Carnival is known around the world for its exquisite floats, elaborate costumes, and electrifying samba dances. But however magical, it may be a bit intimidating for first-time visitors looking to attend the world’s largest street and dance party. Our survival guide to will ensure you’re up-to-date for everything you need to know to attend Carnival in Rio.
Designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer, the Sambadrome is a massive exhibition stadium where Samba school parades and competitions are held. The center of the Carnival experience, expect to pay between $60 and $100 for a ticket. (Sections ten and eleven are said to be some of the best value). Standing room only is available for a cheaper price, but keep in mind that you’ll be on your feet all night long so even a little bit of comfort goes a long way.
Carnival runs from Friday to Wednesday. Sunday and Monday are typically the best days to go, as this is when the premier schools are competing. The parades begin each night around 8 p.m. and run until 6 a.m. For some, a few hours at the Sambadrome is sufficient to get a feel for the madness; for others, all night isn’t even enough!
If you’re traveling on a budget but still want to experience the pulsating rhythms and lively energy in the Sambadrome, consider purchasing tickets to the winner’s parade. Held on the Saturday following Carnival, there is no competition, but you’ll still see top-notch dancing and mind-blowing decor.
The Street Parties
The Sambadrome may be where the quintessential Carnival parade takes place, but there is still tons to experience on the streets and in the squares around the city. In fact, the street parties are often considered “the soul” of carnival, and often where you’ll find most of the locals celebrating. Each bloco, or individual street party, boasts its own samba band and music. A few of the most popular include the Banda de Ipanema and the Monobloco, but you’ll find plenty popping up throughout Rio on a whim.
The Carnival Balls
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to experience a masquerade. A tribute to the European origins of Carnival, the balls are fun, formal events, many of which require elegant costumes to attend. The Copacabana Palace Hotel is not only one of Rio’s most luxurious hotels; it’s also the host of one of the most stunning masquerades in the city.
Extra Survival Tips
Book your hotels and tickets well in advance. Carnival is one of the most famous events in the world, and as such, availability can book up quickly.
As always when traveling in Rio, exercise caution when out at night. The Metro runs 24 hours a day during Carnival and is considered a safe and clean way to get around. Carnival is one of the best parties in the world; however, be careful not to enjoy in excess and stay aware of your surroundings. Note that you could end up with a hefty fine if a police officer catches you popping a squat in the street. It’s best to wait in the long lines for a public restroom or fork out a few dollars to hop into a restaurant’s bathroom.
Other than that, remember to have fun! Carnival is truly the dance party of a lifetime.