Rio Carnival Is Rio De Janeiro’s Biggest Celebration.

Rio Carnival is considered the largest in the world, with an estimated two million people taking to the streets daily. The festival celebrates Brazilian culture with its vibrant music, dances, and costumery that will leave you mesmerized and wanting more.

The flag bearer in Rio Carnival Parade

THE BIRTH OF CARNIVAL

Carnival Tradition arrived from Portugal

Carnival tradition arrived in Brazil through Portuguese settlers, who introduced “Entrudo,” the name designated for their annual celebration. In the earliest years, people would run through the streets throwing food and buckets of water at each other, and the nights would often end in large street brawls.

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In the 17th century, Carnival became a formal, organized parade that was an exclusive affair catered to royalty, aristocrats, and other affluent people. They soon introduced masquerade balls and the Waltz as part of their festivities.

It briefly shifted to military parades before 1917, when Samba emerged and transformed Carnival into a more inclusive experience.

Rio Carnival is a celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture.

One of the most important contributions of Afro-Brazilians to Rio Carnival is Samba music. During the 19th century, the rhythmic steps of samba spread through urban centers like Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, which have become known as the birthplace of samba music.

Wall mural of a lady and gentleman in elaborate dress, located in Saude, Rio de Janeiro

In its infancy, the dance form was banned because it was considered “rudimentary.” Samba parties were held in the privacy of one’s home to prevent harassment from the police.

Around 1920, the song “Pelo Teléfono” by Donga became the first big Samba hit on the radio. Samba subsequently exploded in popularity and quickly became the symbol of Brazil’s newfound embrace of Afro-Brazilian culture. 

Several years later, the samba parade became the most popular annual parade and has since grown to become THE Rio Carnival Parade that everyone knows and loves.

Today, Rio Carnival has become the biggest one in the world.

The Rio Carnival Parade takes place in the Sambadrome, a stadium located in the Centro neighborhood.

Empty Sambadrome stadium in Rio de Janeiro

The main event spans four days and consists of Samba schools competing for the best overall presentation of their dancers, singers, musicians, floats, costumes, energy, and level of cohesion. Most Samba Schools are based in favelas and have allowed poorer, working-class Brazilians to unite and show pride in their communities.

Rio Carnival is celebrated in 2 major ways:

Rio Carnival Parades

There are a total of 5 nights of parades that take place around Lent. The four main days comprise of Samba schools competing for a monetary prize and glory. Two nights are dedicated each to the lower-tier samba schools and reputable samba schools. The final night hosts the top six finalists for an encore. Most visitors will want to book at least one night while in Rio for Carnival

Dancers in Rio Carnival Parade

Blocos (Street Parties) Everywhere

Hundreds of Blocos occur in the streets all over Rio de Janeiro. Generally, the Blocos are where you will find the most local participation, as these events are free and open to all.

PLANNING FOR RIO CARNIVAL

Rio Carnival Dates

2024: February 9th – February 17th

2025: February 28th – March 8th

2026: February 13th – February 21st

When To Travel To Rio For Carnival

Rio Carnival celebrations revolve around Blocos (street parties) and the Rio Carnival Parades.

Most travelers plan around the Rio Carnival Parades, which spread over five dates around Lent (see dates above). 

Bloco parties begin after the start of the New Year (another huge celebration in Rio) and continue until the Samba Parades finish. As Carnival approaches, the number of daily Blocos ramps up significantly.

Bottom line: Based on how much time you have, you can choose how early you’d like to begin experiencing Rio Carnival.

Buying Tickets for Rio Carnival Parade

Buying tickets can be tedious, considering the numerous seating options and dates. Here’s a brief rundown:

Performers in elaborate blue costumes in Rio Carnival parade

Here are quick tips for 2024 Rio Carnival Dates

February 9 & 10: Access Group Parades

These dates feature lower-tier samba schools competing to enter the Special Group Parades. Tickets are much cheaper.

February 11 & 12: Special Group Parades

These dates will feature the very best samba schools competing for a large grand prize and national recognition. They will dazzle with elaborate costumes, floats, dancers, and more. Tickets on these dates are the most expensive.

February 17: Champions Parade

The Champions Parade is Saturday after Lent and features the top-ranking samba schools. The competition is over, so this is a more relaxed atmosphere for the performers. Tickets are mid-range.

