Brazil is a great place to visit all year round, but particularly so for some pre-Christmas sun when the popular destinations such as Thailand are in the rainy season. If you can be flexible with your dates you can pick up a relatively cheap and direct flight which takes around 9 hours (try Thomas Cook or TAM). Otherwise your best bet is probably TAP airlines vis Lisbon. Bahia is a very diverse region, home to huge national parks, great beaches, various religions, capoeira and despite Rio's massive annual event, is arguably the true home of the carnival. The area around Recife is getting pretty touristy with cheap beer, great beaches and superb weather year round. I went a little further south to Salvador and beyond.
Salvador is Brazil's third largest city and reportedly, the city home to the world's third largest black population due to its strong links with the slave trade - the city was the destination for huge numbers of ships laden with African slaves. The food, culture, music and religion of the city have many African influences and the regional dance, Capoeira evolved as a form of self defence disguised as a dance form.
Despite its size, the main sights of Salvador are all easy enough to cover by foot in a day. You'll probably start at the Pelourinho - sat at the top of a cobbled hill. This spills into a maze of streets filled with great restaurants, craft shops, jewellery stores and bars. Try the shrimp moqueca or local grills, washed down with a caipirinha. If you see a fruit barrow, stop them and try the fruit, some of it you will not have tried or even heard of, but it's all great stuff. The city is filled with churches, definitely worth a vist for their sheer exhuberance and use of gold. Then head to the main square (Praca de Se) where if you are still hungry you can grab a great ice cream at the famour Ribeira parlour and knock back a strong but sweet coffee from one of the guys who have trucks filled with thermos flasks of homemade coffee. They are incredibly proud of their mini trucks and have competitions to acknowledge the best one! Round the corner an art deco lift (cost is a few pence) takes you to the lower level of the city with a superb craft market - perfect for locally made jewellery, leather goods and brazillian instruments. At night the city really takes off, there is literally something going on every night from samba bands parading down the narrow cobbled streets to full-on sound systems in the bars or dancing put on by local kids. In fact everyone dances... And they dance well! The city is a little more dangerous at night, but just keep to the main streets and keep your wits about you and you'll be fine. A local scam is to put wrist bands on tourists, tied with three knots to give the wearer good luck. A small note is expected. The church in the Pelourinho is also worth visiting to witness the African based religion of Candomble but get their early to secure a good vantage point. Here is also a great spot to try some of the street-food. Cheap, but very tasty!