With the World Cup and Summer Olympics being held in Rio de Janeiro, the pearl of Brazil has had the world’s eyes envying its beautiful cityscape over the last few years. However, the big party, the one that the whole world wishes they had an invitation to is annual, and it puts those once every four-year events to shame.
Spread over five days, the Marvelous City hosts a Carnival attended by over 2 million people, 200 Samba schools and has around $250m spent on costumes. There’s a reason why they call it the greatest party on earth and in this article we’re going to explain why this once-in-a-lifetime adventure needs to be on your BUCKiTDREAM list.
What You Can’t Miss on Your Rio Carnival Trip
Take in Some Sun and People-Watch at Copacabana Beach Carnival is an intense party that’s worth a thousand hangovers, so it’s important to know where to relax in between your samba sessions. Copacabana beach is widely considered to be one of the world’s coolest beach destinations, and the beautiful locals ensure it’s a trip you won’t soon forget. Whether you want to soak in the sun with a fruity cocktail, take part in some super-fun beach soccer “beasal”, or dive into a wide array of watersports, Copacabana beach has something for everyone.
Get the Pre-Party Started by Watching the Samba School Preparations The biggest Samba schools have a hangar where they rehearse almost year-round to prepare for Carnival. You can find all the action in the Cidade do Samba (Samba City) and it’s your best chance to get up close and personal to the amazing preparations that go into preparing for this outstanding party.
It Would a Sin Not to Stop By and See Christ the Redeemer It’s one of the most iconic landmarks in the world and the view from the top is simply astounding. You couldn’t have a successful trip to Rio de Janeiro without mounting these majestic steps. For those of you a little worried about the hike, the kind city organizers have installed escalators so all you need to worry about is the view from the top and which Instagram filter you’ll be using later (reception isn’t great at the top).
Make the Most of the World-Renowned Sporting Facilities Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll know that Rio just finished hosting the Summer Olympic Games. This means that there are a lot of world-class sporting facilities now open to the public. So whether you want to swim in the wake of Phelps, take a tumble in the footsteps of Biles or play on the world’s most famous beach volleyball courts, breaking a sweat will give you a nice little break from the madness of carnival.
Join One of the World’s Biggest Parades the Cordao de Bola Preta There are over 400 street parties during carnival but the one you need to attend is the Cordao de Bola Preta party. Attended by over 200,000 people, everything that gives Rio’s famous carnival its flavor and fun can be found in this amazing street parade. You’ll dance, sing drink and be merry, and most likely dance some more.
It Goes Without Saying but Don’t Forget to Sight-See Even the most avid hedonists can’t spend the entire trip partying, so make a little time to take in some of the amazing sites the city has to offer. The Corcovado & Sugar Loaf lookouts will give you an opportunity to take in the stunning city whilst the historic city center is a must-see. There are thousands of more things to see in the Marvelous City, but one of our personal favorites is the quieter and truly beautiful Joa Beach; make a day trip of it for an unforgettable experience.
Lap Up the Action in Lapa Lapa is Rio’s prime party destination year-round, so you can only imagine what the party is like during Carnival. Here it’s all about the music, so grab a few beers or fancy cocktails on the street while being soothed by some sweet party beats. It’s colorful, fun and also home to those world-famous stairs in front of which everyone who visits Rio needs to get their picture taken!
You Can’t Miss the Samba Showdown at the Sambodromo It’s not cheap and getting tickets won’t be easy as you’ll be competing with a lot of locals desperate to go. However, it’s at Sambodromo where you’ll see the best Samba dancers in the entire world battle it out for bragging rights (and the odd title). The twelve best Samba schools aim to be crowned the kings and queens of Rio and it’s the finest costumed sashaying you’ll ever behold.
Join in at Sambodromo Widely considered the ultimate Carnival experience, you’ll need to join a Samba school as a volunteer to get involved and you’ll need to act at least six months before your planned visit. Luckily for you, a lot of the Samba schools love to take on foreign volunteers as it adds to the excitement of the evening. You’ll get to rehearse, dance and see those amazing costumes up close. It really is the dream Rio experience. If you do manage to get an invitation, remember you’ll need to be in Rio a little early, at least a week before the showdowns to rehearse, but it is so worth it.