Sambadrome Seating Options

The parades take place in the Sambadrome, located in Centro. The Sambadrome is organized into different sectors. The centrally located sectors have the best views of the parade and will cost the most.

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Grandstands (or Arquibancadas)

The Grandstands are the most affordable seats. You are towards the back of the runway in elevated seats, which gives you a great aerial view and a greater appreciation of the cohesiveness of a school’s performance.

Grandstand seats are unassigned, except for Sector 9, which is dedicated to tourists. In Sector 9, other travelers and multilingual guides will be available to assist you.

Keep in mind that concrete seats are uncomfortable and not suitable for sitting for long periods. Also, Sectors 12 and 13 will be the cheapest tickets, but the views are partially obstructed.

Front Boxes (or Open Boxes, Frisas)

Front Boxes sit closest to the runway in front of the Grandstands. The Front Boxes are lettered from A to D and hold up to six people in numbered chairs. The boxes are laddered, giving each one an unobstructed view.

Covered Box

These are located in Sector 7 and operate like Front Box D, except the space is covered, protecting you against rain. This Box is great for large groups of friends and family, as it accommodates 12 people instead the 6-person limit of a Front Box.

Allocated Chairs (or Cadeiras Indiviuais)

A limited number of Allocated Chairs are located at the front of Sector 12 on the ground level. These comfortable Chairs are more affordable and ideal for those who foresee sitting for long periods.

Camarotes (VIP Experiences, such as Folia Tropical/Super Folia)

Several VIP or camarote experiences exist, but the most popular ones are Folia Tropical and Super Folia.

Folia Tropical is located in Sector 6 and has an interior space that includes a buffet, massage services, a dancefloor, and a stage for musical guest appearances between performances. They have two-tiered viewing spaces – one on the ground floor to get close to the performers and another on the second floor for an aerial view. They cater to up to 1,000 people each night.

Super Folia is an ultra-VIP experience. They host up to 150 guests. Those guests will have access to the amenities of the Folia Tropical but also have their own dedicated viewing spaces that are significantly less crowded.

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Where To Buy Tickets

There are many different ticketing options to choose from. You can choose popular sites that provide a great overview of the parades:

Carnival Bookers and Rio Carnaval

You can also book a package through familiar websites like TripAdvisor. Check out the following options:

Prefer Joining the Rio Carnival Parade?

If watching the Samba Parade is not enough for you, feel free to participate! There are endless opportunities to join any of the Samba Schools on their big night.

It’s as easy as paying a fee (it ain’t cheap!) and purchasing a costume. To join, your best option is to reach out to the individual schools through their website contact forms. Some of the notable schools include:

EXPERIENCING RIO CARNIVAL

Blocos (Street Parties)

Equally important as the Carnival Parades are the 400 or more Blocos held throughout Rio in the weeks leading up to the formal parade.

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These have been around since the start of Carnival and were used to display neighborhood pride and Eurocentric dance that was popular then. Once Cariocas embraced Samba, its rhythm, drums, and dance quickly spread and weaved into the spirit of the bloco.

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Today, Blocos are themed street parties that comprise of Bandas​, or large group of musicians. A hired truck holds the booming sound systems and accompanying singers. The theme will dictate the type of music or entertainment offered and the funny, cute, sexy costumes attendees will wear.

There will be various sites and Instagram pages that will update you on the latest confirmed Blocos.

Prepare for the Fun Helpful Bloco Resources

Take your pick in Blocos and show up. These parties are open to all, so there is nothing you have to pay or sign up for.

Be prepared for crowds. Bloco attendance is highly variable, depending on theme and reputation. Popular Blocos can have attendance as high as 400,000 people (maybe even more)! Some smaller Blocos will entertain a few thousand people.

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Get there early for the best experience. If you arrive early, you will have the best views and are less likely to have to wrestle with the vast crowd.

There are abundant food and drink vendors at every Bloco. No need to plan for meals prior to getting there. 

Take your pick in Blocos and show up. To keep your travel bag light, you can stop by any of these vendors for masks, glitter, wings, and more.

Notable Blocos

Amigos da Onça (Friends of Jaguar)

This newer Bloco, based in Flamengo, was created in 2016 and now hosts over 10,000 people. Every year the performers use humor to recount the story of Jesuits and their persecution of the Jaguar, an animal that often symbolized pre-Christian custom and tradition. It is a decolonial retelling using humor to celebrate sexual and gender diversity and bodily autonomy.

