A once-in-a-lifetime experience: Carnival in Rio
Have you always dreamed of experiencing Carnival in Rio de Janeiro? Carnival is the most famous street party in the world, where hundreds of thousands of people from Brazil and around the world flock to enjoy the music, food, dancing and atmosphere of one of the best festival dates of the year. Central to Carnival is the Sambadrome Parade, where you can see samba schools with incredible costumes, floats and dance routines. There really is no greater party on earth! It’s easy to feel part of the party at Carnival in Rio. Brazilians are very warm, affectionate, people that like to have a good time.
Rio Carnival (or Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro in Portuguese) is the world’s biggest carnival with over 2 million bodies dressed in outlandish sequins and feathers gyrating to the beat of 100.000 samba drums. It is a five-day extravaganza of colour, excess and festivity. The fact that it takes place during the hottest month of the Rio summer, adds an extremely heady atmosphere to an already passionate event. The city of Rio raises its temperatures well before the official start of the Carnival and the fever is infectious. You can even take a toe tapping sneak preview by nipping backstage at any Samba school. Rio simply wouldn’t be the same without it! While Samba schools parade in the official Sambadrome, you can also join one of the numerous street carnavals, which is the best way to join the locals.
The Parade of Schools takes place in the Sambadrome (Sambódromo da Marquês de Sapucaí), a long, straight custom-built stadium, with the best Samba schools forming the dazzling parade of feathered, sequined and sometimes very sexy dancers. The best vantage points are Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon where gaudy lights, beach bars and food stalls lead the way offering refreshment before rejoining the heady rythms of the party.
– Preliminary parades: 1-2 March 2019
– Main parades: 3-4 March 2019
– Winner’s parade: 9 March 2019
In 2019, the Carnival starts on Friday 1st March and ends on Ash Wednesday 6th March, with various Samba schools competing in the Sambadrome. The winning school is announced on Ash Wednesday and the Winner’s Parade takes place on Saturday 9th March, featuring five winning Samba schools in the Special Group and the Group A winner.
The main attraction of Rio Carnival are the Samba school parades in the Sambadrome. Schools are separated in groups and each group performs on different dates. Each school represents a specific Rio neighbourhood and fight against each other to win the group’s title.
Preliminary Schools’ Parade
These take place on Friday and Saturday with Samba schools in Access Group competing against each other.
Main Schools’ Parades
Main Parades take place on Sunday and Monday and these are the most popular events of the Carnival, since schools from the Special Group (comprising of the best Samba schools in Rio) perform on one of the two dates.
Top schools in each group get the honour of parading on Saturday after the Carnival.
Street Carnival “Blocos” and Carnival Balls
There are numerous Blocos and Carnival Balls across the city, both before and during the Carnival. The Balls generally take place in hotels and charge entry fees. You do not have to be costumed to enter, apart from the Copacabana Palace Hotel where the dress code is black tie.
Said that, now I’m taking you on a carnival journey, with 7 of my best tips on how to enjoy carnival like a local.
Say it like a local
First things first: how about pronouncing carnival like a proper carioca? In Brazil we write Carnaval, and say CAHR-NAH-VAHU. Yes, you can really use your latin vowels vibes here. Own it, repeat after me: CAHR-NAH-VAHU. CAHR-NAH-VAHU. CARNAVAL. Got it? You are almost a Portuguese speaker now. Well done!
It’s totally up to you if you want to have a full costume or just some glitter and adornments, such as head decorations, masks, and big tropical flowers necklaces. The most important thing is: be comfortable and fresh. The weather is beyond hot, so you don’t want to be sweating and dealing with complicated costumes. Try to wear sneakers, they are not easy to lose like flip-flops, and they are going to protect you from people stepping on your toes.
It’s really easy to find accessories everywhere, there are informal sellers on every corner of every street. Negotiate prices if you feel that it’s too much. Buying 3 or more items is good to give you a reason to ask for discount “3 for 2? 5 for 4?” Shops like “Lojas Americanas” and “Kalunga” are great to find stuff that you can improvise and create costumes.
Wear your swim clothes underneath the costume. It’s useful for many situations like getting too hot, getting wet by other people’s water (or beer) pistols or when you find yourself an opportunity to jump in the sea to refresh between blocos.
Stay alive until the last day
So, five days of non-stop partying, starting at 8, 9 AM, can be hard to deal with. If you want to enjoy carnival until the last day, you have to find ways of being healthy. My pro tips are:
– Drink water: Tons! This is a common mistake everyone makes. Especially when you are too busy drinking your beer or caipirinha. And this tip is not only for you to avoid a massive hangover. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t forget your water. The weather can make you really dehydrated or even sick.
– Eat fresh: I know streets hamburgers and hot dogs are the best, but don’t make them your only food. You are in a tropical country, with loads of fruits, vegetables and juices. Make the most of them and save yourself from not having enough vitamins and being sick later.
– Look after your feet: Street parties can be quite intense, don’t forget that people leave glasses or bottles on the floor. You don’t want to step one of those and ruin your carnival. CAHR-NAH-VAHL.
– Wear sunscreen: The sun is intense, for real! Don’t get burned, just wear sunscreen.
Staying close to a beer seller is always a good strategy
When the “blocos” are crowded, beer sellers can run out of beer easily. But if you are close to the seller during the whole party you can:
– 1: See when the beer is about to end and make sure you buy yours before this happens.
– 2: After being a loyal costumer the whole party, your beer seller can warn you before it ends.
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to samba
It’s pretty easy to find a local willing to help and teach you! And even if you think you can’t manage to get the moves right, just focus on having fun. No one will judge you, and honestly: there’s nothing better than practice!
Enjoy the smaller blocos
Each year the most famous blocos are getting bigger and more crowded. Some people like it, but I think it can get pretty chaotic. The good part is, smaller blocos are rising, keeping the fun and authenticity of a real street party alive.
Look after your stuff
The rule is simple: take as few things as possible with you. Money, documents, phone, an emergency contact number, hotel key and address is all you need. Keep these things close to your body, don’t leave in an easy to access pocket or open purse, and you are fine. Go ahead and have fun!