Everyone in Salvador seems to meet at Porto da Barra at one point or another. The small beach with calm waters, surrounded by historic forts - São Diogo, Santa Maria and Santo Antônio da Barra - gets very busy, especially on the weekends.
Part of the Barra district, which is located at the tip of the peninsula occupied by Salvador, and affords great views of sunrises and sunsets, Porto da Barra is at a peak of beauty when the sun goes down.
Going for a boat ride, playing soccer or volleyball, swimming and lingering under a beach umbrella while sipping on some fresh coconut water and savoring acarajés or picolés (popsicles) are among the simple pleasures at this bustling urban beach. You might even stumble on a circle of capoeira.
Centuries of Bustle
Porto da Barra has been busy for centuries. It was here that Salvador founder Tomé de Souza (1515-1579), Brazil's first governor-general, arrived in 1549 with several ships and over 1,000 people - sailors, soldiers, Jesuit priests led by Manuel da Nóbrega, laborers, and degredados, or people forced to exile. Souza had been entrusted with a mission by Portuguese king John III - "build on the lands of Brazil a great and strong fortress and settlement, on Baia de Todos-os-Santos".
Moreover, the veteran military man was expected to impose order on a territory with a failing administrative system based on hereditary captaincies and make it profitable for the colonizers, pronto. Months before his arrival, the king had enlisted the help of Portuguese Diogo Álvares Correia, known as Caramuru, who was married to an indigenous woman, Catarina Paraguaçu, and mediated relations between natives and the Portuguese.
March 29, 1549, the date of Souza's (peaceful) arrival is officially considered Salvador's foundation day - though it would be a month before construction work started in what would become known as Cidade Alta, or High Salvador.
At the northern end of the beach, a marker commemorating the city's foundation has a marble Maltese cross by Portuguese sculptor João Fragoso and a blue and white tile mural depicting Tomé de Souza's arrival. The tile mural by Portuguese artist Eduardo Gomes is a new reading of the 1949 original by the also Portuguese artist Joaquim Rebucho, installed when the monument was inaugurated in 1952.
In March 2013, the monument was reinaugurated, after restorations. Besides being an attraction in itself, it's also a spectacular vantage point for photos of Porto da Barra.
Porto da Barra in Partying and Music
The beach hosts some of Salvador's top events, such as sports tournaments and Espicha Verão, a post-Carnival extravaganza packed with live shows. It's also part of Barra/Ondina (also known as Circuito Dodô), one of city's Carnival circuits.
Music and Porto da Barra have long gone well together. The beach was a meeting point for musicians who trailblazed Tropicália, such as Tom Zé, Gal Costa and Jorge Mautner.
The beach has inspired songs. Caetano Veloso wrote the music to words by Luiz Galvão, aka Galvão, of Os Novos Baianos, resulting in the beautiful "Farol da Barra", from the group's eponymous 1978 album.
John Raymond Pollard, a songwriter who divides his time between Salvador and New York City, sings in "Porto da Barra" about waiting and waiting on the beach for a girl who's "vibrante, picante, igual a acarajé" - vibrant and spicy like acarajé.
Places to Stay in Porto da Barra
This is a fantastic base from which to explore the rest of Salvador. Buses run to Pelourinho, neighboring Ondina, and other districts. Farol da Barra, the lighthouse and Nautical Museum of Bahia at the Santo Antônio da Barra fort, is on the Salvador Bus route. To see all the places it stops at, go to their website and click on "Rota", then "Mapa".
Read more about where to stay in Barra.