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Banda de Ipanema

Banda de Ipanema is one of the largest Blocos and is popular among gay partygoers (although not exclusive). They host up to three events during Carnival. Love a good drag scene? While you will see plenty of that at every Bloco, this one will undoubtedly have the highest concentration.

Batuquebato

Batuequebato is a percussionist-focused Bloco. It is stationary, so you can focus on getting there early and claiming a good spot with the best views.

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Monobloco

When not hosting a Bloco during Carnival, Monobloco performers also work as a professional touring band, covering popular Brazilian songs outside the Samba genre. This Bloco is a popular one among younger crowds.

Carmelitas

This Bloco based in Santa Theresa is named after a convent within the region. Many revelers dress as nuns as they dance to music with cultural and political relevance.

Laranjada

This Bloco is named after a Brazilian orange soda. It is a percussionist-focused Bloco, heavy with various drums and tambourines. They march along the main road in Laranjeiras among a crowd of 3,000 or more people.

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Rio Carnival Parade Night

Headed to the Sambadrome for the parade? Have a great time! Here are things to keep in mind:

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How To Get To Sambadrome?

There are limitless options here:

Consider the train if you prefer public transportation, as this is also considered the safest option. Ubers and Taxis offer reasonable rates and will quickly get you there from the central Rio de Janeiro areas.

Parade Night Schedule

Prepare for a late night/early morning. The parade begin at 10:00pm and will feature six Samba Schools that each have 75 minutes of performance. 

This means the last School will finish at around 6:00am! You will be rewarded with a spectacular show.

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What Do People Wear to Rio Carnival Parade?

For the most part, you can wear whatever you want. Most people dress casually for the Parade and save their fun outfits for Blocos.

The exception will be certain camarotes like Folia Tropical, which require a designated t-shirt. If you’re unhappy about being relegated to “uniform,” drop by a tailor to customize your shirt to your liking, as the most advanced Carnivalgoers do.

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Food & Drinks at Rio Carnival Parade

You do not have to bring food or eat beforehand. There will be PLENTY of vendors at the sambadrome.

Vendors will also walk up the aisles offering small snacks and drinks.

Restrooms at Rio Carnival Parade

Bathroom porta potties are plentiful and conveniently located, so you likely won’t wait too long to tinkle. Most VIP areas will have their own bathrooms.

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OTHER FUN RIO CARNIVAL ACTIVITIES

There are so many other fun things to do outside of Carnival, including ones that take a deeper dive into its Afro-Brazilian routes. 

For Fun Things to Do and Layover Ideas

Here’s Some Blog Post Inspiration

Take the Little Africa Walking Tour

Take an insightful walking tour through Saude, a neighborhood that once a port of call for millions of enslaved people arriving in Brazil and now is considered the birthplace of Samba. Check out a few available tour options:

Enjoy Nightlife by Pedra do Sal

This sloping salt stone in the Saúde neighborhood carries lots of historical significance as a meeting point when the area was once a Quilombo community (a self-sustained community comprised of the descendants of escaped enslaved people). It is where many of its locals performed Samba before it spread throughout Rio de Janeiro.

Today it is a popular nightlife destination Mondays and Fridays. People pack into this area to dance the night away with sleek Samba moves.

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Take a Samba Class

What better place to take a Samba class than in Rio de Janeiro? The “basic step” is quite complicated to master, especially at the speed of most Samba performers. Still, it’s a great cultural experience and a fun hour workout.

Some classes are bundled with an outing to a professional Samba performance or a night out at a Samba club to show off your new dance moves.

NOTABLE CARNIVAL CELEBRATIONS IN BRAZIL

São Paolo

Sao Paolo’s Carnival is less well known than Rio’s but is a similarly incredible experience with excellent Samba Schools to admire.

Florianopolis

Florianopolis has its main parade and a thriving LGBTQAI+ scene that flocks to this city for the equally famous Pop Gay Pride Festival. They host one of the grandest beauty contests with drag queen and transgender contestants.

Salvador

Salvador’s Carnival focuses mainly on large Blocos that draw in thousands of people worldwide. There is no main parade to attend. Afro-Reggae and Axė are the predominant musical genres in a carnival with strong African influence and pride.

Rio Carnival 2024: The Complete Guide For A Memorable Experience

Malcolm
Writer & Blogger

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