Picture this - samba, beaches, happiness, good drinks, tropical weather - and all together at the same moment. There is no doubt that the destination is Brazil, and it is carnival time. You probably know that Brazil is the country of carnivals. But did you know that the place where this amazing party reaches its magnificence is Rio de Janeiro? As the people in Rio say - "We pass the entire year just waiting for those five days of joy", and I would add - a total disengagement with the daily reality. It is the time when you can dive into a fresh and spectacular universe that dresses up the entire city with colors and music. It is not an exaggeration to say that Rio de Janeiro, better known as the wonder city, is the world's carnival capital. Let me share with you the biggest attractions of Rio's Carnival from a local's perspective.
What makes this party so much waited for is the inclusiveness of it. You can easily spend very little money and still enjoy it very much. By the way, it is normal that the carnival time in Brazil happens in February or in March (as it is a Catholic holiday, its date depends on the church calendar), but you are mistaken if you think that in Rio the carnival only happens on the five official days. Actually, the party starts already after New Year's Eve, with the first early street parties in January. With a little planning and disposition, you will be able to enjoy all this fun on the streets, and why not, also on the luxurious parades of samba schools.
One of the oldest carnival bands in Rio, and the most famous, is the "Cordão do Bola Preta", where the revellers usually wear black and white clothes. Traditionally, this carnival block drags thousands, and some times, millions of people through the streets of the city center. It always happens on the Saturday morning of the carnival, so the tip here is to get there early to enjoy its full.
Another two traditional carnival blocks are the "Carmelitas" and "Cordão do Boitatá". The first one takes place in Santa Teresa's neighbourhood on Friday, one day before "Cordão do Bola Preta". It is also very close to the city center, and the code is to dress up as nuns. However, "Cordão do Boitatá" takes place at the Praça XV, and it is well known for its traditional way of playing the carnival music with martial bands walking around the streets. It happens on Carnival Sunday, normally in the morning. My tip is to go to all three of them. Even though they are part of the same event, they are very different parties and the atmosphere can be quite exotic for you in different ways.
Praça XV, Rio de JaneiroPraça Quinze de Novembro - Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20010, Brasil
Samba Schools parades
Sambódromo, Rio de JaneiroR. Marquês de Sapucaí - Santo Cristo, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20220-007, Brasil
Carnival is quite a serious thing in Rio, and I will explain why. Each year, the best samba schools compete for the title of the best school of the year. It is a very disputed championship that involves 14 associations. Starting on Friday, seven samba schools open the parade, at the Sambódromo, and on Saturday, another seven schools perform at the carnival. To win it, they are judged by the choreography, scenography, music, costumes, rhythm, and chosen theme. The dispute is broadcasted on the national TV on Wednesday (the official end of the carnival), and I can say with no doubt that almost the entire Brazil stops to watch the results.
The parades take place at the famous Sambódromo, an open space designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. In total, it is 800 meters long, and it is known as "Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí", an enormous avenue surrounded by bleachers, where 72,000 spectators watch that amazing event. And the images are worldly known - thousands of dancers in dazzling costumes float as tall as buildings, while hundreds of percussionists complete the parade scene - colors, music, lights, passion.
I could say that there is no better experience of Rio's Carnival than joining the samba parade. Normally, you have to buy your costume in advance (sometimes a year before), and keep in mind that the prices are high. But of course, this is a carnival, and in the carnival, everything can be handled. If you decide to go to the parade at the last minute, you may get lucky and find some costumes left to sell. All you have to do is check some samba school's website and get in touch with the managers. As the number of people in those parades is very high, they almost always have an empty spot that you can fill in. So, if it is your dream, go for it.
Hundreds of lines could be written about Rio's Carnival, but I tried to share the main attractions with you in this story. I hope you have enjoyed it and got inspired to start planning your carnival trip. Whenever you come to join the crowd, enjoy Rio de Janeiro, the world's carnival capital. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We recommend to book your stays in Rio de Janeiro in advance as it can get booked up quickly during certain periods. If you use this link, you pay the same price and we get a small commission - thanks for your support!
Want to plan a trip here? Build your own hotel+flight package with Live The World, or reach out for personalized advice from one of our travel experts.
Are you ready to experience this story yourself?