Rio Carnival (or Carnaval in Portuguese) is one of the well known carnivals in the world and is probably the most famous one in Brazil. Thousands of tourists from all around the world flock to Brazil each year for this five day event.
It officially starts on Friday and finishes on Fat Tuesday with the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday after which one is supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures
However, the Carnaval do Brasil (Carnival of Brazil) as a whole is celebrated in various towns and villages throughout the country. If you ask anyone on the street, there are varying opinions as to the best spots to celebrate this annual event – São Paulo and Vitória in the south; Recife, Olinda, Salvador and Porto Seguro in the north.
The event reportedly drew in 1.5 million revellers in 2013 which is the time when we went. It was also the year when A-celebs Will Smith, Kanye West and Megan Fox attended the festivities. But who cares? (starstruck much)
The official Rio Carnival Guide will give you the general things-you-need-to-know-and-pack list, but there are some things you need to know that’s probably not widely written about in official guides (excluding blogs).
1. Book your accommodation months in advance. And share.
We used AirBNB to book accommodation at least 7 months prior. We also shared with another traveller to keep the costs down. We could’ve booked a hostel but we decided we wanted a more ‘private’ accommodation – one that we didn’t have to share with 20 other travellers. There have been reports that hostels try to cram as many people as possible in one room to maximise profit. Some even turn storage rooms into a bed facility, and still charging travellers premium.
2. You don’t have to purchase your Sambodrome tickets in advance.
I wish someone had told us this when we were planning our trip. You can actually purchase tickets at designated ticket offices in Rio – but tickets sell out fast. However, if there’s a particular samba school you want to see and you don’t want to risk missing out, then by all means, purchase your tickets in advance. I’ve been told that if you have a friend residing in Brazil, get them to purchase the tickets for you.
3. Keep cash minimal
Don’t carry too much cash with you. With thousands of revellers in Rio de Janeiro alone, you could find yourself pick pocketed at some point. Either that or you will lose it in the midst of all the chaos.
4. Accept the fact that you will be shoved and possibly groped
Speaking of chaos, you will be shoved and stepped on wherever you go. Get used to it. You might even find yourself groped particularly during the blocos (street parties) and when lining up to catch the metro.
5. Wear comfortable, closed toe shoes
No one and I mean no one looks fashionable on the streets of Rio during Carnival season. So no one will care if you’re wearing your latest Guccis. Almost everyone is decked out in beachwear – bikinis, budgie smugglers (that’s briefs to my non-Australian readers), shorts, Brazilian thong (not the Havaianas kind).
6. You will wake up to the smell of urine and vomit
I’m not even exaggerating about this one. And most certainly will not elaborate on this point either.
7. Attend at least one bloco
Blocos or street/block parties are held all over Rio. It is definitely an experience. This bloco guide will help you locate your nearest block event, as it tells you when and where and the expected number of revellers attending. We went to one with apparently 1 million partygoers. We were so hungover from the night before, but we wanted to experience it anyway.
8. Get ready to pay top dollar for everything
Brazil in general is expensive enough (compared to its South American neighbours), but expect to pay even more during Carnival season. If or when possible, go to the local supermarket (Zona Sul is one of the main ones) and grab yourself some groceries to take back to your accommodation. Get fancy with your ingredients. And if you do decide to eat out, stay away from the main streets. Common sense of travelling really.
9. BYO alcohol
This is probably the one place, the one time where you don’t get questioned. On anything. You can “smoke” and drink on the streets. Again, purchase your beverage from the local supermarket as it’s cheaper. But remember, responsible drinking people!
10. The calm after the Carnival storm
And as if by some form of cleaning magic, Rio will be back to its normal, pristine itself after the five day celebration. All the revellers will also magically disappear. And the streets of Rio will once again be safe for you to roam. So fear not – you will get to enjoy this glorious city and its beaches peacefully.
As a bonus tip…
11. H20 will be your best friend
February is the peak of the summer season in Brazil so make sure you hydrate. Try to fill up your water bottle from your hostel/hotel/apartment as once again, bought water is quite expensive.
Have you experienced Rio Carnival?
Share your story below.
Rio Carnival 2015: 13 February – 18 February