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.
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.
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:
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..
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.
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.
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!)
And plan to wear some crazy costumes. Get creative!
Download the Blocos app from O Globo and you can see where and when all of the different blocos are taking place.
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.
If you are in Rio and looking for a typical, relatively inexpensive Carnival costume, head to Centro.
If possible, be single! And get your kissing game on!
A few weeks ago, I went to Florianópolis (aka Floripa), located in the Southern state of Brazil, Santa Catarina. I went with my friend Mallory, who is currently taking a six-week trip around South America.
Before visiting, I had heard from many people how incredible Florianópolis was. But I still didn’t expect to totally fall in love with the place like I did.
The never-ending beaches and turquoise waters set against a backdrop of verdant mountains and bright blue sky…the scenery was out of this world. But that was only part of what made Floripa so amazing.
The neighborhood where we stayed, Barra da Lagoa, was a fisherman’s village–an incredibly laid-back, beach community that looked a little something like this…
The neighborhood was home to a multitude of dive and bikini shops; restaurants; and a few surf schools. And here I thought that Rio was a relaxed city!
Another plus: Floripa is one of the most developed and safest cities in Brazil. So you can actually walk around with your phone out and not worry about being robbed.
To get to our hostel, we crossed a little bridge from the main town in Barra da Lagoa that took us to a dirt path…
We then climbed up the path and our hostel was at the top of the hill, overlooking a magnificent little beach.
This was the view from our room/balcony (which, to add to the easygoing vibe, even had a hammock):
So, that is what I woke up to each morning. And this was the view from the patio of the hostel (I swear I’m not being paid to promote this place!):
You can see why it was hard to leave.
The first day, we went down to this little (semi-private) beach and ordered caipirinhas (only R$6 or like $2.5 USD per caipi!! Far cheaper than I have ever found on any Rio beach! Not to mention delicious–and quite strong!).
It felt like paradise.
Okay, done with the photoshoot!
For being as secluded as it was, this beach was actually pretty popular, and at night, it turned into quite the party. So if you didn’t feel like making the trek out to the bars and clubs, you could just hang out on the beach.
While this little beach was my favorite, the main beach (across the bridge) had the best waves…it wasn’t too bad on the eyes either:
As if just soaking in all of this beauty and sunshine wasn’t enough, on top of that, our options for outdoor activities were endless (plus, our awesome hostel provided free equipment for snorkeling, surfing and a few other water sports).
Attempting to Surf
Surfing is probably one of the most popular sports in Floripa, since it’s got some of the best waves in Brazil. So we decided to give it a whirl!
Even though I barely rode any waves on my own, I found it incredibly peaceful just being out there on the water, lying on the board and letting the waves crash down over me. And then there’s that exhilarating feeling of when you finally catch that onda (wave) and ride it to the shore.
I also really enjoyed surfing because it was very social. During my surfing attempts, one random guy (who wasn’t surfing, but apparently knew how to surf) approached me in the water and started giving me some tips. I’ve heard that the surf culture can be quite cut-throat and competitive (when it comes to waves, at least), but here, I found it to be just the opposite. Everyone on the water was eager to help one another.
In addition to the abundance of water sports available, Floripa also boasts a variety of great hiking trails.
And then there’s Ilha do Campeche, an island off the coast, where the water is an even clearer blue and the sands are even whiter…this is what it looks like…
Want to go? Head to Campeche beach and ask for the boat (barco) to Ilha do Campeche. The boat ride takes about 10 minutes and is 100 reais round trip I believe (as of 2018).
The island limits the number of people who can go each day, so make sure that you go early (like 9AM or 10AM); otherwise, you might be turned away.
Partying it up in Floripa
To top it off, as if Floripa didn’t have enough to offer in the daytime, the nightlife in Florianópolis is known for being off the charts. NY Times even labeled it as the “party destination of the year” in 2009.
So, we had to test out the waters…One night, we went out to Lagoa de Conceiçao, which is probably the most hopping part of the island, with tons of bars, restaurants and shops. The vibe is super laid back and hippyish.
Another night, we went out to a place that just oozed Brasil: a bar, resembling something like a log cabin, that faced some sand dunes. Inside, performers were playing forró music and people were dancing along to the beat (forró style of course).
Side note: Forró is a very specific type of Brazilian music and dance that originated in the northeast of the country.
