Imagine it’s February 2013. You’re in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s buzzing second largest city. The streets are alive with the sounds of samba, the smells of caiprinhas and barbequed meat. Everywhere you look you see vibrant colours, feathers and quite a few sequins.
It can only be the Rio Carnival, the world’s most famous celebration that attracts around 2 million people all ready to party hard on the streets of Rio.
Fancy being one of them? February may seem a while away, but now’s the time to get those flights booked and that plan in place to make sure you have the Carnival of a lifetime.
So check out our guide to surviving the Rio Carnival. It’s full of advice and tantalising tips to help you make the most of every single sequinned-head-dress, street-party-dancing, samba-moves-busting minute.
Carnivaaaaaal! | Image by Leandro's World Tour
The ultimate guide to surviving the Rio Carnival
Don’t risk letting your Carnaval dream turn into a nightmare. Get those flights booked now! Hundreds and thousands of visitors are going to be flocking to Rio for the next carnival, taking place between 9th – 12th February, so it won’t hurt to secure some accommodation too…
Where to stay
Don’t slum it – trust me, you’ll need somewhere vaguely hospitable to rejuvenate after some all night street parties. Take a look at our Brazil Hostel Carnival Package, 5 or 7 nights B&B in one of the most fun hostels around. It’s near Lapa, which is the perfect area to base yourself. It’s right in the middle of all the main Carnival action, so you won’t have to splash out on taxis home after the festivities.
Secure your spot in the Sambadrome
The main spectacular of Carnival takes place in the Sambadrome. Here, Rio’s hottest samba schools strut their stuff in front of a 90,000 strong crowd, each vying to be crowned the winners of the Sambadrome parade. Watching this awesome spectacle on TV just doesn’t do it justice; nothing can describe the atmosphere and exhilaration you get from actually being there.
Book ahead to make sure you get views like this in the Sambadrome
Tickets for the parade on Sunday and Monday are the most popular and can sell out months in advance – so book as soon as you can. Check out our hostel package that includes a ticket into the Sambadrome.
Sections 5 and 7 in the Sambadrome will get you the best views, but if you want a guaranteed seat, go for Section 9 – it’s the only section with allocated seating. Even better, get a seat in Section 13 and you’ll have first dibs on the costumes left behind by the samba dancers.
Don’t want a sore behind? Take a cushion to sit on – those Sambadrome seats are quite hard and won’t be kind to your bottom.
Money, money, money
Cash machines have been known to run dry during Carnival – so get plenty of cash out before you go. Those caipirinhas won’t buy themselves!
Take to the streets
A seat in the Samabadrome is all well and good if you want to watch the Carnival – but what if you want to be a part of the action? Take to the streets, my friend! Chat to other travellers in your hostel and keep your ear to the ground, and you’ll soon find where the hottest blocos (or street parties) are taking place. Lapa and Santa Teresa are known for their great blocos, so are a good place to start.
Blocos are really, really fun. The morning after is not so fun. | Image by Rodrigo_Soldon
Put yourself on parade
If watching the parade isn’t enough for you, then why not take part in it? Seriously! Some of Rio’s samba schools are open to keen travellers willing to arrive early, rehearse for a few weeks, master the moves and don a costume. Oh, and wear it in front of several hundred thousand people, of course.
Keep your energy levels up with a bowl of feijoada – a typical Brazilian dish made with beans and pork. It’s a famous Carnival staple, and it’s really rather tasty.
You can’t go to Carnival and not expect to get involved in some fancy dress action. Don’t let a costume take up precious room in your backpack, though. Head to the Sahara district to buy your costume – you’ll feel like a kid in a toyshop with the array of costumes on offer.
1 caipirinha, 2 caipirinha, 3 caipirinha, 4…
I don’t want to sound like your mum, but go easy on the caipirinhas – it’s likely they’ll be a lot stronger than what you’re used to, and the Brazilians don’t tend to knock them back like we do. Try a caipivodka instead, made with vodka instead of cachaça.
A sunrise finish
After you’ve partied at a bloco into the early hours, finish it all off by watching the sun rise at Copacabana beach. Try not to get the song in your head… oh, it’s too late, isn’t it? Altogether now: at the Copa, Copcabana…
Recover from the night before on Copacabana beach | Image by Rodrigo_Solden
Don’t leave Rio as soon as Carnival ends. If you hang around until the following Saturday, you’ll have the chance to see the winners’ parade at the Sambadrome. Not only is this show guaranteed to show you the best of the best of Rio’s samba, it’s also the parade that most of the locals attend, so you’ll get an authentic Brazilian party experience.
Not had enough?
Carnival is celebrated all over Brazil, and many of them continue the party for weeks afterwards. Check out Salvador, Recife or Olinda for the best pre and post Rio parties.