My idea of the perfect beach experience involves space to lay out a sarong, a book, and some peace and quiet. I want to look out at the water, daydream, and recharge.

If you share my vision, the beaches in Salvador, Brazil can be a challenge. There are three beach modes here in Salvador, and unfortunately for me, the relaxing version is not the most common.

Three Beach Modes in Salvador, Brazil

Salvador Beach Mode: Party

Beach full of people
Porto da Barra Beach, Children’s Day 2017

Daily throughout summer and every Sunday year-round the beaches in Salvador, Brazil turn into one big party.

Beach vendors rent out chair and umbrellas, and then will sell you an ice-cold beer — or six. More vendors come through with street food, sunglasses, sarongs, swimsuits, and more. And, because a party isn’t complete until the is music so loud your eyes will bleed, some beach-goer will invariably bring a tinny, yet loud, sound system.

This is not true of every beach, but if you find what appears to be a perfectly good “abandoned” beach on what you think should be a busy day, stop and think about why. In Salvador, it’s generally one of three things:

  1. There is a riptide. As someone who got caught in one a few years ago in search of “quiet water” on an otherwise busy beach, they are terrifying. Fortunately, lifeguards yelled at me before the tide took me out too far and I was able to get myself out. (And then I immediately went home and took a long nap.)
  2. It’s a beach targeted by thieves. Yes, that is a thing here.
  3. The water is dirty. The day after heavy rains many of the locals won’t go and there are some beaches that just aren’t safe for health reasons. Fortunately, the state of Bahia has created a simple app, called Via Dar Praia (iOS, Android), that maps out the beaches throughout the state of Bahia. It’s regularly updated as beach conditions change. It’s in Portuguese, but since the heart of the app is a color-coded map, you don’t need to speak Portuguese to find it incredibly useful.

You may have also found that unicorn beautiful and safe beach with no people, but here I tend to operate under the “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” approach.

Salvador Beach Mode: Relax

Sarong and journal lying on the sand
This is my idea of a good time at the beach

During the week in the offseason (generally March through November), the beaches get a lot less populated.  It’s also cooler and we get more cloud cover, which makes this Wisconsin native happy! There are still beach vendors, but far fewer as there are a lot fewer people going to the beach.

To me, this is an awesome time to go. I can read/journal/meditate/stare at the waves in peace.

Salvador Beach Mode: Night

Go to the beach at night, you say? Well, yes.

This is not for every beach and not for really late at night.

But, some beaches, like Porto da Barra in beach in Barra, are fantastic at night. The daytime crowds are gone, there are police stationed nearby, the area has evening foot traffic, and because Porto da Barra beach is in a cove, the waves are quite gentle. It’s honestly the only time I like to go to Porto da Barra beach. My husband and I go, take a couple of beers and a sarong, and just sit. We don’t even necessarily have to swim.

The thieves here are opportunistic, so keep the following tips in mind:

  • Make sure the beach is lit
  • Don’t be there totally alone
  • Having a police van nearby is preferable
  • Don’t take valuables
  • Make sure there is foot traffic nearby
  • 11pm is probably your reasonable cut-off

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Renting Chairs and Umbrellas

Finding someone to rent you a chair and umbrella is as simple as getting within about 5 feet of the beach on a sunny day. If you show up in what is obviously beach-wear, getting within 10 feet should do it.

Each beach has a number of vendors set up in barracas (tents) at the back of the beach, and most of them have someone stationed at the entrance to the beach to capture visitors before someone else does.

The sun here will burn you in a hot minute if you aren’t used to it, so umbrellas are pretty much required. Rentals tend to be R$8-10 reais — but you will invariably be offered a higher “gringo price”. Don’t be afraid to negotiate — it’s expected with this crowd.

If you want chairs as well, I usually see them in the R$8 reais range. But, you can also bring a towel or sarong and throw it on the ground.

If you are worried about a language barrier — don’t be. Sure, it won’t be as easy, but don’t be afraid to point or even try the word in English. They want to sell you something and are used to conversing with foreigners. Sellers who can’t speak a word of English otherwise tend to know the English words and prices for what they are selling/renting.

Getting Something to Eat and Drink at the Beach

Beer can on the beach

The same people that rent you the umbrella and chair(s) are also your beer vendor. You can bring your own without a problem, but it is VERY bad form to buy beer from someone else if your barraca (tent) has it. The barracas do not poach each others customers, so the issue is more you knowing who your barraca is. The different barracas often have different colored clothes or branded shirts, so pay attention, because that is who you are going to have to flag down when you need a drink.

Not all barracas have food, and you are generally free to buy food from whoever. If the barraca has a menu, they will give it to you immediately. If you want something not on the menu, buying it from someone passing by is totally legit. You’ll find people selling acarajé, queijo coalho (cheese on a stick), abará, brigadieros, and more.

How to Pay

Some of the barracas now take credit and debit cards, but not all. And, the independent food vendors are not likely to have credit card machines. I’d bring cash, but only as much as you intend to spend. And, if you can bring small bills, all the better — most vendors will have problems with coming up with more than about R$20 reais in change.

Keep an Eye on Your Stuff

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyhow: keep an eye on your stuff and limit what you bring.

Bring only as much cash as you need for the day, and leave your phone behind if possible. More and more people are starting to bring phones to the beach in this selfie culture, but if you look like a tourist the thieves have an eye on you. If you want to swim, swim in shifts with your beach mates — same goes for napping. The thieves are opportunistic, so don’t give them the opportunity. 

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