At the best of times, Rio de Janeiro is a city of colour, excitement and verve, but during Carnival it becomes a place like no other – it’s the party you want to be a part of.
Rio explodes into a sea of garish floats, sensational costumes and rowdy marches, all accompanied by a steady samba beat.
So popular is the festival that every year some 500,000 people come from all over the world to mark the beginning of Lent in style. Grab yourself a caipirinha and prepare yourself for the wildest celebration of your life.
This year, the event starts on February 13th and lasts all the way through until February 17th – your only major concern should be “can I party for that long?”, to which the answer is: you have no choice!
If you are in Rio for the duration of Carnival, it’s not only your duty to go to as many different events as possible, it’s just common sense. Although most of Brazil will be celebrating in style, Rio is without a doubt the best place to be for it – You don’t earn the title Carnival Capital of the Globe for nothing.
The main areas you want to be in and around during your time in Rio are Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon in the Zona Sul (Southern Rio) where most of the action is. Wherever you are staying, you will be able to take the subway at all times as it runs 24 hours a day over the Carnival period.
Get into the dancing mood
There are so many street parties, parades and costume balls going on that it is impossible not to get involved in some format during your stay.
The Samba Parades that take place in the Sambodromo are an absolute must, they are what Rio Carnival is all about. Not only is this a massive celebration of dance and faith, it’s also an intriguing composition where Rio’s samba schools dance off against each other.
First off is the Carnival’s showpiece, the First League parade. Over two days – Sunday, February 15th and Monday, February 16th – the best samba schools in the city strut their stuff in flamboyant style. The top six samba schools then participate in the Champions’ Parade towards the end of the festival. This includes incredible fireworks as the party reaches its climax.
You also have the Preliminary Parades of the Second League Schools and the Children`s Samba Schools to look forward to. Both of these are excellent parades in their own right.
The biggest and most popular balls are definitely the Gay Gala and the Black Beads Party which take place in the Scala and the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace. If you can, you should try and make it to at least one of these parties to see how Brazil really lets loose. Expect drinking, dancing and fantastic music as you groove the night away. For more information on tickets, consult the official website.
Most Brazilians are very friendly people and if they see you marching along and joining in it’s likely they will want to show you how to dance to the samba beat properly!
Experience authentic Brazillian culture
Although you can take tours into Brazil’s favelas, those who live there are not a tourist attraction, they are just normal people trying to survive in the hardest of environments. During Carnival, you will get the chance to mix with those who live in Rio’s favelas in a much more natural way. In fact, many say that it’s these Cariocas that make this celebration what it is.
No matter their personal circumstances, the inhabitants of Rio’s favela communities flock out during Carnival in order to take part themselves. Social status becomes unimportant at this time and all in attendance mix, dance, drink and party in riotous harmony – it’s a great thing to be a part of.
Safety during Carnival
As soon as you have experienced the infectious party atmosphere of Carnival, crime and safety will likely slip far from your mind. You may think “how can anything go wrong during such a happy celebration?” Remember, crime is a huge problem in Rio and you should always be wary of your surroundings.
Most people visit Brazil without so much as a hint of trouble, but you still need to be sensible. Don’t flash wads of cash or expensive valuables and try to avoid isolated areas after dark – this isn’t as tricky during Carnival as people are everywhere.
Also, you should be vigilant against pickpockets during your time in Rio. It is most sensible to spread out money across your person (socks, different pockets, in your bag) so that if you do find you have been a victim of crime, you haven’t lost all your money. Most importantly, if you are ever held up, hand over your valuables at once – it’s not worth playing the brave hero in Rio.
Of course, there’s so much more to Brazil and indeed South America than Carnival. Find out more about travelling this incredibly diverse continent from our dedicated experts.
Image credits: Thinkstock.