Salvador, by and large, is not an expensive place to stay — but cheap and expensive are all in the eye of the beholder. And if you are a true budget traveler, you can even stay for free!
You can easily get a western-style furnished one-bedroom apartment with good sea views, a few minutes walks from the beach and stores, veranda, 24 hour doorman, air conditioning, decent wi-fi, washing machine, filtered water, gym, and pool for around $1000 per month. These apartments are often owned by foreigners who own them specifically to rent out. As such, they know how to cater to American and European expectations.
When I go to Salvador, we stay in a western-style apartment. I need to work while I’m there, we want our own space, I like to cook, and my Brazilian husband and I discovered that we really need a veranda to escape to at the end of the day. But, there are much, much less expensive ways to live in Salvador.
One very popular alternative is the pousada. A pousada is what we could call a Bed & Breakfast (B&B) in the US. And as in the US, they are typically large houses or similarly-sized buildings that have been converted into 4-10 rooms. You can expect to have breakfast included, your own bathroom (usually), a social space, and free wi-fi.
The prices that I have seen in Salvador are anywhere from $10-$30 per night. The ambiance will vary considerably from place to place — I’ve seen some that are very much like a comfy hotel, some that are like a nightclub, and others that I would classify as a hostel.
Research the pousada you have your eye on before booking — because a lot of tourists pass through Salvador, Yelp and TripAdvisor both have English-language reviews of the pousadas (and hotels) in Salvador.
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Your least expensive option is going to be the hostel. I have never stayed in a hostel in Salvador, but there are plenty of them. Like the pousadas, do your research prior to booking.
Stay for free?
Yes, yes I did say that at the beginning. But how does such magic occur? Well, these pousadas and hostels need people to work at them. I had one friend who was staying in a pousada/hostel and after a week she was offered a job there. She could stay for free in exchange for working the front desk for a set number of hours per week.
A caution about high and low season
Salvador is highly-dependent upon tourism for its economy, and during high season they take advantage of that. I tend to see prices about 20% higher during high season. And then when New Years and Carnaval hit the prices go off the charts.
In talking to one property manager I’m friends with, she tells me that some of her foreign apartment owners make all of their profit for the year during the week of Carnaval. Just to give you an example, the same apartment I can rent for $850 per month in low season will rent out for $1,200 per week during Carnaval. No, that was not a typo — $850 per month to $1,200 per week.
High season is generally considered Dec 1 until after Carnaval. And prices sometimes raise again in late July / early August when the European and Argentinian tourists all flock to Salvador. Having said that, high season is a great time to go because there is a lot going on. But you’ll also pay more to stay (but in my opinion totally worth it).