Here’s What To Expect Visiting Carnival In Rio De Janeiro

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From block parties starting at dawn, samba music echoing the streets, and a wild feast of hedonism, this is Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. Although over 50 countries celebrate Carnival before Lent, there is none more famous than Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Brazilian woman wearing colorful Carnival costume and Brazil flag during Carnaval street parade in city.Brazilian woman wearing colorful Carnival costume and Brazil flag during Carnaval street parade in city.

More than 80,000 tourists will be flocking to this year’s Carnival celebration, representing an all-time high when compared to the past two years that curbed tourist numbers.

Organizers are faced with heavy planning for throwing one of the biggest parties of the year, but the payoff is an energetic and colorful celebration that will be even bigger and better this year. Residents and Carnival attendees have been starved of the celebrations during the 2-year hiatus, and Eduardo Paes, the Mayor of Rio, has called this year a “carnival of democracy,” a time that is welcomed after a tumultuous political climate.

Samba School parade float at the SambadomeSamba School parade float at the Sambadome

Visitors can expect over 150 block parties (or blocos) during the main celebration of February 17-25, while samba schools will hit the streets to parade through Carnival’s official venue – Marques de Sapucai Sambadrome. Since the celebration is so large, it can be hard to know what you’re walking into, but here’s what to expect during the month of wild and brightly colored festivities.

The Official Blocos

Blocos is the term used to describe the free and wild parties that take place on the streets, which are considered the heart and soul of Carnival. There are more than 450 official blocos (150 during the official period) that are granted to roam the blocks this year up until late February. Celebrations for Carnival start a few weeks before and continue after the parade ends, so don’t think the parties are only exclusive to the official dates.

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Women, samba and dancers hugging and bonding in costume before a carnival celebration.Women, samba and dancers hugging and bonding in costume before a carnival celebration.

It’s recommended to get to the starting point on time since the parades are on the move, and it might be difficult to locate them if you’re late. Make sure you also keep your valuables and phone at home (if you don’t have a good hiding spot) because petty theft is quite common.

Each bloco has its own flair, whether it be the type of music they play, how people dress up, or the number of people (the smaller ones can be just as fun as the larger events). You’ll find the more family-friendly block parties are the ones that kick off at dawn, while the large, tourist ones take place on the beaches. To get the full experience, you’ll want to head to as many blocos as possible, and you should plan your itinerary in advance since there are different locations spread across the city.

Street Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, crowd of people celebrate on the street with Blocos, individual groups who plan the parties with bands and samba music.Street Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, crowd of people celebrate on the street with Blocos, individual groups who plan the parties with bands and samba music.

The Unofficial Blocos

While the official blocos are organized events, there are plenty of unofficial groups that are known to organize parties via Whatsapp and Instagram. These parties are spread through word of mouth, so you’ll want to make friends with a local to be kept in the know.

These spontaneous block parties are considered an essential pillar of Carnival, where the playfulness and creativity really shine from the local organizers. Just like the official blocos, they are known to have themes or interesting names, such as one carnival organizer named a bloco “Geleia da Shakira” / Shakira’s Jam – a nod to the recent news about popular singer Shakira catching her ex cheating by how much jam was left.

Traditional festive costumes at a carnival block party in the city centre of Rio de JaneiroTraditional festive costumes at a carnival block party in the city centre of Rio de Janeiro

Sambadrome Parades

Despite being more of an attraction for tourists, you don’t want to miss the Sambadrome parades that take place across five different nights in the official stadium. This is where the best of the best Samba schools compete against each other in a dazzling spectacle of over-the-top costumes and decadent floats. Unlike the block parties, this is a paid event, with the final champion parade being the most expensive (from around US $114), so you’ll want to get your tickets ahead of time.

Samba school parade Ilha do Governador during the 2016 carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the Sambodromo.Samba school parade Ilha do Governador during the 2016 carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the Sambodromo.

Carnival Balls

If you’re looking for something more exclusive, the Rio Carnival balls are popular events with a guest list of the rich and famous. The most famous balls are considered the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace and the Scala Ball. These over-the-top events come with a theme and dress code and a competition for the most eccentric costume.

The balls are considered a very glamorous and classy event, with tickets ranging from US$600 to US$1200 per person to attend. If you’re not fussed about attending the main balls, you can find some cheaper carnival ball options, which are considered much wilder.

Woman dressed in costume for carnival, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilWoman dressed in costume for carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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