While most cannabis enthusiasts look to Rio and São Paulo when it comes to Carnaval season, Brazil’s state of Bahia has the most authentic street party scene.
Why the northeastern coastal state of Bahia and its capital of Salvador rather than Rio or São Paulo? Salvador’s Carnaval, which runs this season from February 23-28, has historically been the largest with about two million revelers (although Rio has now surpassed that number).
That’s because Bahians don’t go for the whole formalized “samba school” format for their festivities. In fact, even the music is different in Bahia with more African influences.
Salvador’s Carnaval has two main “circuits” or parade routes that wind through this bar-filled town. Semi-trailer trucks called trio elétricos are outfitted with thousand-watt sound systems that blast axé and electronica music to the frenetic, colorful crowds of dancers and drummers.
There’s three ways to enjoy the party scene in Bahia. You can go pipoca (or free) by simply watching and participating in the local street scene. Or, you can buy what’s called an abadá where you dance “inside the ropes,” which provides much-needed security. The most expensive—and perhaps the best way to enjoy the scene—is to buy out a camarote for the day. This fixed location could be anything from a bar patio to a hotel balcony where drinks, food and a DJ are included.
But Carnaval is just one reason to choose Bahia. Salvador itself is a major tourist destination in Brazil because this lively city situated where the Atlantic meets Brazil’s largest bay (Todo os Santos) is a cultural treasure packed with breathtaking scenery, gorgeous beaches, delicious food, diverse accommodations and beautiful people.
Every good thing about cannabis, Brazil and Carnaval can be found in Bahia and Salvador, so what are you waiting for?
— Itaparica is the biggest island in Todo os Santos Bay and is known for its literal “fountain of youth.” In fact, people have come to the island’s famous Fonte de Bica for centuries to drink this tropical island’s naturally carbonated, mineral-rich waters.
–Can’t make it to Carnaval? You can get a taste of the world’s biggest party once a week in Salvador. Called Terca da Bençao, this weekly procession starts at Pelourinho or the city’s center, where Afro-Brazilian drummers beat while locals and tourists dance in the streets.
If You Go
Cannabis—like all “street” drugs—is illegal in Brazil. However, a 2006 law decriminalized cannabis (and other drugs) for personal use. Rather than prison, offenders are given a warning and sometimes sent to community service or drug awareness education classes. Still, Brazil recognizes “trafficking” or possessing large amounts of cannabis (or selling it) as a “heinous” crime and it could get you 5-15 years in one of Brazil’s exceedingly overcrowded prisons. For visitors, and most especially during Carnaval season, the best bet is to be discreet. Find some cool locals with connections at bars, clubs and the beach. And don’t toke up outside—although while dancing in a crowd of two million revelers, who is gonna care?
Time to Go: February
Weather: Low 80s with occasional rain