Carnival in Rio De Janeiro
Celebrating Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is on just about every “must experience before you die” list we have come across. We thought, spend a week in a beautiful city with warm weather, sandy beaches, music, dancing, singing, drinking, and fun COSTUMES, why not?
Rio de Janeiro’s world famous Carnival festival (dating back to 1723) happens every year before Lent. It is considered the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day attending on the streets.
We arrived in Rio the Thursday before Carnival and rented an apartment through AirBnb in the Leblon neighborhood, two blocks from the beach. The condo was very lovely and spacious with bay views of the Crist the Redeemer statue and after three weeks of travelling from hostel to hostel, it was nice to have a real apartment to call “home”.
The first few days we relaxed on the Leblon beach and explored our neighborhood on foot.
On Saturday, we joined in the festivities with one of the biggest Blocos of Carnival, Banda de Ipanema. Blocos are “street carnivals” where the streets are closed to traffic, allowing bands to play music and crowds of people from all ages gather to listen, dance, drink and celebrate. Often times, the bands are mobile through the streets, while the crowd marches to follow, leaving some very drunk stragglers behind in the chaos. The Banda de Ipanema has been going on for 50 years, attracting 20,000 people to this particular bloco. There was a plethora of street vendors selling grilled meats, deep-fried everything, coolers filled with beer, and even stands making caipirinhas (and by “stands” we almost always mean “shopping karts”). Although we had a great time, we were slightly disappointed because once the band had walked by, there was no music playing anywhere along the beach (not live music, no music). Apparently, we were the only ones pruturbed by the lack of music, because thousands of people happily carried on for hours, drinking everywhere, with no music.
After a lazy Sunday morning, we made our way to Copacabana. It was again very busy with a lot of people hanging out drinking (with no music playing), signaling another bloco finished or had just passed by. We stayed to watch the beautiful sunset over the beach, then made our way to another part of town for the rest of the evening. Taking the subway in search of some more animation, we stopped in Cineapolis. We were very happy to find live music, a stage with bands playing samba music while people dancing around and drank. We saw many brightly colored, elaborate, and fun costumes in the crowd (unlike the “lazy” costumes of tutus and angel wings we saw at the beach blocos).
Eventually, we walked to the Lapa district (known for it’s Samba clubs), which was full of bars and restaurants. There was enough entertainment outside, so we decided to keep to the streets and met some interesting characters from Brazil to pass the time with.
Though it might seem as though all we did in Rio was beach, dance, drink, repeat, we also took in some of the must see tourist sights. One afternoon, we road the tram up Corcovado mountain to see the Crist the Redeemer statue. It was packed full of tourists shoving their selfie-sticks in your face, trying to get the “perfect shot”. The view of the city from the high elevation was breathtaking. Rio de Janeiro might just have the most beautiful skyline of any city, from it’s palm tree lined, white sand beaches, to it’s wonderfully executed modern architecture.
No Carnival experience would be comeplete without going to a spectacular Sambodrome parade. Sambadrome parades are where samba schools perform elebroate dances, including many elaborate floats down the runway. In Rio, there are 200 Samba schools.
At around 9pm, we arrived at the Sambodrome, a huge elongated stadium which hold up to 90000 spectators. Our section was already pack (people arrive up to 4 hours ahead to secure a good seat). We made our way up the stairs and joined the locals and tourists singing and cheering as their favorite Samba school performed on the runway. It was quite a spectacle to see the floats, costumes and dancers going through. So much goes into the preparation of the parade (they plan and practice all year). Each school has about 90 minutes to walk the length of the Sambodrome. Each night, six schools compete. The show start around 9pm (for Brazilian time add 2 hours) and finish very early morning (around 5am). We left around 3am after watching 4 schools perform their year’s work of dancing and entertaining. It was such a great experience. The patrons are allowed to bring food and alcohol, so it turns into a large cookout (minus the grill), with freinds sharing food and drinks with one another. The crowd had people of all ages (we saw babies as well as elderly). Though it is extremely long (and mostly spent standing), We highly recommend anybody going to Rio for Carnival to go to the Sambodrome parade.
Our last day in the city, we met up with Skeeter and Alexis (two American ladies from Boston we met in Ilha Grande). We walked around Copacabana and found the start of a Bloco. We watched people dancing and singing to the sounds of Samba. For sunset we headed to Sugarloaf, the other must do tourist sight in Rio. After a short gondola ride we were at the top. The view of all the city lights were wonderful. A lovely way to spend our last evening in Rio.
We concluded our evening having dinner with Skeeter and Alexis before they headed to the airport and we heading home for the evening.
Rio is a wonderful city (and arguably the most beautiful skyline), the Sambadrone parade was spectacular, and the partying was everything we had been told, and overall we had a blast. Still, we left feeling disappointed. Having attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Jazz Fest both in Montreal and New Orleans, we expected Carnival in Rio to be more heavily influenced by music. In the future, we would definitely spend Carnival in Salvador instead of Rio due to Salvador’s extremely rich music culture with an emphasis of live bands.
We hope you enjoy reading our blog. Please visit our Gallery to see more of our photography from Rio de Janeiro. If you have any questions for us, please comment on the post as we will respond as soon as we have an internet connection:)