Where: Celebrated throughout the world, big in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro is Carnival capital.
When: Annually, February until Shrove Tuesday.
What happens: Samba schools, floats, parades, dazzling costume, music and high class glamour.
Remember to bring: Outrageous costume, feathers and your dancing shoes.
Where’s the Party?
Although Carnival is celebrated in towns and villages throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janiero has long been regarded as the Carnival Capital of the World.
Dates for the Diary
Carnival is the last major event of the Brazilian summer. It officially begins on the Saturday before Lent and continues until Shrove Tuesday, however the city begins gearing up for the festival several weeks beforehand.
What’s It All About?
The Samba Parade is the most publicised event of the Rio Carnival, with footage and pictures beamed across Brazil and all around the world. If you can afford to fork out for a ticket, it’ll be a night you’ll never forget. If not, hang around outside the Sambodrome and check out the fabulous floats and people in costume who are preparing for their 20 minutes in the limelight.
Carnival Balls take place every night of the festival. Some are glamorous affairs which attract a host of celebs and society darlings of all genders, but are unfortunately only open to people with a few hundred bucks to burn. Most of the smaller venues in Rio organise alternative balls, which are like regular clubs and tickets cost a fraction of the price.
Brazil operates a reciprocal visa system, which means that if your home country requires Brazilian nationals to obtain a visa, then you in turn will need one to go to Brazil. Holders of British passports do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days, United States and Australian citizens do. For more information contact the Brazilian Consulate in your home country before you go.
Although you’ll probably be able to find somewhere to stay if you arrive in Rio without a reservation, it won¹t be in one of the more salubrious parts of the city. The best hotels, especially in the Zona Sul, are booked up well in advance of Carnival, so it¹s a good idea to make a reservation at least 2 or 3 months beforehand. Tickets to the Parade at the Sambodrome go on sale two weeks before Carnival. If you decide to go, arrange yours in advance as on the day prices are at a premium.
Most out-of-town Carnival-goers fly into Rio’s international Aerporto Galeãto or the Aeroporto Santos Dumont, the domestic airport which is located in the Centro District. From Galeãto you can take an air conditioned bus into the city or Zona Sul for about $2. If you have a lot of luggage an air-conditioned taxi to Copacabana will cost you around $30.
Brazil has a reasonable bus network so if you’re travelling around the country on a budget you might consider a long bus journey as an alternative to an expensive air-fare.
Where to Stay
With the beach on your doorstep, the Zona Sul is by far the most pleasant place to stay in Rio. Leblon and Ipanema are more upmarket than Copacabana, which is gaining a reputation as being rather seedy in recent years. Even so, Copacabana Palace Hotel at Avenida Rio Branco, 1702 (+ 55 21 548 7070), is favoured by the rich and famous, but room rates reflect this. There are plenty of other international standard hotels as well as clean and safe small hotels and a couple of good hostels. Most hotels have a fixed-rate 5 night package during Carnival, which is more expensive than at other times of the year. Don¹t think you can save money by sleeping on the beach. It’s just not safe.
Entry into the Sambodrome to watch the Parade can cost up to US$200 depending on the seating area. Not everyone stays all night and those who leave early often offload their tickets onto the touts outside, who sell them on cheap. If you decide to turn up and try your luck be prepared to haggle big time and beware that this racket is frowned upon by the organisers, so if you get rumbled there’s no guarantee you¹ll get in anyway.
Taking part in the Samba Parade costs around US$ 200. What you’re actually paying for is the costume, which cannot be hired as the schools’ themes change each year. It¹s yours to keep afterwards ‹ if you can fit it into the overhead lockers on the plane home, that is.
A ticket to one of Rio’s more glamourous Carnival balls, such as the Copacabana Palace Ball, costs as much as US$ 200. If this is way out of your budget don¹t despair: many of the clubs in Rio organise a Carnival ball and as they only charge around US$ 20 a ticket, these events are more popular with the backpacking crowd.
Getting around town is cheap. Buses charge a standard one-way fare of 50 cents, and a single ticket on the metro costs under a dollar. These days, all taxis are fitted with a meter but make sure the driver turns it on when you get in.
Once You’re There
Rio isn’t one of the world’s safest cities but most travellers have an incident free trip and if you’re sensible and leave your valuables locked up in the hotel safe you can minimise the risk to yourself and your belongings.
l) You can throw tomatoes and tomatoes only.
2) They must be squashed before you throw them, otherwise they can cause a nasty bruise.
3) Although the locals tend toi rip each others clothing, it is officially forbidden and as a visitor, you will be expected to behave.
During the summer the locals spend every spare minute at the beach soaking up the sun, hanging out on the sands, swimming or playing futvolei, a local variation on volleyball played with the feet instead of hands. While the ordinary folk flock to the horse-shoe shaped beach of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon attract a more fashionable crowd.
Parque Nacional da Tijuca covers some 120 square kilometres and just 20 minutes from the centre of Rio, it¹s the largest city park in the world. The whole are area around Rio was once covered by dense Atlantic rainforest, and the park’s trails, waterfalls, rocky peaks and dense vegetation give the hiker an awe-inspiring sense of what it was like before the city sprung up.
Rio de Janeiro is not the only carnival in Brazil. You¹ll find local events going on in towns and villages throughout the country. Salvador in the state of Bahia is popular with travellers as an alternative to Rio.
Carnival in Trinidad is yet another take on the Carnival tradition. The French brought masked balls and staid street parades to Trinidad in the eighteenth century, but it was emancipated slaves who imbued the festival with Afro-Caribbean culture.
Notting Hill Carnival in London, which takes place over the last weekend in August, took it’s cue from Rio and Trinidad and with input from the local community has become Europe’s biggest street party.
An excellent online guide for Carnival first-timers. As well as containing information about the history and traditions of Carnival in Rio, it also has general listings for hotels, restaurants and attractions in Rio.