Arguably the biggest and best party in all of South America is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. World travelers, partiers, and tourists alike flock to the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana for 4 days of sin and sun. Carnival in Rio is a must if you find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere for the month of February. Enjoy all that Brazil has to offer and experience one of the most highly-anticipated parties of the year.
1. Rio de Janeiro Carnival
For anyone traveling through Brazil in the month of February, you’ll surely get a taste of Carnival life. It’s nearly impossible to escape the decorations, dancing, and partying that is Carnival in Rio.
My first experience in Brazil coincided with the dates of Carnival and what better place to celebrate than Carnival in Rio. Luckily, I went with my Brazilian friend who acted as our trusty guide throughout the entire experience. He had the low-down on the best parties, places to eat, Samba clubs, and must-see destinations that didn’t fit the run-of-the-mill tourist experience. We had an amazing run celebrating Carnival in Rio 2015, and I can’t wait to go back this year.
In an effort to share a little bit of my experience, here’s a comprehensive guide to celebrating Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
2. Where to stay
Generally speaking, it’s really hard to go wrong with accommodations in Rio de Janeiro. There is a myriad of options ranging from hostels to Airbnb to homestays. Generally, I would recommend staying close to Copacabana or Ipanema beaches both for proximity to the famous Carnival Block parties and important sightseeing destinations, but also for safety.
A lot of first-time travelers to Brazil often underestimate how integrated Favelas (slums) are in Rio. You can be standing in the nicest, most expensive part of Rio, and on the other side of the street is the largest Favela in the city. Keep this in mind when choosing a hostel or apartment.
Hostels are by the far the best places to stay and meet other young people traveling through Brazil for Carnival festivities. While hostels usually bump up their prices for the entire month of February knowing that travelers will be passing through for the celebration, if you book at least 3 months in advance, you’ll find relatively reasonable prices.
Luckily, hostels are for the plenty in Rio and you can pick and choose the onda (vibe) that you want based on your own personal preference ie; private room, hostel with a bar, air conditioning, etc.
Plenty of Carnival-goers chooses to pass hostel life and take a more relaxed route with Airbnb. Brazilians are eager to rent their apartments or extra rooms to show tourists what Carnival in Rio is like the real Brazilian way. Brazilians have all the know-how on doing Carnival right.
3. What to Wear
Similar to Halloween, you’ll see people in an array of costumes and get-ups. Speaking from experience, anything goes!
Women: There will be plenty of opportunities to pick up costume accessories there as well. A personal favorite was the washable body tattoos and flower headbands. Pair each of those with a colorful dress or bikini and you’re set!
Men: Being that Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is heavily beach-focused, men can put on a pair of swim shorts and a colorful hat or sunglasses. Sometimes you’ll see a few men running around in boat-captain hats, or other colorful get-ups.
4. Where to Party
Arguably the most important part of Carnival in Rio…the party! During the week of Carnival, streets are flooded all day and night with blocos – block parties. Each neighborhood puts on its respective block party. These start anywhere from 7 am to 3 am exceeding the true meaning of a 24-hour party.
The parties can be broken up into 6 main neighborhoods – Leblon, Copacabana, Ipanema, Lagoa, Jardim Botanico, and Downtown – with each area putting on its own signature event. Some are held on the beach or on the biggest avenue in Rio – Avenida Rio Banco – while others require a cost. Each bloco has a band and group of dancers wearing the colors of that neighborhood and carrying around flags with their respective symbols. Banda de Ipanema, Cordao do Bola Preta, and Monobloco are some of the most prominent neighborhood parties. Check out their schedule closer to the week of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and you can see a complete list of where and when they will be celebrating.
5. Where to See Samba dancing
If you’re eager to see the best of the best in Samba dancing, then you must buy tickets to the Sambadrome during Carnival. The Sambadrome is considered the birthplace of Samba. It’s about a half-mile long, concrete structure that is used as a parade for Samba schools across the country to come and show off their dancing and creativity to a panel of judges over a 4-night period.
We went on one of the preliminary nights for cheaper prices and better seats, and it didn’t disappoint. We arrived at 8 pm and didn’t leave until 4 am… and the show still wasn’t complete. The constant parade of lights and dancers was an incredible and memorable experience. Even the audience was dancing and singing along with the different Samba schools.
Each school chooses a King and Queen, and they are usually showcased at the beginning of each school. They are usually either the most scantily dressed or have the most grandiose outfits. They interact with the crowd and show off their impressive moves. From there, each school has a range of 50-100 dancers and performers placed on big structures or on the ground showing their synchronized moves.
For those interested in Samba dancing, I highly recommend purchasing tickets to the Sambadrome!
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