Recôncavo Baiano, Santo Amaro and Cachoeira in Salvador, Brazil

The area around the bay and immediately south of Salvador is known as the Recôncavo
Baiano. This was one of the chief centres of sugar and tobacco cultivation in the 16th century and there is some fine colonial architecture here. Places of interest include the sleepy
colonial towns of Cachoeira and São Felix, on the banks of the muddy Rio Paraguaçu, which are famous for their festivals and strong connection to
candomblé
. There are also small fishing villages on the bay that are worth exploring, and dotted throughout the countryside are the
decaying ruins of once-productive
engenhos
(sugar refineries), some of which can be visited.

Leaving Salvador on the Feira road, fork left at Km 33 on the BR-324 to visit the
Museu do Recôncavo Vanderlei de Pinho
. Further west, round the bay, is
São Francisco do Conde
, 54 km from Salvador, with a church and convent of 1636 and the ruins of Don Pedro II's agricultural school, said to be the first in Latin America.

Santo Amaro da Purificação and around

Some 73 km from Salvador, Santo Amaro da Purificação is an old and sadly decaying sugar centre. It is noted for its churches (which are often closed because
of robberies), the most famous of which is the
Igreja Matriz Santo Amaro da Purificação
which has a superb painted ceiling by José Joaquim da Rocha. There is also a municipal palace (1769), a fine
praça
and ruined sugar baron mansions including
Araújo Pinto
, the former residence of the Barão de Cotegipe. It is also the birthplace of Caetano Veloso and his sister Maria Bethânia. Other attractions include the splendid beaches of the bay, the falls of Vitória and the grotto of Bom Jesus dos Pobres. There are a number of interesting festivals and craftwork is sold on the town's main bridge. There are no good hotels or restaurants. There are at least 20 buses a day from Salvador to Santo Amaro and onward buses to Cachoeira.

About 3 km beyond Santo Amaro on the BR-420, turn right onto the BA-878 for
Bom Jesus dos Pobres
, a small, traditional fishing village with a 300-year history. There is one good hotel . To get there, take a bus from Salvador's
rodoviária.

Cachoeira and São Felix

Set deep in the heart of some of the oldest farmland in Brazil,
Cachoeira
and its twin town, São Felix, were once thriving river ports that provided a vital supply link with the farming hinterland and Salvador to the east. The region was the centre of the sugar and tobacco booms, which played such an important role in the early wealth of the colony. The majestic
saveiro
(a gaff-rigged boat) traditionally transported this produce down the Rio Paraguaçu to Salvador across the bay. These boats can still occasionally be seen on the river. The town was twice capital of Bahia: once in 1624-1625 during the Dutch invasion, and once in 1822-1823 while Salvador was still held by the Portuguese.

With the introduction of roads and the decline of river transport and steam, the town stopped in its tracks in the early 20th century and thus maintains its special charm. As in Salvador,
candomblé
plays a very important part in town life . Easy access by river from Salvador allowed the more traditional
candomblé
temples to move in times of religious repression. Cachoeira was the birthplace of Ana Néri, known as 'Mother of the Brazilians', who organized nursing services during the Paraguayan War (1865-1870).

There are a few interesting sights in Cachoeira. The
Casa da Câmara e Cadeia
(1698-1712) was, for a brief period when Cachoeira was the state capital in 1822, the seat of the governance of Bahia. Upstairs is the town hall (with stern notices saying no shorts or Havaianas allowed). Downstairs there is a
slavery museum
, housed in the heavy walled dungeon where slaves were imprisoned behind two sets of strong bars. The dungeon has a sad and oppressive atmosphere. The
Museu Regional de Cachoeira
has a collection of period furniture, sacred images and ecclesiastical items, paintings and documents relating to the history of the town. The dark mark on the walls near the staircase at the entrance show where the river reached during the 1989 flood.

The
Santa Casa de Misericórdia
(1734) was the colonial hospital and has a fine church attached. Other churches include: the 16th-century
Ajuda
chapel (now containing a fine collection of vestments) and the convent of the
Ordem Terceira do Carmo
, whose church has a heavily gilded interior; the
Igreja Matriz
, with 5-m high
azulejos
; and
Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Monte
. All churches are either restored or in the process of restoration.

The
Fundação Hansen Bahia
has fine engravings by the German artist Karl Meinz Hansen, who was born in Hamburg and lived on the Pelourinho in Salvador during the 1950s. In a series of
xylographs he documented the miserable lives of the downtrodden women who prostituted
themselves for pennies. The museum itself is the former house of
Ana Néri's, Brazil's Florence Nightingale who nursed the injured during the Paraguayan War.

There is a great woodcarving tradition in Cachoeira and many of its artists can be seen at work in their studios.

A 300-m railway bridge built by the British in the 19th century spans the Rio Paraguaçu to
São Felix
, where the
Danneman cigar factory
 can be visited to see hand-rolling in progress. A trail starting near the
Pousada do Convento
leads to some freshwater bathing pools above Cachoeira. There are beautiful views from above São Félix.

Ins and outs

Cachoeira/São Felix are 116 km from Salvador, and 4 km from the BR-420. There are more than 20 daily buses from Salvador to Cachoeira (2½ hours). The quickest way to get back to Salvador is to take a motorbike taxi from Cachoeira to the BR-420 and wait at the bus stop there; buses pass every 15 minutes and are up to an hour quicker because they have fewer stops than buses that leave from Cachoeira's town centre.

It is hard to get lost as there are only a handful of streets, all spreading out from the river. The centre of the city and best point for orientation is the Praça da Aclamação and the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo.

Excursions from Cachoeira

About 6 km from Cachoeira, on the higher ground of the Planalto Baiano, is the small town of
Belém
(the turning is at Km 2.5 on the road to Santo Amaro), which has a healthy climate and is a popular place for summer homes.
Maragojipe
, a tobacco exporting port with a population of 39,000, is 22 km southeast of Cachoeira along a dirt road (BA-123); it can also be reached by boat from Salvador. If you visit, look out for the old houses and the church of São Bartolomeu, with its museum. The main festival is
São Bartolomeu
, in August. Good ceramic craftwork is sold in the town. The tobacco centre of
Cruz das Almas
can also be visited, although transport is poor.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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