Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, roughly 300 years old, is considered the biggest carnival in the world, attracting nearly 2 million people on the streets each day. The festival is held right before Lent every year and lasts for 5 days. Consisting of samba school parades and adjacent street block parties, there is no room to get bored. Actually, the limitation may be your depleted energy levels and accumulated fatigue as the festival progresses.
Samba schools are generally formed by residents of the favelas, which are poor neighborhoods where houses are made of cardboards and other forms of scrap. These neighborhoods are a true representation of Rio, famous of their samba dancing and passion for football. The main objective of the samba schools is to prepare and complete in the annual ‘Samba Parade’. Spectators are able to attend the rehearsals of the samba schools as well as the Samba Parade, of course. Tickets need to be purchased in advance as they sell out.
On another note, the block parties ‘blocos’ are a whole different level of fun. Most of the blocos are organized by Rio de Janeiro State Street Carnival Blocks Federation, so they are on a specific schedule. Expect street boozing, nonstop percussions and thousands of people in costumes.
There is always a bloco going on during carnival, as long as you have the energy, you can participate in as many. Most of the blocos are free of charge, while some require a ticket purchase. Information on these street parties are found online and their event pages on Facebook.
The area you stay in Rio during carnival is pretty important. The city is completely packed, and while public transportation is adequate and running, you may find difficulty getting to your destination. The underground is generally a good idea to avoid traffic, while taxis and Ubers will get you close enough to your parade or bloco. In my opinion, the best areas to stay in Rio during carnival are Copacabana and Ipanema, or as referred by Brazilians ‘Copa-nema’. Both neighborhoods are ocean-side, forming a V-like shape on the map. Lots of carnival activity while also being close to the famous beaches of Copacabana.
Accommodation is generally expensive during the carnival; most hotels have a flat fee for the entire time of the festival. The hostels are not too cheap either. From my experience, renting a flat can be a little cheaper, especially if traveling in groups. Platforms such as Airbnb and Homeaway should be utilized.
Heard a lot about safety concerns in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro specifically, here’s my experience. I did not make it to any of the favelas, however, in the known touristic areas of the city, I never felt threatened. I didn’t take my phone the first few days of the carnival (explains the lack of pictures and videos), but after spending more time in the blocos, I decided these concerns were overstated a little. Anywhere you are surrounded by thousands of people in a confined area, you are risking you personal belongings. So, just pay attention to your things, especially after your 8th or 9th caipirinha. On the other hand, as far as human safety, didn’t feel any threat either. The city is vibrant, everyone is having a good time. Just expect a stranger kissing you out of nowhere every once in a while; girls usually compete between each other on who will kiss the most guys during carnival. That’s the only way your personal bubble can be breached. Yup.