Barra (pronounced ‘ba ha’) is the beach neighbourhood of Salvador, about 15 minutes in a cab down the hill from the Pelourinho. It’s a popular area for restaurants and bars, especially along the water front and Rua Almirante Marques de Leao.
Like Salvador as a whole it has a bit of a rep for being dangerous, depending on who you talk to. If you read the reviews from Guardian readers on the Been There website, you would think it was a no go area after dusk, which certainly isn’t the case. However, two female Brazilian tourists that I met at my hostel felt it necessary to get a cab rather than walk around at night. On the other hand, Jorgia, my local friend, didn’t think it was dangerous at all but then as a local she probably wouldn’t be targeted. It is an edgy area, but I think if you have some street smarts you will be fine. That’s not to say you can’t be unlucky though. It’s probably a good idea to only take what money you need out with you and keep a close eye on your bag at the beach.
The beaches here are quite narrow and some spots are unfeasibly busy, while just down the road there is plenty of space. Go figure. You can rent miniscule deckchairs that fold back and prop you up for two or three pounds for the day. There are signs along the waterfront indicating how clean the water is but on the one occasion I went it when it was supposed to be fine, there were bits of plastic and other ‘particles’ floating in the water so I didn’t bother again. There are quite a few homeless people sleeping rough down here too who probably, going on the smell, use the back walls as a toilet, so I didn’t sit too near them either. There was the odd drunken lunatic but besides that it was fine!
I stayed in a pleasant little hostel called Pousada Azul at 102 Dr. Praguer Froes, a back street just 5 minutes from the beach. The rooms are plain and simple but clean and have fans, aircon and a fairly good wi-fi signal. The breakfast was very good with fresh fruits and juices amongst many other things. None of the staff speak English but they were all friendly and honest. I was overcharged without either of us noticing and was chased after down the street with the extra money once the mistake was realised.
I met Jorgina one evening in this big bar restaurant on the waterfront. There are a couple of similar places neighbouring it on either side, all heaving with people. At this one though, you can get a table by the rail on the top floor to catch the breeze, if you are lucky. We started with some cheese croquettes which were ok (C) but needed the addition of garlic and chilli molhos (dipping sauces) to bring the flavours out (B+). Thanks to Jorgia, I had my first Moqueca here, a seafood stew that is perhaps the most famous Bahian dish. We had her favourite; Moqueca de Siri, made with a small soft-shelled crab. The place was resounding with the sound of people tapping crab shells with hammers. It looked like a lot of effort so I was glad we ordered the easier version.
The first lunch I had here was very simple and nice; Carne do Sol, literally ‘sun meat’ (salted beef cured for a couple of days in the sun) with onions and Pure do Aipim (cassava flour puree, a bowl of chilli sauce and a cold beer. Good solid fare (B).
The second time I came I had grilled chicken, which was fine, but the chips and rice it came with were cold (C). So mixed results then but at least it’s cheap. As far as drinking is concerned, don’t believe the hype on Trip Advisor, the caipirinhias are ok but nowhere near as good as the (insider?) review makes out.
The Quattro Amici Pizzeria around the corner at 35 Rua Dom Marcos Teixeira is not bad (B) if you fancy a change.
On another night I had a snack with Jorgia at a local burger place on the waterfront. Jorgia told me that MacDonald’s are quite upmarket here and you only find them in malls. It was ok here though not particularly filling (C) and so cheap that I should have had two. The best thing was the bowl of frozen Acai (a delicious ‘wonder fruit’ from Amazonia), studded with sliced banana (A) that came as part of the meal deal. You can get it as a juice in supermarkets now but be warned, though full of good things, it’s highly calorific and extremely moreish!