The world’s largest party takes place in Rio, topping 4.7 million people spread over the city for 6 consecutive days.
What is Carnival?
Carnival is an exuberant celebration of the carnal sins, as its Latin name suggests (carni=meat, val=galore). This originally developed in response to the Catholic church’s rule of demanding celibacy for 40 days before Lent. What’s the natural thing to do when you know you are going to starve? That’s right, to stuff yourself! Carnival started in Florence, Italy and was soon picked up by the Portuguese living in Brazil centuries ago.
The Florentine feasts involved masks to keep party goers’ identity and reputation intact. The feather costumes were influenced by the Brazilian natives and the drums by the African slaves. Mix it all up, never stop and you get a 200 year tradition involving an assault on all the senses for the 5 days before Ash Wednesday.
The Samba Schools
Despite the name, they are not traditional schools, but large membership clubs of musicians, costume designers, dancers and coordinators who spend 11 months of the year planning what show their school is going to put on during the next Samba championship.
They get a theme to work on in April, start developing ideas in May, choose the songs in August and make the costumes in September. They rehearse till the end of January and present their parade in the Sambodromo during the weekend of Carnival, hoping to amaze the 4 judges in each of the 10 categories. The categories involve best lyrics, best drums, best costumes, best floats, best dancing, best melodies etc. Similar to the Oscars.
On Ash Wednesday the voting is tallied and a winner is announced.
The top five schools then perform their parade again in the “champion’s parade” the following Saturday. Since the schools have already won, this parade is more casual and non-members can buy a costume and join in.
Parading with a samba school during carnival becomes one of life’s most unforgettable experiences, so if you can get hold of a costume, by all means take it or buy one if you can afford it.
Prices for ground level costumes range from R$500 to R$1200 depending on the school, whereas the float costumes can go for R$5000 and you have to look super-model hot and know how to samba to be considered for possible inclusion. As far as getting an amazing experience for a decent price, the R$500 costumes will do. Once you get the costume, you’ll be assigned a sector from that samba school. The 4000 costumed members wait for an hour before parading through the Sambodromo, a mile long stadium designed for this competition. Since you are instructed by the sector leader to just “jump around and have fun”, The 80 minute parade goes by quickly, as opposed to the lifetime lasting memories.
Should you not want to parade, but just watch the show, you have two options: the bleachers or the sky boxes.
This is where the masses go, despite the R$300 to R$900 price tag on the tickets. Being a first-timer, you probably won’t have the Brazilians’ patience to arrive early and wait all day to grab the good seats. Beer is sold by beer-cooler yielding guys, so you don’t have to move around the packed stadium too much. You can get tickets through your receptionist and if prices permit, opt for the 3, 5 or 7th sector, as these offer full views of the parade. The 1st sector is too close to the start to get a good view and the 9th is receded, offering only a partial view of the show.
The Sky boxes
The sky boxes are usually bought out by large corporations to schmooze clients. Tickets can range from R$2000 to R$4000 for each day of the show. The views are closer than from the bleachers and the food and drinks more bountiful.
What to do day and night:
Street Block Parties:
Rio is sprinkled with 800 big street carnival parties, where bands will play old-time favorites. Ask you concierge for the schedule and locations.
Beach: Ipanema and Copacabana will be packed and this is always the option before you start drinking.
Carnival Balls: Usually expensive, yet well organized costume parties held in hotels or big clubs. The advantage being the controlled environment (no street kids or drunken beligerance).
Samba School Parade at the Sambodromo: As mentioned above, get tickets and watch at least one night of the event.
For tickets and costumes Rio Charm Travel Services Ltda. Contact: Bryan Rio +55 21 98894-9857 [email protected] Contact for prices on samba parade tickets, samba costumes, sky box tickets or NYE parties.