The carnival in Rio de Janeiro is one of the liveliest celebrations in the world. Millions of tourists come to the city every year to take part in this huge gathering and are amazed by the contagious joy of the blocks, the luxury of the samba schools and other irresistible attractions. We’ve put together some suggestions to make this experience even more interesting, since it’s always unforgettable.
In 2017, the Rio carnival will begin officially on Friday, February 24th, and will continue until Tuesday, February 28th, leaving the Ash Wednesday for those who need to recover in order to start working after noon.
Precautions during the Carnival in Rio
The reveler who wants to enjoy the carnival in Rio completely should take some basic care when hitting the streets, such as carrying little money and being careful with their cell phone. The choice of light clothing is also essential. Keeping hydrated, drinking alcohol in moderation and choosing safe places to eat are ways to prevent your party from being cut short. The ideal is to go see the blocks, parades and other events accompanied by friends, so that you can look after each other and no one will overindulge. Carrying the address of the place where you are staying and contacting a reliable taxi driver may seem like silly advice, but these will make all the difference at the end of the night.
Since one can never be prepared enough, we advise reading the guides Tourist Scams in Rio de Janeiro to avoid small and medium problems, and Violence in Rio de Janeiro, because we want you to be well at all times. To understand the inexplicable public transport system in Rio, we also recommend reading the Guide to Public Transport in Rio.
When planning what to do, it’s also important to follow the schedule of blocks in the southern region and the schools of samba parade program.
Pre-Carnival in Rio
Carnival is, in its essence, a religious party. Its date varies, therefore, between February and March. But in Rio, it always begins before the official opening date. That is because the carnival pre-season has become a big party in recent years, sometimes an even more lively one than the traditional four days of revelry. Parades of blocks throughout January are increasingly common, as well as parties and other activities that will give you a taste of what’s to come. Technical rehearsals in the Sambadrome on Saturday and Sunday nights fall into this category of events and are free. The same goes for the street rehearsals of the samba schools in their respective neighborhoods. The Salgueiro ones, for example, are held on Wednesdays on Maxwell Street, in Andaraí. Portela gathers on Sundays, on Portela Road and Intendente Magalhães Road, on the outskirts of Madureira.
The last weekend before carnival marks the highest point of this increasingly celebrated pre-season. Hundreds of carnival blocks take to the streets on those days, and some of them are becoming very traditional. This is the case with Céu na Terra, which makes the streets of Santa Teresa packed on Saturdays, with its band playing carnival marches without the drums section. The group has been around since 2001. Timoneiros da Viola is a block that pays homage to samba musician Paulinho da Viola and other great names of samba and choro. It has existed since 2012, parading on the Sunday before carnival in Oswaldo Cruz and often with the presence of its godfather, who never fails to sing some of his biggest hits.
Before and during carnival in Rio, the default program for those who aren’t working is to put together beach and the carnival blocks, so you may prefer to join the blocks that depart from the shorelines within the city, especially Ipanema beach and Copacabana beach. At night, if you still have energy, there’s more carnival!
Street Carnival in Rio
The big hits of the Rio carnival in recent years are the carnival blocks. These groups, usually accompanied by percussionists or a band with woodwinds, bring joy to the city’s streets. Every day of the revelry has its own highlight. The most famous blocks of Rio Carnival are Banda de Ipanema (LGBT themed) and Simpatia é Quase Amor.
The Friday prior to carnival is when the block Carmelitas enlivens the hills of Santa Teresa. The big star on Saturday is Cordão da Bola Preta, which turns the city center into a big outdoor dance floor with its powerful electric trios. Sargento Pimenta blends Beatles and carnival on Monday, drawing a legion of rocker revelers. Groups like Maracatu Rio and Orquestra Voadora are the attractions on Tuesday, showing that in the Rio revelry there’s always room for diversity. On Wednesday, while everyone follows the vote counting for the Special Group, the block Me Beija Que Eu Sou Cineasta plays and resists across Gávea streets.
Carnival in Rio with Luxury
For those looking for recreation with comfort and who have money to pay for that, there are great experiences available during the carnival in Rio. The main one is the parade of samba schools, which has been fairly dubbed the greatest show on Earth. Marquês de Sapucaí Street, in the city center, serves as a stage, on Sunday and Monday, for twelve schools vying for the coveted title of champion. Tickets to watch the show are sold in advance and have prices ranging from R$ 5 (for the grandstands) to up to R$ 120,000 (for the most luxurious suites). Beija-Flor, Mangueira, Salgueiro and Portela are some of the main participants of the parade, which has been happening since 1932.
The Special Group, however, is not the only parade going down Sapucaí. The Preliminary Parades bring 15 other samba schools that perform in the same place on Friday and Saturday. This sort of second division of the Sambadrome features well known groups, such as Império Serrano and Viradouro, and have tickets with prices starting from R$ 10.
