Salvador and the Bahia Coast Feature

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Carnival in Salvador: Brazil's Wildest Party

Jostling for first place beside Rio and Recife, Salvador is one of Brazil's Carnival kings. While it may have a reputation for being the country's wildest Carnival, it is also the most accessible and authentic large-scale Carnival in Brazil—an explosion of more than 2 million revelers, all dancing in frenzied marching crews, called blocos, or hopping parade-side as pipoca, or popcorn. At the center of each bloco is the trio elétrico, a colossal, creeping stage whose towering speakers blare walls of energetic, ribcage-rattling axé music—a danceable and distinctly Bahian mix of African rhythms, rock, and reggae. Top pop stars like Daniela Mercury or Ivete Sangalo perform their party-stoking Carnival favorites, while the Brazilian glitterati enjoy the show from camarotes (boxes often sponsored by big name brands), where guests are plied with endless lavish food and champagne.

To be part of the action, and to avoid the hordes of pickpockets that are unfortunately part of the "excitement," join a bloco, which is roped off from the general public. Each bloco has its own all-purpose beer, first-aid, and toilet truck—and you'll have instant camaraderie with your crewmates. (A warning: it's not unusual for women to be kissed by strangers. It might sound feeble, but having a male friend close may deter unwanted groping.)

Favorite bloco themes include Egyptian-garbed percussion band Olodum, and axé acts Are Ketu and Timbalada. Alternatively, there's the peaceful Filhos de Ghandy (Children of Ghandi), a white sea of robes and jeweled turbans. Once you've chosen your bloco, all you have to do is lay down upward of US$100 to buy a crew-specific T-shirt, called an abadá, purchased at Central do Carnival kiosks, or at markets from scalpers.

Blocos travel along specific circuitos (routes) through the city. Seaside Dodô (about 1 mile, 5 hours) is the route of choice for Carnival's biggest stars and begins at Farol da Barra. Osmar (about 2 miles, 6 hours), beginning near Campo Grande, is large and traditional. The less-populated and calmer Batatinha, which clings to historic Pelourinho, allows an intimate look at smaller percussionist groups and is popular with families. Prepare by checking the official schedule at www.carnaval.salvador.ba.gov.br (click on "Programação").

Add to all of these fine reasons to patronize Salvador's Carnival the more than 20 pre-Carnival warm-up celebrations and its honor in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest street carnival on the planet, and it's hard to argue that, come Carnival season, true partiers should be anywhere but Salvador.

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