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Carnival in Rio: an insider’s guide

December 11, 2018

Rio Carnival is held every year during the week leading up to Lent, and is one of the world’s greatest celebrations. It is an exuberant explosion of colour, music and of course, dance.

Carnival is a celebration of what Brazil is all about! And that is a bold, hardworking and passionate nation of diverse people. The festival unifies this multicultural melting pot of European, African and Amerindian descendants. And it is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

When does Carnival take place? 

The official days of the celebration start 40 days prior to Easter, from Saturday to Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday. Therefore, dates for Carnival usually fall in February or March. 

How does it work?

The main drawcard for Rio’s Carnival are the Samba School parades which take place on Sunday and Monday nights. Every school is made up of around 2000 -3000 participants. These participants spend the entire year in preparation for the event! And they are involved in every step of production. That means everything from building the floats to designing and sewing costumes and choreographing the steps.

Throughout the year you can visit select schools to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative process! It’s a fascinating insight into the huge amount of work which goes into each presentation.  

The whole procession is held together by the percussion section made up of 300 to 400 participants.  It is their job to get the crowd involved, keep their dancers energized and keep time for the duration of the parade.

Each school is allocated 90 minutes to pass through the Sambadrome. And if they are late they will lose points! In fact, the schools are judged on a variety of factors. These include costumes, drumming, lyrics, design, theme and overall presentation.

The winning school flaunts their victory the following weekend, in the Champions Parade. 

What do I need to know?

We recommend arriving several days earlier and getting involved in the festivities before you see the parade in the Sambadrome. Why not check out one of the many ‘blocos’ or street parties for a more informal taste of Carnival? Alternatively, we can organise tickets to one of the many VIP events around town, including the famous ball at Copacabana Palace. 

Are you looking for a more hands-on approach? Then let us arrange for you to join in the parade itself! Trust us, this is an experience you will never forget. Moreover, anyone can join the parade! All you need is a costume and a sense of adventure! 

Where else can I experience Carnival?

Although Rio hosts the most famous party, there are many other places for you to experience this fabulous festival. So, why not travel to Bolivia where the indigenous women parade in their layered skirts and bowler hats? Alternatively, Barranquilla in Colombia hosts one of the most colourful displays of folkloric dancing and costumes in South America. Or head to steamy Trinidad and Tobago! Their wild and raucous street party rivals Rio for its intensity!

Talk to one of our Travel Specialists and experience Carnival your way!