Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
According to Salvador's adopted son Jorge Amado, "In Salvador, magic becomes part of the every-day." From the shimmering golden light of sunset over the Baía do Todos os Santos, to the rhythmic beats that race along the streets, Salvador, while no longer Brazil's capital, remains one of its most captivating cities. A large dose of its exoticism comes down to its African heritage—at least 70% of its 2,675,000 population is classified as Afro-Brazilian—and how it has blended into Brazil's different strands, from the native Indians to the Christian colonizers. Salvadorans may tell you that you can visit a different church every day of the year, which is almost true—the city has about 300. Churches whose interiors are covered with gold leaf were financed by the riches of the Portuguese colonial era, when slaves masked their traditional religious beliefs under a thin Catholic veneer. And partly thanks to modern-day acceptance of those beliefs, Salvador has become the fount of Candomblé, a religion based on personal dialogue with the orixás, a family of African deities closely linked to nature and the Catholic saints. The influence of Salvador's African heritage on Brazilian music has also turned the city into one of the musical capitals of Brazil, resulting in a myriad of venues to enjoy live music across the city, along with international acclaim for exponents like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Daniela Mercury. Salvador's economy today is focused on telecommunications and tourism. The still-prevalent African culture draws many tourists—this is the best place in Brazil to hear African music, learn or watch African dance, and see capoeira, a martial art developed by slaves. In the district of Pelourinho, many colorful 18th- and 19th-century houses remain, part of the reason why this is the center of the tourist trade. Salvador sprawls across a peninsula surrounded by the Baía de Todos os Santos on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The city has about 50 km (31 miles) of coastline. The original city, referred to as the Centro Histórica (Historical Center), is divided into the Cidade Alta (Upper City), also called Pelourinho, and Cidade Baixa (Lower City). The Cidade Baixa is a commercial area—known as Comércio—that runs along the port and is the site of Salvador's indoor market, Mercado Modelo. You can move between the upper and lower cities on foot, via the landmark Elevador Lacerda, behind the market, or on the Plano Inclinado, a funicular lift, which connects Rua Guindaste dos Padres on Comércio with the alley behind Cathedral Basílica. From the Cidade Histórica you can travel north along the bay to the hilltop Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. You can also head south to the point, guarded by the Forte Santo Antônio da Barra, where the bay waters meet those of the Atlantic. This area on Salvador's southern tip is home to the trendy neighborhoods of Barra, Ondina, and Rio Vermelho, with many museums, theaters, shops, and restaurants. Beaches along the Atlantic coast and north of Forte Santo Antônio da Barra are among the city's cleanest. Many are illuminated at night and have bars and restaurants that stay open late.