Taking place 40 days before Easter, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the largest festival in Brazil. This celebration takes to the streets, bars and everything in between all but consuming the city of Rio de Janeiro for five consecutive days before finishing in the penultimate tribute to samba in the parade of champions.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is made up in two parts involving the Sambadromo and the streets. The Sambadromo is the official stage for the parades that feature the top samba schools in all of Brazil. They compete with elaborate floats, custom music and dance routines for the top spot in the country throughout the week.
Blocos de Carnaval, the Carnival Blocks, is the informal celebration that takes place in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Street bands perform while large crowds gather to dance and feel the rhythm of the samba. The blocos take place all over the city, typically starting around 8am each day and for the entire five-day duration of carnival.
Your first Carnival experience can be both fun and intimidating but you are guaranteed to have fun if you follow these tips to get the most out of the celebration:
**** 1. Dress for the occasion
Carnival is a total party and you don’t want to show up without looking fabulous. This doesn’t mean cocktail dresses: Brazilians are all about Carnival costumes and pizazz. It is not uncommon to see swimsuit-clad people covered in glitter, sequins, feathers, masks and flowers.
Of course, the level of participation is up to you, but you want to be comfortable. You will be hot and sweaty, so keep that in mind when choosing what to wear. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes (we recommend closed-toed shoes, like sneakers).
It is super easy to find costume accessories once you are in Rio de Janeiro. Many shops will have displays with beads, masks, hats and more to help you celebrate. This is helpful if you want to spice up something you already have with you but also gives you an opportunity to find a whole new outfit if you prefer.
**** 2. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to samba
Samba is the soul of Brazil and there is better way to experience it than at Carnival. You’ll be mingling with hundreds, if not thousands of locals that will be thrilled to teach you a few moves.
It can be intimidating to see all of the locals busting a move around you, they seriously all look like professional dancers, but just focus on having a good time. Nobody will be judging you, instead they will be thrilled that you are willing to learn.
**** 3. Look after your stuff
As with any festival around the world that takes place in a crowded environment, petty theft is something to be aware of. A few precautionary measures will ensure you have a great time and don’t find yourself back in your hotel with less than you left with. As a rule of thumb, take as few things as possible when you go out to celebrate Carnival. All you need is money, a copy of your passport, an emergency contact number and your hotel address (I recommend grabbing a business card from the front desk).
You could also bring your phone or a small camera but keep in mind that your phone could easily be grabbed from your hand or pocket in a crowd.
Keep all of the items you bring out with you close to your body — money belts work great for this. Do not leave items in an open pocket or purse.
**** 4. Stay healthy
Think of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as a marathon that lasts for five days. The days start early and last into the hottest part of the day and trust me, it is sweltering hot in Brazil around Carnival time.
The last thing you want is to end up overtired, sick, or dehydrated. Follow these tips to keep yourself feeling great and enjoying the party.
Drink a lot of water while you’re enjoying Carnival. It is very easy to get caught up in drinking Caipirinha’s and forget about water. With the heat, you should be consuming a minimum of two litres of water each day and more if you are also drinking alcohol. Not drinking enough water can not only lead to a massive hangover but also dehydration.
Take it easy on the Caipirinhas. The national drink of Brazil, it is an alcoholic concoction of cachaça with sugar and lime. The sweet drink goes down easy but hits hard, so drink slowly and alternate with water.
Remember to eat at regular meal times and try not to eat too much greasy junk food. You’re going to be on your feet, dancing and walking around. You’re going to be burning calories and getting a lot of exercise, so you’ll need fuel. Make time for food breaks and be sure to enjoy the fresh fruit, juices and acai.
Don’t forget about the sun. Bring your sunglasses out with you, wear a hat and put on sunscreen. Not only will the sun aid in dehydration but will also give you an intense burn. It is hot in Brazil and the sun is strong.
**** 5. Go with other travellers
Part of the fun is being able to enjoy Carnival with a group of like-minded people. There is always safety in numbers, but it comes down to the pure enjoyment of sharing your experiences and connecting with people in your travels.
Going with other travellers that speak the same language as you can elevate the overall experience. You’ll have someone to dance with, sing with, walk with and watch your back. Most importantly, someone to reminisce with after your travels.