Ten Things to Know about the Rio Carnival

As much as the Copacabana Beach and the Statue of Christ are some of Brazil’s most famous tourist attractions; Brazil's capital Rio de Janeiro is famous for its carnival. As Rio gets its glad rags on to party, let's run through the ten things you should know about the Rio Carnival. Prepare yourself for lots of colour, exhilarating events, flowing alcohol and excitable crowds; it’s the Rio Carnival!


When is Rio Carnival?

From February 28th to March 4th, it’s an annual pre-Lent blowout, with four days of parading and street parties bringing Rio de Janeiro to a shimmying climax of music and dancing. Brazil is taken over by varying degrees of feathery flamboyance and you know it’s something to be a part of if even the locals modestly call Rio’s Carnival “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

Visit Rio’s Sambódromo

Behind all the feathers and glitter, the drums and the dancing, carnival is an intense, highly lucrative and intricately scored competition. The sambodromo tends to be the focus of the action; this is where all the thrill excitement and competition come to a head. On Friday, February 28 and Saturday, March 1, the schools of division two – the Grupo de Acesso – will strut their stuff in front of judges along the 700m-long sambódromo (aka a purpose built parade).


Join in Rio’s Carnival

Get yourself a spot on the dance floor and throw some samba moves. Admittedly not all samba schools are keen to let wide-eyed foreigners take part in their intricately choreographed hour in the spotlight, but in reality, few turn down the injection of cash they bring; it’s all about the memories right? Wannabe sambistas should do their best to keep in formation and learn at least a few lines of the song, although we hear that chewing gum makes a half-decent gringo alternative to at least make it look like you know the words.

Join in a Street Party

This is all about the live music ‘blocos’ (street bands) alcohol, dancing and more. The most traditional bloco, Cordão da Bola Preta, attracts hundreds of thousands to Centro’s Avenida Rio Branco on carnival Saturday, but much smaller gatherings can shut down main streets in neighbourhoods such as Copacabana and Ipanema for hours on end, so from modern to traditional you’ll surely be entertained. Check out the Copacabana which hosts 10 official events on carnival Tuesday alone. Get some cachaça flowing, dancing feet at the ready and roll on the sweat infested street party, we’re sure you’ll have a blast. You should definitely try catching Banda da Ipanema, Orquestra Voadora and/or Céu na Terra’s blocos for the full, undiluted experience.

Banda de Ipanema Afterparty at Ipanema beach

After one of the most popular street parades of Rio de Janeiro, Banda de Ipanema, the party continues at Ipanema beach. Enjoy the sunset, the music, the drinks and the happy people around you. If you’re looking for something a little different and would rather do carnival in style, the Copacabana Palace is still a classy favourite, while newcomers like The Fasano and Santa Teresa Hotel offer designer luxury with the price tags to suit. We personally think you can’t go wrong with the oh-so-authentic Ipanema beach party…


What to wear at the Rio Carnival

This is always important to know. You want to look the part, join in the festivities and completely immerse yourself in the whole event then be prepared for lots of glitter, colour and bear in mind anything goes! The sprawling Saara market in Centro is the best place to find some inspiration.


Where to stay during Rio Carnival?

Of course carnival is the very peak of high season and hotel prices soar as almost every room in the city is taken up. The unbeatable beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema host the majority of the big names, including Marriot and Windsor, and just off the front is a scattering of decent hostels, but at this time of year you should be prepared to search further afield too.


For those not worried about being close to the beaches, the Santa Teresa hillside is strewn with pretty guesthouses like Mama Ruisa, and Botafogo’s Oztel is a good-value, centrally located boutique hostel.


And don't forget to check out the options we have here on RoomSuggestion for hotels to stay in while in Rio de Janeiro.

Relaxing at Copacabana or Ipanema beach

Now admittedly Rio’s Carnival is some non-stop hardcore partying, so you’ll need some downtime at some point. Check out some of Rio de Janeiro;s famous beaches, famed not for your typical swimming and sunbathing (nobody does that on these beaches)rather it’s all about people watching, playing sports, socializing and flirting! You asked for downtime right? Must visits and ideal for all the above, Copacabana and Ipanema are the beaches for you. Looking for a bit more seclusion then try the beach of Barra da Tijuca or the beaches east of Rio de Janeiro (Costa do Sol).


Attending the Magic Ball at Copacabana Palace

The most iconic hotel of South America, the Copacabana Palace, is host to the Magic Ball, a masquerade ball where the elite from Brazil and around the globe gather for a night of extravagant Carnival entertainment.  Taking place this year on the 1st of March bag yourself a ticket to bump shoulders with the elite. It’s quite a pricey option with the cheapest ticket likely to set you back about US$ 1000 (€ 750)... Fortunately, there will be plenty of other, more affordable bal masqués organized throughout Rio de Janeiro, like the Rio Scala Balls and the Devassa Balls among others. But you know what they say ‘When in Rome…’


Alternatives to Rio’s Carnival

To many visitors, Brazil means Rio and Rio means carnival, but some of you may be looking for something a little different, a little off the beaten track, well we have you covered. Across the country there are regional variations well worth investigating such as the Salvador Carnival which throbs to the sound of huge trio elétrico sound trucks that rumble through the streets with the biggest names in Bahian music perched on top. Or maybe the slightly less hectic Olinda in Pernambuco famous for the huge, intricately decorated boneco dolls parade. Let’s say you’re looking for a break from all the samba, there’s the Rio Music Conference which brings some of the biggest names in dance music, including Fatboy Slim once again this year, to the party.


So enjoy your wild, exotic, cahotic ride and revel in the carnival spirit of things! Take lots of photos and don't forget to share with us your experience of Rio's Carnival...

By Mpona Lebajoa