With over 48km (30 miles) of beaches within the city limits, finding a beach is much less trouble than deciding which one to go to. Here follows a short description of the main beaches: The beaches on the bay side of town (Boa Viagem and Monte Serrat) are not recommended for sunbathing but can be fun places to walk, watch a pickup soccer game, or have a beer. On weekends the Forte de Monte Serrat is crowded with working-class families having a day out.
Barra is the closest clean beach area to downtown. Porto da Barra is the beach on the bay side of the lighthouse, whereas Farol da Barra is on the ocean side. Both beaches have calm and protected waters and are great for swimming. Just around the bend you will come to Praia de Ondina, the first of the true ocean beaches. It's popular with the many visitors who stay in the Ondina hotels, but only because of its proximity; the beach itself is narrow and cut off from Avenida Atlântica by shade-throwing hotel towers. Praia de Amaralina is as much known for the excellent food stalls as for the excellent surf and windsurfing conditions; the strong seas make it less ideal for swimming. Praia dos Artistas is highly recommended for swimmers and has waves gentle enough for children. Praia do Corsario is very popular with the fit crowd; lots of people come to jog and play volleyball or soccer. At low tide the reefs form natural swimming pools. Praia de Piatã has that tropical paradise look with lots of palm trees and kiosks offering cold drinks and perfect seafood snacks. One of the prettier beaches, Itapuã, has inspired many a song, including one by Vinicius de Moraes. Fishermen still bring their rafts in at the end of the day. The most recently trendy beaches are the ones the farthest from downtown; Praia de Stella Maris and Flamengo are where the young and beautiful gather on the weekends. Stella Maris combines calm stretches that are perfect for swimming with some rougher spots where the surfers can do their thing. Barracas are springing up fast and furious to keep up with the crowds. The buses from downtown that are marked VIA ORLA will follow the coastal road connecting all the beaches until their final destination. Sit on the right-hand side, check it out, and get off when you see the beach you like. Keep in mind that on weekdays, especially in the low season, the beaches that are farther out can be quite deserted. On those days it's better to stick to beaches close to town, such as Barra or Porto da Barra.
Spend an Easy Sunday at Boa Viagem Beach
Salvador, we discovered, is deserted on Sunday. No one in Pelourinho. No one at N.S. do Bonfim church. It wasn't until we wandered down the hill through the equally deserted Boa Viagem neighborhood that we discovered where everyone was. At the beach. The place was packed with flirting teens and moms with lawn chairs and little kids with beach balls and inflatable orca whales. We snagged a couple of beers from a passing vendor and watched a pickup soccer game for a while, waving now and again at the folks a little surprised to see a couple of pale-skinned gringos on an unfashionable working-class beach. Then we continued along the shoreline to an old fort where a cafe with tables sat on a tiny bit of sand below a tall stone sea wall. While the tide rolled slowly in we watched a dad and young son make sand breasts (it started out as a sand castle but evolved into a Lara Croft-size bosom), flinching now and again when neighborhood kids would take a run along the top of the sea wall, plant both feet, and do double forward somersaults into the sea.