Although you can’t see any dancing in this video, this is was what the music sounded like…
One thing I love about Brazil: you don’t even have to go to a bar to hear live music. You can literally be anywhere and hear high quality music. Music and dancing runs in peoples’ blood here.
And last but not least…
A few tips for aspiring Floripa-goers:
If you want to stay somewhere super relaxed and low-key, stick to Barra de Lagoa (I promise you won’t be disappointed!). If you want someplace more upscale and posh, head to Jurerê. Jurerê, known for its lavish nightlife, is also a great place to break out those high heels once the sun sets.
Be sure to visit Floripa in the summertime (peak season). I had a friend who visited in the winter and hated it (I would have thought that would be impossible!) because it was freezing cold and super windy (well, “freezing” per Brazilian standards anyway!).
If you are looking for the beach to see and be seen, go to Jururê, a hotspot for beautiful people. For a more secluded beach, check out Praia da Daniela in the north of the island.
Take a walk around Lagoa de Conceição, a charming village located in the center of the city, with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. It is also one of the best places to wind-surf.
If you’re a beginner surfer, go to Barra de Lagoa. Meanwhile, experts will find good waves at Praia Mole and Praia de Joaquina.
Hike to Lagoinha do Leste, a secluded beach that can only be reached by boat or foot. The views will not disappoint, I promise!
Go to the mercado (market) in the center of the city, which has displays of everything from various types of seafood and fruit to cheap trinkets. For all you seafood-lovers out there, it’s the best place in the city to buy fresh fish!
If you are a guy, be sure to pack your sunga (the Brazilian equivalent to the speedo). As for females, the smaller your bikini, the better. Don’t have one? Not to fret. Floripa has no shortage of shops that sell exclusively bikinis – which are much cheaper than you will find the U.S. Whatever you do, do not wear those American “diapers” (as Brazilians refer to them) from back home – unless you want to be made into a laughingstock.
Spend a beach day soaking up some rays and enjoying some caipirinhas on the stunning island, Ilha do Campeche.
Then dance the night away to forró music at Bar Deraiz, in the Dunas de Joaquina.
To most cariocas, the revered beach is much more than just a place to swim and soak up some rays. And if you want to blend in somewhat, there are a few things you should know about this city’s unique beach culture.
Get to know the “postos”
First things first, “postos” are used as a reference point for locating the different beaches; each beach has its own “posto.” So if you are meeting people at the beach, they will often use postos to describe their location.
Perhaps more importantly, all of the beaches (or postos) in Rio have their own characteristics and are frequented by different crowds. As Frommers puts it, “beaches are to Rio what cafes are to Paris.”
While Copacabana may be the most famous beach in Rio, it is certainly not the coolest amongst cariocas or Rio residents. Posto 9 (Ipanema beach) is the place to be and be seen, frequented by a diverse crowd of young people (andon a sunny weekend day, it gets so packed that you can’t even see the sand!). It is also known for attracting all of the beautiful people.
Between Posto 8 and 9 (also Ipanema) is the gay beach, made distinctly obvious by the rainbow flags waving about.
Posto 12, in Leblon, is less packed than Ipanema. Located in the wealthiest neighborhood of Rio, this posto is (also) filled with many beautiful people, along with many families.
Posto 1 (Leme beach) is more low-key and also less crowded than the others. Read more about the different postos here.
Update your swimwear
It is always easy to spot the gringos on the beaches of Rio. How? Simply put, they are the ones that do not show enough skin.
In direct contrast, the Brazilians are the ones flaunting their bodies. It is quite refreshing to see that in Rio, women of all ages and sizes sport the bikini – and often a thong bikini or “fio dental” (also the name for dental floss).
Unlike in the US, where women generally stop wearing a bikini at a certain age, in Brazil, older, overweight women are just as likely to sport a bikini as younger, skinny women are. It is actually extremely unusual for anyone to wear a full-piece to the beach. Fortunately, Brazilian women do not seem to be burdened by the same body hang-ups that Americans are; for the most part, they seem to be comfortable in their own skin and liberated from society’s expectations of the ideal body type. While the end goal is to show as much skin as possible…no one goes topless (or bottomless for that matter).
So if you want to blend in, be sure to stop by one of the many bikini shops in Rio before hitting the beach, if nothing else than to the avoid getting some looks for that “fralda” (or “diaper”, as Brazilians refer to the American bikini).