Where to Stay During Carnival?
Bear in mind that you’ll be in Rio during its busiest tourist season, so you’ll have to budget accordingly, even for the cheaper accommodation options. Here are a few of our favorites.
For Those Who Don’t Know What a Budget is, the Copacabana Palace is one of the most famous hotels in the world, the set of countless films and a movie star wonder refuge. It’s a 5-star luxurious hotel for the rich and famous and it’s priced accordingly.
More Reasonable but also Wonderful, the Windsor Barra The official hotel for families of the 2016 Paralympic Games is beautiful, safe, on the beach and not ostentatiously priced even during Carnival; make sure you book in advance, though!
Budget but Blissful Meet the Stone of a Beach Our favorite budget accommodation in Rio may have a peculiar name, but it’s got good beds and they know both how to party and where to point you to make the most of the festivities.
What to eat?
Dancing and drinking will make you ravenous during Carnival, so it’s important to have a good understanding of what to eat. You won’t have a lot of time for restaurants (if you’re doing it right), so here’s a quick rundown of some of the best street food you should try while you’re there.
Queijo Coalho This is an impossibly delicious piece of fried cheese on a stick. Warning: Highly addictive.
Espetinhos Brazil is famous for their meat and if you don’t make time to pick up this BBQ’d meat on a stick from a street vendor, you are doing carnival all wrong!
Milho Verde Milho verde is essentially corn on the cob, buttered and served on a stick. It may be a lifesaver for your ailing body whilst you’re in the midst of the party.
Tapioca – This is the Brazilian version of the crêpe and it’s offensively delicious, whether you go for a sweet or a savory topping.
Drinks & Nightlife
It’s hard to pin down where the best places to drink are during carnival because it’s essentially finding a specific needle in a haystack of needles. However…
Our Favorite Spots
Lapa, We touched on it in the Activities, but you’ll want to dedicate a night to soaking up everything this wonderful neighborhood has to offer. We love Leviano, located in the historic center of Lapa, but wouldn’t want to miss the bars Circo Voador or Arcos Da Lapa either.
The beach fronts along Copacabana and Ipanema will be equally teeming with nightlife, beautiful music, and beautiful people.
What to drink?
You’ll need to pace yourself, as this really is a long party! So consider taking breaks and having a little water every once in a while. However, it would be terribly remiss to miss out on Brazil and Rio’s signature drink, the Caipirinha, made from the cachaça (a sugarcane alcohol native to Brazil). It’s a tasty and zesty cocktail that’s perfect for getting you in the mood for a party.
Tips & Culture
Carnival is a fun and exciting time, but you’ll need to keep your head during the festivities. Here are a few tips on how to have the most fun while staying safe in the process.
Book It’s the biggest show on earth and is attended accordingly. Book everything way in advance to save on cost.
Stay Safe Carry minimal cash and photocopy your travel documents.
Pack a Costume People take this part of the festivities really seriously, so make sure you’ve got the right attire to keep the party going.
Prepare for Rain, and Sun Around this time of year you can’t be sure what kind of weather you’re going to get, so make sure you pack sunblock and a rain mac, just in case.
Have Fun Carnival is about celebrating joy; respect the people around you and their customs and you’ll be guaranteed to have a good time.
That Once in a Lifetime Experience to Save for? If you’re not one of the lucky few being chosen to volunteer for a Samba school, an excellent alternative (if you’re willing to save and your pockets are deep/you’re willing to sell a kidney) is the Magic Ball at Copacabana Palace. This is where everyone who’s anyone goes to be seen. You’ll have the chance to rub shoulders with politicians, movie stars and sports stars at the most iconic hotel in South America. As we say, it’s not cheap, with the low-end tickets starting at over $1000….can you put a price on fabulousness? Apparently so!
If you’re lucky enough to make the trip of a lifetime and attend Carnival, make sure to add it to your BUCKiTDREAM list. You may find a few tips and tricks from an amazing user base who have already been there.