The Carnival of Brazil is the world’s biggest party. It’s an annual Brazilian festival held between the Friday afternoon (51 days before Easter) and Ash Wednesday at noon, which marks the beginning of Lent, the forty-day period before Easter. Carnival’s 2016 official dates were February 5th-10th but for a week on either side, the parties go on throughout the city and attracts millions of visitors from all over the world.
Note: Before we continue; please excuse the grainy photography, we opted to take our small camera out over Carnival rather than our large one or phones, for obvious reasons. Any photo is better than no photo!
We experienced our first Carnival in Rio this year and it was one of the most amazing weeks ever. The crowds (believe it or not), the parties, the costumes, the beaches, the atmosphere, the music, the weather, you name it and it was perfect. We were also lucky to have one of our good friends Tom, from NYC join us, along with another NYC friend, Chris and we met up with an amazing group of people we connected with during our Salt Flats tour. We called ourselves the ‘Gringo Crew’ ;).
Accommodation over Carnival
We thought hostels at Oktoberfest were expensive, Carnival was another story! We were planning to spend 2 weeks in Rio so sharing a dorm for that long wasn’t an option and it sure wasn’t an option when some places were charging up to $150 USD a BED! We rented a place through VRBO instead of AirBnB this time. Why? VRBO has no service fees attached so that helped with bringing the cost down and they are just as reliable and secure as AirBnB. We settled on a 2 bedroom apartment cheaper than a hostel and it really felt like home.
If you want to book an apartment or a hostel over this period the costs will be very high before and after the official dates of Carnival. Our advice: book early!
Carnival parties are everywhere and last all through the night, so even if you don’t know exactly where to go, you are bound to find something on the streets at the very least. We went to a range of different parties over the course of the 5 days and it was an awesome mix of events. Some were Carnival related and others were just organized parties.
The Sambadrome is a place for the Samba Schools to parade during Carnival in Brazil. It generally consists of tiered spectator viewing areas like grandstands that surround a long alley for the schools to parade down.
- Tickets – You have to buy tickets for this event prior and depending on where you sit and what day you go, they range in price from $60-$3000. We booked ours through a 3rd party at Carnival Bookers and the company was easy and efficient. However, to purchase through the official site you can do so through Rio-Carnival .
- Sectors – All the sectors have a different view however avoid sections 12/13 as your view will be slightly restricted. We sat in Sector 7 and had a great view of the whole parade. Details on each sector can be found here.
- Getting there – The Sambadrome is located in Downtown Rio and there are a few ways to reach it. Getting there from Copacabana/Ipanema beach, it’s an easy subway ride with a 15/20 walk through many street parties to reach it. Avoid the buses, you’ll be in traffic for days and the taxis are expensive when stuck in traffic. Some companies offer transfer services but they are pricey and half the fun is finding your way there with everyone else.
- Alcohol/Food – Unlike most other paid events, you are allowed to bring your own booze/food in but without bringing glass. They also sell fast food and alcohol inside.
- Parade – The costumes at the Sambadrome were outstanding. The detail on every one of them was amazing and the floats they danced on were so elaborate. Each Samba school paraded for about an hour and then you had a 20 minute break where the party didn’t stop. Detailed information on how the parade works can be read here.
Just go.. do it! It’s way too much fun.
Blocos aka Street Parties
A bloco is a street party organised by a suburb or carnival association. The idea of a bloco is that people walk behind a float with music (from a live band or a recording). They usually walk around the block, hence the name bloco.
People crowd the streets with their own coolers, bottles of vodka, rum, beers, food and create an atmosphere not worth missing! There is usually a start/finish time to these but they often go over and into the morning even when the music has stopped. Some blocos started at 8:00am in downtown Rio over the weekend. Yes, we didn’t quite make these ones..
Some were more popular than others and the ones not to be missed are often listed prior. Be sure to look online to find the best ones. There were Beatles blocos, Mario blocos (Super Mario tunes), electronic music blocos, traditional Samba blocos etc. Most of the ones we went too, ran along either Copacabana or Ipanema Beach. Drink, party, eat, swim repeat :).
Lapa is the place to mingle with the locals and experience the best of Brazilian music and dance. Over the Carnival period this area of Rio was a constant party with parties going into the early morning. A lot of impromptu Samba dancing goes on in Lapa and people congregate around the drums. The streets are filled with food and drink stalls, and bars and clubs fill out onto the street.
We’ve never seen anything like this before. The sound of the samba drummers were the loudest when they are under the famous arch, Arcos da Lapa & on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays the streets are closed for pedestrians and the party takes over the streets. There are thousands of people dancing freely at every corner & the energy is exhilarating.
Don’t leave Lapa without 2 things; a night out at Rio Scenarium, a very famous Samba Club/museum or without trying an X-TUDO burger from one of the food stands. My goodness, these were absolutely delicious, especially at 4am! Anyone would think Jacob had won the lottery (below)!
The only downside to this area was the pick pocketing. These guys are clever and although they tried once with our wallet, Jacob’s pockets were too deep to get into. Sorry fellas!
GooseNeck Boat Party
We’d heard of Gooseneck Record’s Boat Party through a friend and were so glad we did. This was definitely one of our favourtie events of the weekend and would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Rio over Carnival next year!
Carnival parties are top-notch but this was something different and being on a boat, was a whole lot of fun. If you put 100 people from all over the world on a boat with good music, an open bar, sunshine, glow in the dark face paint & the backdrop of Christ The Redeemer, you’re bound to please the crowd. I mean how could you go wrong with that combo?
There was an open bar and by open bar, a literal open bar. Pour your own drink open bar, along with barrels of water, beer and Red Bull. Considering the availability of alcohol, there was not one person on board ruining it for anyone. A very well organised event and for a very fair cost!
You can check out some more photos from the day on their Facebook page!
Seeing ‘Goldfish’ at the Macarana Stadium
We couldn’t make it to the Soccer World Cup in Brazil but we did make it to a concert in the World Cup, Maracanã Stadium to see the famous DJ’s / band, Goldfish. The concert took up such a small portion of the stadium which made it look even more incredible. We walked in and we were immediately taken back by the size of this massive stadium. We had our ‘gringo’ group with us we all had such a great time. If you haven’t heard of these guys before and you like electronic music, you should listen & go see them!
There are so many drink stalls in Rio especially during the street parties and along the beach. We couldn’t walk 10 meters without someone yelling “Cerveja, Cerveja!!”. Beers were less than $1. Caipirinhas, Brazil’s famous drink were sold everywhere for $2 or less and Caipiroskas for $2-$3. Be prepared for the high sugar content in these drinks. You can ask for your drinks without sugar or with a small amount. If you don’t, you’ll receive at least 4 heaped teaspoons PER drink… Yikes.
There was definitely no shortage of drinks in Brazil, that is one thing we know for sure. Our livers needed a break after here for sure.
If you’re ever in doubt about celebrating Carnival in Brazil, don’t be. Sure, the crowds are at large, and the parties are extreme, but it really is an experience we can add to our book. The Brazilian culture is so fun, they love a good time and are extremely welcoming to tourists. Yes, there will be pickpockets but generally, everyone really is in it to have a good time!
If you’re interested in more Carnival information, check out the official page! You have 330ish days to plan for the next one, maybe we’ll see you there again?!
Till next time Rio!
Married days survived: 340