As for men, most wear the sunga, which is quite similar to the “speedo” bathing suit. Other guys (often surfers) wear regular trunks.
Get your bronze on
Sunbathing is of course a major part of the beach culture in Rio. But don’t hide those tan lines! Because in Brazil, the more tan lines (and the deeper they are), the better.
Hit up the “barracas”
Along the beach sidewalk in Copacabana, there are many restaurants (all of which look the same), where you can sit down or take away food.
On the beach itself, there are numerous small tents (or barracas) throughout, where you can buy drinks and snacks or rent chairs and umbrellas for just 5 reais a day. You pay at the end, so just don’t forget to pay your bill before leaving.
A trip to the beach in Rio is not complete without drinking the delicious agua de coco (coconut water). Another popular drink of choice is matte leao, an iced tea that, on the beach, is served directly from a keg riding on the seller’s back.
Lose the towel – trust me on this one
Less is more in Rio (and I’m not just talking about bikini fabric). You definitely don’t want to bring any valuables to the beach. My ex-roommate (who is English) made the mistake of bringing his iPad to the beach during one of his first weeks in Rio, and had it stolen (he got it back in the end, but not without a fight-another thing which is not recommended!).
Beaches in Rio are also frequented by arrastões, which is a type of crime in which a gang of people surround an area and steal everything in sight. The beach turns into total mayhem.
So…you will never see cariocas at the beach with the hefty beach bags that Americans bring – many people just bring sarongs, also known as kangas, which can be used to sit on. These are sold all along the beach boardwalk. Towels are an absolute no-go – after taking a dip in the ocean, people choose to air-dry instead (trust me – the heat will do that quickly!)
Lose your bikini top in the waves? Not to worry – hard-working men brace the sun’s scorching rays, pacing back and forth along the beaches selling everything from jewelry to bikinis to sarongs.
If you look like a gringo (like myself), you will likely be approached by these eager vendors.
Introverts, be warned: You are unlikely to ever see a Brazilian reading at the beach or listening to music with headphones in. The beach in Rio is meant for socializing…playing sports…bronzing – and drinking coconut water of course…or maybe an ice-cold cerveja.
While the females lounge on rented cadeiras (chairs), in the vain attempt to deepen those covetable tan lines, many men simply stand, hands on hips, and check out the scene (Can you blame them?).
For those who aren’t sitting or people-watching, engaging in sport is a popular pastime (especially for men). Volleyball nets are set up with bronzed men in sunga competing against one another. And surprise, surprise – there is almost always a group of guys kicking a soccer ball around.
For those who prefer more solitary activity, there are exercise stations set up at each posto sidewalk, that even come accompanied by glass-enclosed stretching guides for its users.
In case you can’t already tell, in Rio, it’s pretty much impossible to get bored at the beach. Even just people-watching is entertaining enough. But if you want to get up and stretch your legs, it’s always relaxing to stroll along the boardwalk that runs parallel to the beach…especially on Sundays, when the street is closed off to cars and replaced by bikers, rollerbladers, joggers and the like. There are even a variety of bands set up, all of which are composing mellifluous tunes that rival your Spotify playlist.
Tip: After you’ve had enough of the beach (and hopefully not burnt yourself to a crisp), meander the street between Leblon and Ipanema, one of my favorite places to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Major plus if you can stay and watch the sun set…
In case you aren’t convinced, this is a video I took that perfectly depicts the typical post-beach Sunday afternoon in Rio:
And last but not least…
Learn to bargain like a carioca
Chances are (at least if you have read this article), you will want to buy or rent something on the beach at some point. The only way to not get the gringo price is to speak a bit of Portuguese (and know when you are being ripped off). Use your best judgement – if it sounds unreasonable, it probably is. But note that the beaches in Leblon and Ipanema are going to be more expensive than its neighbors to the east (like Copacabana and Leme).
Here are a few words and phrases that you should know when hitting the beach:
cadeira – chair
guarda- sol – umbrella (for the sun)
kanga – sarong (the Brazilian version of the towel, which also doubles as a cover-up)
fio dental – thong bikini
maté – sweet iced tea
agua de coco bem gelada – ice-cold coconut water
Cuanto custa isso? (bonus points if you can pronounce it with a carioca accent – “quan- toh cush – tah) – how much is this?
