Salvador Instead of Rio de Janeiro

Porto da Barra beach.Photo: Doelan Yann/Getty Images

Salvador has all the sun, samba, and spicy seafood of Rio, but the Bahia capital’s strong West African influence gives it a vibe all its own. Salvador’s Carnival (February 27 through March 5) is, according to many Brazilians, an even livelier bacchanalia than its Cariocan counterpart, marked less by gawking tourists than by an all-inclusive mix of revelers involved in the show, snaking through the city in step with Afro-Brazilian surdo drumbeats. The city’s historic core—Baroque churches, street vendors doling out acarajé (shrimp-filled black-eyed-pea fritters)—gives way to the bohemian district of Rio Vermehlo, with its new Urban Arts Gallery (Rua Bartolomeu de Gusmão 754; 3037-3144) and Borracharia (Rua Conselheiro Pedro Luís, 101-A; 9142-0456), a tire shop during the day, nightclub after dark. The city’s new F Design Hostel offers very un-hostel-like suites from $90 ( Or, for a blend of Old World and New, stay at the converted convent Pestana do Convento do Carmo (from $248; ­

Population: 2.68 million
Distance from Rio: Two-hour flight.

Fewer Tourists, Still Plenty of Skin
A trio of Salvador beaches, by degree of nudity.

Bare a Little
The urban stretch of sand at Porto da Barra, crowded with acarajé vendors abutting the gentle, shallow water, attracts young families as well as gay cruisers.

Bare a Lot
It’s not the emerald waves that lure the city’s creative types to Rio Vermelho’s Buracão beach, where boulders dotting the open sand create intimate swimming nooks. At this newest see-and-be-seen spot, locals play soccer, practice capoeira, and, above all, just show off their bronzed bods.

Bare All
In a Catholic country where toplessness can actually get you arrested, the coconut-tree-lined beach Massarandupió, 50 miles north of Salvador, remains a quiet haven for nudists.

Salvador Instead of Rio de Janeiro