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Your Rio Carnival Survival Guide

Imagine 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.

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.

Passista da Portela

Carnivaaaaaal! | Image by Leandro's World Tour

The ultimate guide to surviving the Rio Carnival

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 this Carnival package, 5 nights accommodation is included.

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.

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 Section 11 of 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!

Book ahead to make sure you get views like this in the Sambadrome

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.

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.

Chow down

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.

Dress up

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

Hang around

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.

Fancy heading to Rio and getting involved in all the action? Of course you do! Just give us a call or come and see us, and we’ll sort you out with everything you could possibly need, and more. If you’ve been to Carnival, drop your own tips and stories in the comments box below, so drop ‘em in there!
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Showing 3 Comments

  1. bob

    Some good advice but some i’d disagee with – a few years since I went, so things might have changed, but personally thought Sambadrome was a bit of a disappointment – our mistake was buying the expensive tickets. if you don’t want to be stuck with a load of tourists- if you want to go for the real brazilian atmosphere you may need to go for the more economical tickets. We were surrounded by american tourists who just weren’t that into it, other than watching it like a theatre production – no atmosphere at all. The winners parade just after the main carnival is probably the best one to go for, unless you are a real carnival officionado – if you just want to party like a brazilian – go for the winners.

    Don’t pay full price for the tickets to the sambadrome either – we paid nearly half price on the night.

    The blocos were the best – make friends with some brazilians and they can guide you to the best ones… need to get out of tourist areas to see the best parties – but obviously you need to take care..

    1960 days ago
    • Thanks for the feedback, Bob! We reckon the winners parade is a great event to go for, too – lots of locals, and a great atmosphere.

      1960 days ago
  2. Laura Alfonsin

    I have to agree with Bob. I had the change to go twice and I enjoyed much more while going to non touristic places…however, it’s quite normal for a regular tourist to go the Sambodromo…it was fun anyway!
    Great pics btw :)

    1948 days ago