Street parties, samba, and the Sambodromo, Rio has it all. But amongst all that glitz and glamor, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what to see at Brazil’s biggest event. Explore this guide for all the details in 2023!
Bliss-inducing beaches, tropical gems, culinary culture, and a wealth of wildlife effortlessly fuse together to make Brazil one of the most magical places on earth.
There’s no doubt Brazilians know how to throw a good party, and if you’re looking to find out the best way to navigate the notorious network of celebrations, then be sure to save this post for later.
The world-renowned Carnival Rio de Janeiro!
Coined for the abundance of captivating colors, extravagant costumes, samba dancing, upbeat music, and lively ambiance, Rio Carnival is one of the world’s biggest and best festivals. Every year, on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, the entire country gathers together to put on an eclectic series of excitingly elaborate events.
Rio de Janeiro, the country’s capital city, plays host to several days’ worth of wild celebrations.
Travelers can bask in the beautiful beaches, warm weather, and discover the depth of landmarks, all while getting inspired by the astounding energy. But with so much to do and see, it can be difficult for backpackers and budget-conscious visitors to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not.
In this guide to Rio Carnival, Brazil, we’ll take you through all the most important details and the things you simply shouldn’t miss. Obrigada!
What is Rio Carnival?
Internationally pinned as one of the biggest parties on the planet, Rio Carnival hosts more than two million visitors parading the streets every year.
Kicking off on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, the series of spectacular events run through until Tuesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. Thousands of people flock to the Sambodromo to catch the Carnival’s most colorful compilation of ritz and glitz.
Here, in the stadium, is where the top samba schools battle it out for the ultimate title. You’ll be swept away by the beats of the drum, the rhythm of the trumpet, and the all-enticing energy of the parades.
A panel of around 40 different judges are dotted throughout the stadium, analyzing the array of animated dancers before finally announcing the winner on Ash Wednesday.
What other parties are in Rio Carnival?
Aside from the 5-day spectacle in the Sambodromo, there are riveting street parties and sophisticated balls aplenty. Every nook and cranny of the country quite literally screams ‘’festa’’!
The most glamorous parties and masquerade balls begin a day before Carnival, and a top pick includes the Magic Ball in the Copacabana Palace Hotel. If you’re down to fork out a little extra cash for a lavish experience, there’s also a high chance you’ll run into a handful of celebrities and big names at this hot spot.
The best thing about Rio Carnival is that you don’t have to splurge cash in order to have fun, thanks to the scope of street parties. These world-renowned parties are run by groups like blocos and bandas. Tear up the dance floor amongst hundreds, if not thousands of party-loving globetrotters and get immersed in the sounds of the drums and vivid colors.
Plus, the party city lights up at night with some of the craziest and most exciting Rio nightlife.
Considering the Sambodromo Stadium is the ultimate hub for entertainment in Carnival, the crowds tend to gravitate here. In these streets you’ll find alcohol-infused parties with creative costumes and a lot of dancing.
Other hot spots include the Copacabana Beach, the Avenida Rio Branco, the Leblon neighborhood, the Downtown area, and the Estica do Flamengo neighborhood.
What are the most popular blocos in Rio?
- Bloco Do Sargento Pimenta
- Banda De Ipanema
What are the different parades in Rio?
Before diving into the diverse spectacle of parades, it’s important to look at what’s on offer. There are five types of samba parades that go down every year at the Sambodromo.
The Access Group
Running on the first and second day of Carnival, the access group is made up of much more simpler concepts and parades. With 12 samba schools competing, the winner gains a spot in the Special Group for the following year.
These first two days are a great option if you’re traveling on a strict budget, but you still want to get a taste of carnival aura. Tickets generally go for around $24 to $64 USD per day, depending on the sector you choose.
The Special Group
Taking place on the third and fourth day of Carnival, the special group compiles Rio’s most coveted samba performances. The main schools compete with fancy costumes, extravagant floats, and no doubt conjure up a roaring atmosphere.
These two days are a bit more expensive but provide the entire package Rio Carnival is known for. If you’re down to spend a little extra cash for the full Rio experience, then this is a stellar choice. Tickets cost around $94 to $284 USD per day, depending on what seats you want.
The Champions Parade
Hosted on the final day of Carnival, the champions parade compiles a captivating show with the five runner-ups from the special group parades and the champion school. This is nothing short of an extravaganza, and it’s one of the best events. Celebrating the closure of the Rio Carnival Samba Parades, you can expect glamor, glitter, and a whole lot more.
This is the best option for budget-friendly travelers who want a piece of the action. Tickets go for around $64 to $164 USD, depending on your selected seating.
The history behind Rio Carnival
If you think that Rio Carnival is nothing more than a big party, then you should keep reading. In fact, the Carnival’s history dates back hundreds of years. Carnival is so deeply ingrained into Brazil’s history that it’s not just a cultural experience; it’s actually historically significant too.
The origins are believed to lie within multiple claims. According to some, Carnival was derived from an ancient Greek festival that once took place in the springtime.
Rio Carnival can be traced back to 1723, when Portuguese immigrants from Madeira, Cabo Verde, and the Açores introduced the Entrudo. It’s said that people would take to the streets, play-fighting with mud, food, and buckets of water. Throughout the centuries, the concept developed into more of a celebration with lavish costumes, classy dancing, and roaring music.
Then, in 1917, samba made its mark in the Rio Carnival. Weaving its way into the very heart and soul of the festival, samba has integrated beyond that into Brazil’s cultural heritage.
What is Samba?
Music, song, and dance fuse together to foster a style like no other. Passed down through centuries of slavery, Afro-Brazilians bought together a blissful combination of pulsating rhythms and rich music.
All the way from the slums to the richest neighborhoods, samba lies in the heart of every Brazilian. Over the years, samba schools have popped up all over the country and internationally.
Rio Carnival encapsulates the carioca – the heart of samba. There’s no doubt that during your visit, you’ll be drawn to the unique dance moves, flamboyant style, and vivid costumes.
Where should you stay for Rio Carnival?
Brazil’s capital is a massive city, and there are plenty of neighborhoods to choose from. The two most central areas are Copacabana and Ipanema, which are generally very safe. If you want to save yourself some money, be sure to book your accommodation in Rio well in advance.
We've written an in-depth guide to the best neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, so make sure to check it out if you want to learn more!
Top Travel Tips for Rio Carnival
- Book your tickets well in advance and online. If you leave everything last minute, you’ll have to wait it out in lengthy lines.
- Arrive on time. Getting to Rio Carnival before opening time is crucial, especially if you don’t want to miss out on the show.
- Prepare for the unexpected! Unless you don’t mind getting soaked, pack a rain jacket in case it rains.
- Traveling around Rio Carnival is best done with the metro. It’s quite safe, and it can save you unwanted hassles due to traffic congestion.
- Watch out for pickpockets. Don’t leave your valuables in your pockets, especially when you’re attending street parties.
- If you’re a woman attending a street party, it’s best to travel in trust-worthy groups to avoid any unwanted attention. It’s quite common for men to hassle women at these events, especially considering alcohol is involved.
Get Planning with Pilot!
If you’re jet-setting off to Brazil for Rio Carnival, then make sure you save this travel guide for later. If you want to sprinkle in a bit of surf, sun, and sand into your trip, then check out the 7 best things to do in Brazil. If you're flying into Rio, make sure to check out everything you'll need to know before you land at one of Rio's airports!
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