Another luxury activity of the carnival in Rio is the feijoada (black bean stew) served by hotels, which usually have prices higher than R$ 100 and offer tourists the traditional dish, unlimited drinks and samba in spaces overlooking the sea. The private parties, with different themes, such as Vermelho e Preto (alluding to the colors of Rio’s most popular football team, Flamengo) or the Gay party. The festivities take place in private clubs, like Scala. The prices are proportional to the reputation of the venues.
For further information on the parades of the samba schools during Rio carnival, visit the League of the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro and the Independent League of the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro’s websites.
Post-Carnival in Rio
Do you think that the Rio carnival ends on Ash Wednesday? Then think again. Several events take place after that date, and it is worth listing some of them. The six best ranked samba schools in the Special Group take part in the Champions Parade at the Sambadrome on the following Saturday. The performance of the Monobloco on Sunday marks, for many, the official end of the revelry and has attracted more than 1 million people playing percussion rhythms. Other post-carnival activities are the Ressacas, promoted by concert halls, such as Fundição Progresso.
The range of options before, during and after the four days of revelry in Rio is huge. By now you can consider yourself a connoisseur of a good part of it, and yet you must plan ahead if you don’t want to miss next year’s carnival. It’s a unique and rewarding experience that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.
The Rio carnival is as democratic as Lapa’s nightlife, and this enables other rhythms to find space in the revelry. It’s the case of the block New Kids on the Bloco, which makes arrangements with pop songs. There is still room for the block Thriller Elétrico, bringing Michael Jackson to the Rio revelry. There are also blocks dedicated to local funk and Mamonas Assassinas, a national rock group that has reached meteoric success and whose career ended tragically in a plane crash.
You Should Also Know
- For those who don’t like carnival, the Rio carnival is unbearable. Streets throughout the city are closed to cars due to the parade of many blocks and revelers. Those who live in the vicinity of the Sambadrome become stranded and are unable to sleep. That’s why many locals simply leave the city when the carnival begins.
- The city becomes very dirty at carnival in Rio, as many locals and visitors have the nasty habit of littering and urinating on the streets, which, besides being highly unhygienic, can become a public health hazard due to the possibility of contamination associated with zika virus through urine. We recommend that you wear closed shoes and avoid the areas surrounding the blocks and parades.
- This issue is so annoying to locals that there are even fines for anyone caught urinating on the streets or littering. The fine for urinating outdoors is R$ 510, for both men and women. Those who litter the streets can pay fines that range from R$ 115 to R$ 3,693, depending on the offense. The point is that there’s no need to risk becoming broke; the city offers public toilets and a vast waste collection network during the carnival.
- If you wish to go to the Sambadrome to watch the parades of samba schools, we strongly recommend you purchase your tickets from official sources, such as the box office of the venue, travel agencies and hotels. We do not recommend buying tickets from scalpers or street vendors, as well as unofficial websites for Sambadrome carnival in Rio. The chance of buying a fake or canceled ticket is relatively high. In addition, you will be paying an exorbitant price.
- In February or March we are between the peak and the end of summer in Rio. That means that, unless the local authorities have been very diligent during the spring and properly fought the mosquito Aedes aegypti, summer is the time when the incidence of Dengue and now also Zika and Chikungunya will be at its highest, because that’s the preferred season for the mosquito, with plenty of rain and heat.
- Watching the blocks and parades on Marquês de Sapucaí Street will require a lot of energy and fitness. Many revelers feel unwell during the festivities because of the heat, because of being squeezed when following the blocks, and due to the excess of alcohol and also the lack of food, water and sleep. Be aware of your limits.
- The city has a very strong macho culture that promotes a kind of sexual harassment that is often not at all concealed, especially during the carnival in Rio. Unfortunately, many locals often direct jokes and naughty praise to unaccompanied women. The situation will rarely develop into a sexual crime, but can be quite unpleasant in case of confrontation. Therefore, we suggest you do not confront this kind of attitude; seek protection and remove yourself from the situation without risk. Please understand that it’s not about being passive. Faced with a threat or concrete excess, if someone touches or holds you, you should react proportionally. The ideal for women, however, is to walk on the streets accompanied, since the audacity of such behavior dramatically decreases when they are together with a ma;, a very sexist and unfortunate situation, but it does happen. Unfortunately, that kind of situation is exacerbated during the carnival, because of the increase in the atmosphere of widespread permissiveness combined with alcoho consumption.
- If you wish to take children to the blocks, you should know that there are specific blocks for the little ones during the carnival in Rio, like Gigantes da Lira, the most famous of all. Special care for children and teenagers are required: always hold them by the hand, and make them wear wristbands containing their name, address and telephone in Rio and set meeting points in case of separation.
Credits for the used images in this Carnival in Rio de Janeiro article: Alexandre Macieira, Fernando Maia, Hudson Pontes, Raphael David e Tânia Rêgo.