Experiencing Carnival in Rio De Janeiro Brazil
Rio during Carnival is electrifying. A vivid melting pot that truly assaults the five senses. The city streams past you, in a blaze of color, music and energy. Men in skirts and wigs. Women in nothing but glitter. There’s a reason this celebration is regarded as the greatest party on earth – Brazilians know how to let loose. So, grab your costumes, your feathers, and your passport and make your Carnival experience in Rio an unforgettable event and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read our Carnival in Rio De Janeiro – Brazil to learn everything you need to know! Let’s go gringo!
History of Carnival
Carnival first emerged in Italy as a huge costume and mask party the night before Lent starts. It was a way of purging one’s sins before the Catholic tradition of Lent. The celebration of Lent occurs 40 days before Easter, and Christians are encouraged to give up all earthly pleasures during these sacred 40 days. One of these pleasures is meat, which actually gave Carnival its name – ‘carnevale’ translates to ‘to put meat away’. However, over time, this resulted in a five-day party to embrace these pleasures before Lent starts. The idea took off across Europe, and as Europeans and Catholicism spread around the globe, so too did the party. As slavery was a common practise in these colonies, Carnivals across the world have a distinctly African influence, focusing on feathers, music with drums and dance styles.
Blocos in Rio
One of the best parts of Carnival is the bloco, or ‘street party’. These are generally large events, attracting thousands of people, across the regions of the city. Some are supported by the local government, including marketing, branding and an organised stage with bands. These organised events have facilities including portable toilets, food vendors and authorised alcohol sellers. They also boast many years as organised events; some have been running for 40 or 50 years. Others, are simply arranged among the people, normal people who bring their instruments and start a party in the middle of the street. These are the true heart of Carnival in Rio, but can be very difficult to find as a gringo (someone who is not a local). If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across one.
Blocos are extremely unique, as they usually start in one place, a park or an open square, and then the party follows the band through the streets. This can make them very difficult to locate. But once you have, the party erupts. You will dance through the streets, often stopping traffic (and annoying irate drivers) and participate in a pilgrimage, with the band as your God. Industrious Brazilians walk through the party goers, with cooler boxes strapped to trolleys, filled with ice and alcoholic beverages. Some walk around selling homemade food and others sell ice blocks. You will never go hungry or thirsty while partying!
Time is, well, a truly a fluid and never ending concept during the five days of Carnival. The locals can become very protective of their beloved Blocos, not wanting to attract too many people, and as a result, a tradition has emerged of Blocos starting at ridiculous times. 3am, 7am, noon. No time is off limits or regarded as the ‘wrong’ time to party. You will be exhausted by the end, but we can promise you, that you’ll never forget it. The beauty of the blocos is that they’re everyone’s party. There is no age limit and no judgement. If you want to join the party – gringo, local, young, old – you’re always welcome.
SambaDrome Event in Rio
If you’re style is a little more feathers, glitter and watching the party, the Sambadrome is for you. It truly is the stereotypical Carnival experience, but it definitely shouldn’t be discounted as ‘too touristy’. The parade goes off, and is a breath-taking spectacle. The Sambadrome is a gigantic, rectangular arena, built specifically for Carnival events.
The Samba Parade celebrates the top 12 Samba schools in all of Brazil. Each school has exactly one hour to perform and dance their way through the entire arena. The performance times are spread out over two main parading days, the Sunday and Monday of Carnival. That means that the spectacular event actually takes 12 hours! The rules are very strict, if they’re one minute over or under time, points will be deducted. The winning school is announced on national television the following day. There is then a Champions event a week later, that showcases the top 6 schools.
To truly get into the Samba spirit, you should get into costume and actually participate in the parade! There are many companies that offer deals, including a tailor made costume and entrance into the Samba parade with one of the schools. Get in early – we mean it! These tickets run out super-fast. And we understand why – what an incredible experience!
Tip: Take particular notice of where your tickets are situated in the arena. The start of the Sambadrome, and the end, are both areas where the dancers are still getting ready to dance (putting on head dresses etc) or finishing up. The arena is designed so that spectators see every stage, from before the dancers start, until the end when they finish. However, this means that if your tickets are situated in either of these sections, you won’t see much of the dancing in the parade. Try to get seats in the middle, sectors 6-11, however (of course) these are more expensive. But trust us, it’s worth it. Sector 9 is usually known as the ‘tourist sector’, however this is simply an unwritten rule, you can book anywhere.
Costumes to wear at Carnival in Rio
The best way to not look like a gringo (let’s face it, we all want to look Brazilian) is to dress up in costume. You can usually pick a gringo from a mile away, because they’re dressed in comfortable clothing, with no face paint or glitter or costume. Glitter is compulsory – say it with us! The costumes range from g-string bikinis, togas, and tutus to full Batman attires. Some even dress in only glitter – yes, only glitter. But you can get away with any fun and interesting costume. Apply the face paint and the glitter, pair it with a funky hat and you’re already a true Brazilian.
But one thing is certain – you can get away with anything. There’s no judgement, no standards and no inhibitions. It’s not a fashion contest – you earn more respect with how committed you are to your costume, not how good you look – this isn’t Halloween!
Well there you have it. You must book everything in as early as possible for 2018 – accommodation, tours and transfers, plus your Sambadrome tickets. By the end of the five days, you’ll find glitter in places you have never even imagined finding glitter. But the people, the music and the buzz will keep Carnival alive in your heart long after you leave. You’ll also have the Peter Allen song in your head the entire time. “Whoa, whoa, when ma babeh, when ma babeh smiles at me I go to…”
Author: Michelle Hyde
Images Captured by: Benjamin Fehervary