Celebrating Carnival in Rio

Brazilian Carnival is one of those special events that everyone should celebrate at least once in their lifetime.

I just finished celebrating my first Carnival in Brazil. While I didn’t watch the actual Carnaval competition/parade, I did participate in the festivities.

In Rio, Carnaval is much more of a daytime celebration (whereas in Florianópolis, for example, the real fun happens more at night).

In Rio, the festivities basically consist of a bunch of blocos (street parties) during the day.  Each bloco starts at a certain time (most start in the morning or early afternoon). And some blocos actually start a few weeks before Carnaval officially starts.

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Flamengo bloco madness
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Ipanema bloco
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Leblon bloco

At each bloco, there is a street band/group that performs on a big moving truck, playing music, singing and dancing. The streets are packed with people and various vendors selling beer and Smirnoff Ice (for the most part, these were the only two choices!). It resembled something like this…

Another thing about Carnaval is that everyone dresses up in ridiculous outfits. Well, the guys do, anyway. Most of the guys dress up as women. But from what I saw at least, the girls don’t seem to be quite as creative in their costume choices.

This guy dressed up in a wedding gown
This guy dressed up in a wedding gown

To me, Carnaval seemed to epitomize Brazil in many ways. The energy and happiness are just contagious. I had never experienced anything like it before.

This video does a better job at depicting it…

Even riding on the busses was total madness, with people singing, drinking, and just raising ruckus. Like this…

Carnival is known around Brazil for being the time of year when everyone kisses everyone. It’s not uncommon for people to break up with their significant others right before Carnival starts, just to aproveitar Carnival and make out with as many people as possible. This means that females should be prepared for some grabby men.

If you’re planning on making it to Carnival anytime in the near future, here are a few tips to make it a successful one:

  1. If you want to attend the most famous Carnival in Brasil, head to Salvador, Bahia.  I had a ton of fun at Rio Carnival, but there are a lot of other places to celebrate, like Ouro Preto (especially if you in your early 20s), Florianópolis, Recife/Olinda..
  2. If you are celebrating Carnival in Rio, don’t just go to Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon – also check out the scene at the less touristy, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Flamengo.
  3. If you want to avoid crowds of people and sit back and relax, get tickets to watch samba schools compete in the Sambadrome. You can buy tickets in advance or show up and buy them from a scalper. Or if you prefer to participate in all of the action (and fun), head to the blocos.
  4. If you do attend the blocos…wear sunscreen!!! Hours outside in the strong Brazilian sun (even if it’s cloudy out) will be disastrous if you aren’t wearing sunscreen (at least for fair-skinned folks like me!)
  5. And plan to wear some crazy costumes. Get creative!
  6. Download the Blocos app from O Globo and you can see where and when all of the different blocos are taking place.
  7. Be super careful with your belongings and don’t let them out of your sight. With so many crowds of people, something is bound to get stolen if you don’t watch your things like a hawk.
  8. If you are in Rio and looking for a typical, relatively inexpensive Carnival costume, head to Centro.
  9. If possible, be single! And get your kissing game on!

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