Carnival has a changing date every year, based on Easters. It usually happens by the end of February, or sometimes by the beginning of March, just in the heart of the south hemisphere summer.
It is the biggest popular Brazilian street carnival. With more than 2 million participants gathered over 25 km of streets, it is for sure the most important event of the year for the majority of the inhabitants. No cars are allowed to circulate on the squares and avenues and 11 km are strictly reserved for the parades.
Officially, carnival lasts five days, however at Salvador it is prepared during all summer. Associations are organizing before-carnival balls, and during weekends the streets are crowded with dancers training for the big day. Carnival in Salvador is really, completely, crazy. Neither those organized in Rio nor São Paulo comes close.
The main attraction is the parade of the Trios Elétricos, huge done-up semi-trailers, loaded with thousands of watts of sound equipment and with a band on top capable of playing for 8 hours in a row. Apparently, the origin of the Trio Eletrico goes back to the fifties when Dodô and Osmar, both carnival freaks, were passing through the streets of Salvador in an old Ford pick-up playing music. At that time this initiative was considered to be pathetic, but the idea was so original, that the event did not go unnoticed. Today’s carnival proofs that this way of celebrating carnival has never ceased to evolve.
The baianos (Brazilians born in Bahia) are known for their joy and relaxed way of living, for their human warmth. They are very proud of their carnival which they consider as being the best in Brazil. The crowd composed of baianos, tourists from other parts of Brazil as well as from all over the world, gets together in the streets of Salvador to follow the Trios Elétricos. At Salvador, the samba school tradition of Rio does not exist. The musical style of the Trios, although they have a wide repertoire, is in general based on the rhythms of samba-reggae, the Axé (a kind of mixture of samba, reggae and other African rhythms). Although Salvador’s street carnival is mainly taking place in the streets and is known for being a popular carnival, you have to pay a fee if you wish to join a Trio Elétrico and are given an abadá (a getup consisting of a t-shirt and shorts with the colours and the logo of the Trio you have chosen). Those who do not have any abadá have to stay outside of the roped-off areas around the trios, joining the crowd that is dancing, singing and jumping like popcorn (pipoca is the Brazilian name for participating in the carnival outside the Trios). The atmosphere there is particularly hot and reserved for the more resistant people (about 17 million litres of beer and 10 million litres of mineral water are consumed every year during the 5 days period of carnival).
For those wishing to assist in the parades of the Trios Elétricos under more comfortable and quiet conditions camarotes is a good option. They are a kind of raised places, with restricted access, and can be found all along the circuits followed by the Trios. The most sophisticated and expensive ones offer free food and beverages as much as you like.
Pelourinho district has its own carnival circuit organized a little differently: no trucks but numerous small bands (especially the bewitching batucada drum band like the Olodum group) generally linked to a town district or an association. They walk through the cobbled streets followed by a crowd of supporters or simply by people singing and dancing (no need for an abadá). During carnival, Pelourinho offers abundant free-access concerts which take place on squares or inner courtyards all night long.
Since a few years, Salvador is, with increasing success, having its own gay pride. It is a kind of off-season carnival (it takes place in September) that gathers more than 500 000 people in a happy and colorful atmosphere, followed by a number of parties in the bars and discos in town.