Having steadfastly resisted commercialization, Carnaval in Salvador has remained a street event of mass participation. The main hubs of activity are Cidade Alta, especially the area around Praça Castro Alves – which turns into a seething mass of people that, once joined, is almost impossible to get out of – and, in recent years, Porto da Barra, equally crowded and just as enjoyable. The other focal point of Carnaval is the northern beaches, especially around the hotels in Rio Vermelho and Ondina, but here it’s more touristy and lacks the energy of the centre. This is an expensive and very hectic time to stay in Salvador; all accommodation more than doubles in price and with added costs like paying to join a bloco or participate in a camarote (a venue with good views over the carnaval route and an organized party thrown in for the duration), you are likely to be spending in excess of R$500–600 a day.
From December onwards Carnaval groups hold public rehearsals and dances all over the city. The most famous are Grupo Cultural Oludum, who rehearse on Sunday nights from 6.30pm onwards in the Largo do Pelourinho itself and on Tuesdays from 7.30pm in the Teatro Miguel Santana on Rua Gregório de Mattos. On Friday night, it’s the turn of Ara Ketu, who start their show at 7pm in Rua Chile, while Ilê Aiyê rehearse on Saturdays from 8pm near the fort of Santo Antônio Além do Carmo. These rehearsals get very crowded, so be careful with your belongings. One of the oldest and best loved of the afoxés is Filhos de Gandhi (“Sons of Gandhi”), founded in the 1940s, who have a clubhouse in Rua Gregório de Mattos, near Largo do Pelourinho, easily recognized by the large papier-mâché white elephant in the hall.
Information about Carnaval is published in special supplements in the local papers on Thursday and Saturday. Again, w www.bahia-online.net is great for information on and contacts for Carnaval. Bahiatursa offices also have schedules, route maps, and sometimes sell tickets for the Campo Grande grandstands. Bear in mind all-black blocos may be black culture groups who won’t appreciate being joined by non-black Brazilians, let alone gringos, so look to see who’s dancing before leaping in.