At the bottom of Ladeira da Barra, you’ll find yourself in front of Salvador ’s most famous beach, Porto da Barra, dramatically framed by two 17th-century Portuguese fortresses: Forte São Diogo and Forte Santa Maria. More than just a small crescent-shaped golden sand beach, “Porto” is an entire microcosm uniting families, gays, tourists, locals, vendors, hustlers, lovers, celebrities, sun worshippers, and volleyball and frescoball aficionados) on one vibrant and colorful strip of sand bathed by the calm and surprisingly clear sea. Indeed, barring the rainy season, no matter how over populated it gets, Porto’s waters are always miraculously crystalline.
In the summer, Porto gets so packed it’s hard to see the sand, but as a social scene, it is pure fascination. Meanwhile, in the “winter,” locals tend to shy away, citing the cold as an excuse (as if anyone could get hypothermia when the thermometer falls to 24°C/75°F), thus leaving the beach deliciously empty.
Although Porto has a small-town feel to it—aided by the fact that the only vessels bobbing on its waters are brightly painted wooden fishing boats—it packs a surprisingly urban wallop. While you’re hanging out, you’ll be bombarded by the songs and chants of passing vendors hawking everything from handmade jewelry (some of it quite inspired) and portable radios to skewered shrimp, grilled cheese (queijo coalho) with oregano, fresh fruit popsicles called picolés (the best ones are made by a company called Capelinha).
You’ll also be spoiled—after renting a beach chair and giant parasol (try Nice, located at the second staircase), you’ll have your feet regularly refreshed with a watering can and all your drink requests attended to.
Porto da Barra is the classic place to watch the sunset—in fact, applause rings out the moment the glowing orange-red disk descends below the Ilha da Itaparica , bathing both sky and sea in a painterly blaze of colors. Since the beach is lit at night, it is possible to take a moonlight dip. However, be very careful with your valuables (even more so than during the day) since after dark, the area can be kind of hazardous and tourists are often targeted by thieves.