Celebrating Carnival in Rio

Carnival, like (the real) Oktoberfest, is one of those things that everyone should check off their bucket list and attend at least once in their life, if possible.

I just finished celebrating my first Carnival in Brazil. This is what it was like, in a nutshell…

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Me and some friends at the Flamengo bloco

I did not watch the actual Carnaval competition/parade, but I went to a bunch of the blocos (which are basically street parties) – each bloco starts at a certain time (most start in the morning or early afternoon).  Some blocos actually start a few weeks before Carnaval officially starts.  In Rio, Carnaval is much more of a daytime celebration (whereas, in other parts of Brazil, the real fun happens more at night).

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Flamengo bloco madness
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Ipanema bloco
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Leblon bloco

At each bloco, there is a street band/group that performs on a big moving truck, playing music, singing and dancing.  The streets are packed with people and various stands set up selling beer and Smirnoff Ice (for the most part, these were the only two choices!). It resembled something like this…

Another thing about Carnaval is that everyone dresses up.  So for five days, people dress up in ridiculous costumes – well the guys do, anyway.  Most of the guys dress up as women.  Meanwhile, the girls I noticed were not nearly as creative in their costume choices, for whatever reason.

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My friend and I dressed up in typical Carnival costumes
This guy dressed up in a wedding gown
This guy dressed up in a wedding gown

Being able to dress up was one of my favorite parts -it’s like five days of Halloween! Amazing.

Another reason that I loved Carnaval was because there was just so much happiness,  energy, smiles and fun all around.  To me, Carnaval seemed to epitomize Brazil in a lot of ways.  The energy is just contagious! I have never experienced anything like it.

This video does a better job at depicting it…

Even riding on the busses was total madness.  People singing, drinking, making major ruckus.  Like this…

Carnival is known around Brazil for being the time of year when everyone kisses everyone. It’s not uncommon for one to break up with one’s significant other right before Carnival starts, just to aproveitar Carnival and make out with as many people as possible.  This means that females should be prepared for some grabby men.

If you are planning on making it to Carnival anytime in the near future, here are a few tips for a successful one:

  1. If you want to attend the most famous Carnival in Brasil, head to Salvador, Bahia.  I had a ton of fun at Rio Carnival, but there are a lot of other places to celebrate: Ouro Preto (especially if you in your early 20s), Florianopolis, Recife/Olinda..
  2. If you are celebrating Carnival in Rio, don’t just go to Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon – also check out the scene at the less touristy, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Flamengo.
  3. If you want to avoid crowds of people and sit back and relax, get tickets to watch samba schools compete in the Sambadrome.  You can buy tickets in advance or show up and buy them from a scalper.  Or if you prefer to participate in all of the action (and fun), head to the blocos.
  4. If you do attend the blocos…wear sunscreen!!! Hours outside in the strong Brazilian sun (even if it’s cloudy out) will be disastrous if you aren’t wearing sunscreen (at least for fair-skinned folks like me)
  5. And plan to wear some crazy costumes. Get creative!
  6. Download the Blocos app from O Globo and you can see where all of the different blocos are taking place, the times, etc.
  7. Be super careful with your belongings and don’t let them out of your sight.  With so many crowds of people, something is bound to get stolen if you don’t watch your things like a hawk.  Petty theft (and robberies) are especially common in big cities like Rio and São Paulo (or Sampa, as Brazilians call it).
  8. If you are in Rio and looking for a typical, relatively inexpensive Carnival costume, head to Centro.
  9. If possible, be single! And get your kissing game on.
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