main area of Salvador, check out the following:
- Pé Na Areia – Furstberger – This was the place that I most enjoyed staying in Salvador. The customer service, amenities, location were beyond perfect. I HIGHLY recommend this place. It has a swimming pool, a fitness center, an amazing outdoor area, free WiFi and free private parking. The vacation apartment has 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with lake views.
- Atlantic City Apart is another great place to stay if you are traveling alone or with a partner and little kids. The one-bedroom apartment accommodates 2 adults and 2 small kids. It has ocean view, balcony, pool, Free Wi-fi and parking on-site and the best part it’s located right between Ondina and Barra, two main touristic attraction in Salvador.
WHERE TO EAT IN SALVADOR:
Where to I even begin! Salvador is famous for its culinary and has some of the best food in Brazil. Here are some of my favorite spots:
Casa Castanho (Breakfast): This is one of the most simple, I’d say the unnoticeable place I’ve been to. You have to look twice to see this delicious restaurant in between a spa and shops. Yes, the location isn’t quite comfortable, neither it has enough space to accommodate large families or groups but, the food is one of the best in Salvador.
Papa Gente (seafood restaurant) – I feel like I will keep repeating myself, the food here was amazing!! If you go to one dinner in Praia do Forte, book it at Papa Gente. We ate here on our last trip 10 years ago and the food continues well as always.
Aloha Roll’s (organic creamery) – if you are craving for the best ice-cream you could have this is your spot. They make organic ice-cream rolls right in front of your eyes that could be at your choice fruit or milk-based if you are into the vegan vibe.
WHAT TO BRING TO YOUR VACATION IN BRAZIL
1//Sunscreen! The UV rays are strong and you may feel like you are frying when out in the sun. I recommend a 100 SPF sunscreen. Also, if you plan on diving in the cost make sure to get some biodegradable sunscreen which is reef safe.
2// Mosquitos Repellent: The mosquitos weren’t TOO bad when we were there and I did get a few bites only. I’m not prone to bug bites but, my little one is and she suffered a little more than the rest of us. If you get bitten easily, make sure you spray yourself up every couple of hours.
3// Cash!! You may find a few places (not many) that only take cash, especially if you are buying from some of those itinerants sellers at the beach. They typically do not accept the US dollar so you will have to exchange your money for the local currency, which depending on the time can be a very good deal. You will also find ATMs everywhere in the area so come prepared with a pin number for the card.
4// Comfortable shoes – I pretty much wore sneakers or flat sandals during my time there. There’s no need for heels, in fact, avoid them. The sidewalks and roads are poorly done and you don’t want to be at the risk of twisting your ankles. I’d only suggest heels or wedges if you’re going to be at the resorts.
5// Baby carrier – for the same reason above mentioned the baby’s carrier is way more useful and easier to use than strollers.
6// Hand sanitizer/hand wipes: I always carry this around with me wherever I go as kids tend to be a little bit messy and sometimes have some disgusting habits, but especially to places where I have to do a lot of outdoor activities. It is a must!
7// MAP! Make sure to search your destination before leaving your hotel when you have internet so your GPS will work throughout your trip if you are not planning on using roaming services overseas. GPS is really essential when traveling within Salvador, people in Brazil are not used to directions and all the streets there have names instead of geographic coordinates.
8// A Bit of Courage – be ready to endure one of the craziest traffic and drivers in the world and be aware that sometimes you feel like you are driving in India. A little bit of nerve and audacity is essential if you want to survive in Salvador traffic.
Overall, I had such a great time in Bahia. Beautiful hotels, tasty food and drinks, a good nightlife scene, amazing beaches, activities for everyone at all ages, and the weather is almost always perfect! It is a good vibe overall! If you have any other questions I missed, please feel free to leave them below and I will get back to them as soon as I can. And don’t forget you can always check out my Instagram for all the content from my trip!
As always, thanks for reading! Xo, Lana