Você ta me dando o preço gringo, cara? Are you giving me the gringo price, dude?
Me dá o preço carioca – give me the carioca price
Eu tenho apenas 5 reais – I only have 5 reais
Onde fica o banheiro mais proximo? Where is the closest bathroom?
Many people think of Brazil as being a very dangerous place. While the US is subject to frequent random shootings and acts of terrorism, Brazil’s safety issues are more along the lines of petty crimes and robberies. Both countries are dangerous (and I might even argue just as much so), just in different ways.
Last week, my iPhone got stolen – I was walking through the streets of Lapa at 6AM (after a night out) and a man subtly reached into my purse and grabbed it as he walked past me. My purse was open (yes, I know, not the smartest idea!) — but only because there was so much stuff in it that I couldn’t even close it (not the best excuse, I know)! My iPhone was sitting on the top of my purse and therefore easily accessible. As soon as the sneaky thief took my phone, I noticed and confronted him, yet he played dumb and somehow got away with it – I didn’t think it was worth it to fight him off. It was one of the most infuriating, frustrating experiences and it really makes me so angry that people get away with stuff like that. But the sad reality is that many Brazilians out there have become pickpocketing experts and you must always have your guard up when walking around.
Just a few days before, my iPhone almost got stolen when I was walking down a busy street in Copacabana, using Google Maps on my phone to navigate. Someone came up from behind me and grabbed my phone; luckily I had a fairly firm grip on it, so the person did not succeed in his attempt and simply ran off. But it was definitely an alarming experience.
Both the attempted robbery and the actual robbery were definitely wake-up calls for me. Sure, robberies and theft happen everywhere. But in a developing country like Brazil, there are certain things that you just cannot do and rules that you should abide by in order to not end up a victim.
Don’t flash your belongings
As I found out, walking down the street with a smart phone out is a surefire way to get pickpocketed. I have been advised that if I need to use my iPhone, to step into a shop to use it – to never take it out on the street. But since most people (including myself) use their phones as cameras, this is unrealistic. If you want to take a picture of something, look around you first and snap quickly, tucking your phone away immediately after you use it. Likewise, be careful with other valuables, like DSLR cameras – keep cameras hidden away in bags, not swinging around your neck, as you walk around.
Close your bags and keep them by your chest
Second lesson learned: bags must always remain closed – and held tightly to you, not down by your waist, like mine was. I spoke to another American girl who told me that her cell phone was stolen 2 times the first two months she was here – one time, she was kissing her boyfriend at Carnival and someone unzipped her purse without her knowing….and another time, she was on the bus and someone started talking to her to distract her and then reached into her bag to take her phone. As she said, “they really are professionals here!” You have to remain extra vigilant, since most of the pickpocketers steal from their victims before they are even aware of what’s happening. Keep your guard up and be wary of overly friendly random strangers who approach you.
Even if you are at a restaurant, you should not put your bag down on the seat next to you, which is something that I have always done in the past. Apparently some chairs in restaurants come equipped with belts to which you can attach your bag, making your belongings less accessible to robbers.
Don’t bring out a lot of valuables
This probably goes without saying. This is especially true though if you are going on a hike or to the beach – the hiking trails are often subject to robberies and the beach is frequented by mass robberies (referred to as arrastoes), where a gang of people will come to the beach and try to steal everything in sight.
One of his first weeks in Rio, my roommate made the mistake of bringing his iPad to the beach – next thing he knows, it was stolen – he did end up getting it back, but not without a fight (which is probably something that most people should not attempt…for obvious reasons). If you do bring any valuables to the beach, don’t fall asleep or it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will wake up with less than you came with. And if you go in the water, ask your neighbor to watch your stuff for you. This is common practice in Brazil.
Be careful at ATMs
Need I say more?
Lock your car doors
Thieves often will rob you while you are at a traffic light; the best way to avoid this is to lock all car doors and try not to drive around deserted areas, especially at night.
Be smart with transportation
Walking home at night is not safe and that is another thing that I need to get used to. I don’t like having to rely on cabs or busses to get everywhere, especially if I am within fairly close walking distance to home. But walking home at night is simply not okay here.
