Salvador, Brazil

Host of the world’s largest carnival, Salvador is dubbed the Brazilian capital of happiness. It’s a fine example of the country’s rich cultural history, beautiful architecture and adventurous cuisine.

Originally the capital of Brazil until 1763 when Rio de Janeiro was given the title, it is now the third most populous city in the country.

Founded in 1549 by Portuguese settlers, Salvador soon became an important sea port, especially for the trade of sugar and slaves.

The African slaves who were brought to Salvador became an important part of the cultural fabric of this city, influencing food, music, dance and even the religion. In 1985, Salvador’s historic center Pelourinho was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gastronomy in Salvador is heavily influenced by African ingredients, flavors and techniques, with seafood featuring in many dishes. Azeite-de-dendê, a type of palm oil, is one of the most commonly-used ingredients and was introduced to Brazil by West African slaves.

Some dishes you have to try during your cruise include acarajé, a regional specialty that was once associated with religious Candomblé rituals, and the accompanying dish of vatapá, a bread and coconut stew. Moqueca Baiana is a popular fish casserole made with local ingredients like palm oil and coconut milk.

Salvador is comprised of an Upper Town, where the cathedral and other important buildings were built for safety, and the Lower Town some 90 yards below. Brazil’s first elevator, Elevador Lacerda, connects the two parts of town so visitors can easily travel between them.

Over 50 miles of beaches line the city of Salvador, with a range to please surfers, families and sun-seekers alike. Praia Porto da Barra, overlooked by a whitewashed colonial church, has often been named as one of the best beaches in the world.

Strolling around the cobblestone streets of Salvador will reveal beautiful examples of 17th and 18th century colonial and Baroque architecture. Some of the buildings are brightly painted, giving the impression of a string of jewels lining the city’s streets. Venturing into the new town is like stepping forward in time, with unusual modern buildings towering overhead. Murals and sculptures are also found throughout the city, adding character and color to walls and public spaces.

Salvador holds the world record for the biggest party on earth. Each year, the Carnival of Salvador da Bahia sees almost four million people take to the street to take part in the festival, which features street parades, dancing and live music for a full week.

For a different kind of dancing, look out for public capoeira performances. This part-dance, part-martial arts combination is unique to Afro-Brazilian communities and was said to have started in Salvador, although it is now found all over the world. Visitors to the city can sign up for classes to learn this unique art form.

Salvador is not all hustle and bustle. With four protected parks it is easy to find a quiet place to sit and reflect, or to go for a stroll through the lush green spaces.