For visitors, it's really a choice of staying either in the heart of historic Pelourinho or in modern Rio Vermelho, close to the city's prime beaches. Pelourinho offers a number of comfortable pousadas, most of them located in restored historic buildings. Rio Vermelho, on the other hand, offers modern, comfortable hotels, beaches, and plenty of great restaurants and bars. Once Salvador's prime beach area, Barra (near the Farol da Barra lighthouse) has lost much of its former glory. We recommend staying here only for Carnaval as it still is party central during Salvador's biggest street party.
Salvador's peak season ranges from mid-December to early March and maxes out during Carnaval. Hotels make big bucks during this time of year by jacking up their prices to insane heights, usually demanding payment in full upon reservation and requiring a minimum stay of 4 or 5 nights. Most Carnaval packages start at R$1,500. Even at these prices, rooms often sell out by October or November. The most popular Carnaval hotels are in Barra, as they are right on the beach and the parade route.
Once Carnaval is out of the way, occupancy rates drop, and your bargaining powers increase enormously. In the off season (Apr-June and Aug-Nov) some hotels give as much as a 50% discount, especially if you are staying a couple of nights.
Prices Skyrocket for Carnaval -- Note that none of the prices listed, even those for high season, remotely reflect the room cost during Carnaval. Most of the hotels have websites with information on special Carnaval packages that you can check out as early as September. Consult with the hotels directly or contact a tour company like Brazil Nuts (www.brazilnuts.com).
The advantage to staying in Pelourinho is that you get to stay in restored 18th-century buildings, and you're minutes from the bustle and fun of the old city. The disadvantages? Rooms are older and quirkier, parking is difficult, and you're just minutes from the bustle and noise of the old city.
Barra offers sea and sun, but the area seems to have lost much of its previous charm. Several empty buildings line the waterfront and Salvador's better restaurants and bars have moved to Rio Vermelho. We recommend staying in Barra only during Carnaval when the beachside boulevard transforms into one of the prime parade venues.
Ondina begins just around the bend from Barra on the open Atlantic coast. A number of good hotels are located right on the waterfront; some even have private beaches. However the rocky shore doesn't make for great swimming. Rio Vermelho, just beyond Ondina, is quickly emerging as Salvador's most happening neighborhood. It has a lively restaurant and nightlife scene, centered around its main square, with hotels set far enough away from the nightlife to guarantee a good night's sleep.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.