While taking a cab is a better option than taking the bus or walking home at night, even that has its risks. I have heard stories of people (mostly females) being raped or nearly killed by their taxi driver. The only safe way to order a cab is to call for one – I’ve been told to never hail one off the street (as tempting as it can be in the wee hours of the morning). If you do, ensure that the taxi is at least licensed (you should see a license sticker in the front window and the company name on the rear of the vehicle).
Don’t take busses after about 11PM – and if you do, make sure you sit towards the front of the bus, as close to the driver as possible (you should probably do this any time of the day).
Stay in the right areas
The Zona Sul, while subject to many petty crimes and robberies, is generally fairly safe, as long as you remain attentive. Or as my mom always told me, “have that antenna up.”
Santa Teresa and Lapa are two of my favorite neighborhoods (the latter especially at night), but can be dangerous – don’t walk around Santa Teresa late at night (when the streets are more deserted).
Centro is perfectly fine during the day, but at night should be avoided.
The favelas get a bad rep, but overall, I found the ones by Zona Sul to be fairly safe (since most of them are pacified). The majority of violence in favelas is actually caused by the corrupt police, not the drug traffikers as one might be led to believe. If you want to check out the favelas (which are home to some of the best views and parties in Rio), I would recommend only going with a local or someone who has been there before and knows his or her way around.
This should go without saying, but it’s a good idea to stay clear of any area that looks deserted, especially at night. And when in doubt, just call a cab.
But don’t let all of this scare you – While my personal experience has made me quite paranoid about being robbed, I otherwise must admit that I do feel pretty safe in Rio. If you keep you guard up and remain vigilant, chances are, you will be fine.
In Rio, the bus is the way that everyone gets around. There is a metro system but there are few lines and it is not very extensive. Each time I have traveled somewhere, I have relied on the bus to get me there.
While there are many bus lines in Rio, the busses often get extremely crowded. And taking the bus can be pretty confusing…
I have to admit that I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by the transportation in Western Europe, where all of the bus stops are equipped with timetables for when the busses will arrive (and they are usually very accurate), the bus stations are all marked (so you know that you are getting on and off at the right stop!) and the busses themselves display all of the stops taken and what the next stop will be.
But in Brazil, things are a little different…
No timetable? No problem
The bus stops in Rio have no timetables, so you have no idea when the bus will be arriving. Sometimes they can be quite frequent and other times, I have heard of people waiting for an hour and a half for the bus to arrive (reminder: we are on carioca/Rio time here!).
Fortunately, there are a lot of busses running and there are often several busses that you can take to get somewhere. But it’s a bit of a gamble, especially if your options are more limited.
Where in the world am I?
None of the bus stations in Rio are marked with the street name or whatever the stop may be called, so unless you know the route, you have no idea if you are getting off at the correct stop (or if you are getting on at the right place).
The only real solution to this is asking the bus driver what the stop is or using Google Maps on your phone.
And where am I going?
Likewise, none of the bus stops or busses themselves display the stops that the bus will take. The bus stations often have boards that display the numbers of the bus lines that stop at the bus stop and the main stops they make–but not all of the stops are shown and it does not say what the exact routes are.
When you get on the bus, there is a ticket person who you have to pay before you can sit down or ride the bus. In Europe and the U.S., you just pay the bus driver directly. Similarly, in elevators, there are people whose sole job is to sit there and press the buttons.
Is it dangerous to ride the bus?
Many people have warned me not to take the bus at night (after say 9:30pm) because theft and other crime is more rampant.
I have heard that armed robberies are not that unusual on the busses…that sometimes, someone will slide next to a passenger and hold a gun to their side, demanding them to hand over their belongings. While there is no way to completely avoid being a victim to this type of thing, you can minimize your risk by:
Limiting the valuables that you bring out
Holding on tightly to your belongings and always keeping your bag closed
Not sitting in a place on the bus that is too isolated
Sitting in front of the bus
Also, try to make sure that the bus you are taking doesn’t ride through the favelas. Because while some favelas (like in the Zona Sul) are relatively safe, others are extremely dangerous and the busses that ride through them can subject its passengers to random gunshots (rare, but it happens).
Bus or rollercoaster?
You know that stereotype about crazy Latino drivers? Well, let’s just say that the bus drivers in Rio definitely live up to that stereotype.
There have been times that I have legitimately feared for my life (no joke). It actually feels like you are riding a rollercoaster sometimes. So prepare yourself!
Bottom line? Riding on the bus in Rio is always an adventure!