The beaches, bikinis, street parties and oh-so-famous Brazilian behinds are not just the makings of a music video – in Rio de Janeiro, this is real life, especially during the annual Carnival festival.
Whether you’re an experienced traveler, an avid party-goer or simply a tourist chasing some adventure, you’ll find yourself inundated with fun at Rio Carnival in Brazil. It involves four days of non-stop partying, countless caipirinhas and the sort of outlandish costumes you’d expect to see at an adults-only Halloween event.[related_articles]52661[/related_articles]
While it may seem pretty straight forward, nothing can quite prepare you for the complete insanity that consumes the city of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. You can be sure to find yourself outside of your comfort zone in a realm of embellished disguise, but before your intrigue bubbles over, here are five things to know before you get lost in the haze of glitter and feathers.
#1 Experience The Samba Parade
For a well-rounded Carnival experience, you’ve got to check out the spectacle of the Samba Parade. Carnival really comes to life in this annual tradition, where people dressed in sequins and feathers dance down the streets beside beautifully embellished floats.
Tickets to the Sambodromo (the area where the parade takes place) can be purchased online at an exorbitant price of around $90 (depending on the exchange rate) a pop, but a much cheaper and more flexible alternative is to buy tickets at the venue. Simply show up to the gates on the day you decide to go and you can buy a ticket for anywhere between $20 and $40.
There are seating options that are apparently decent vantage points but, in reality, the parade can be seen from anywhere along the Samba strip.
The festivities typically kick off around 9pm, but I suggest arriving around 11:30pm. By this time, the crowds have died off a little and the competitive gyrating is at its all-time peak, with space to join in on the dancing. Take a raincoat (or buy a poncho from a street vendor for the bargain price of $1) as wet weather is common during Carnival. The show, however, always goes on.
#2 Don’t Forget The Blocos
Block parties, locally known as blocos, are scheduled at various times and locations throughout the four-day Carnival event. A ludicrous amount of Carnival attendees flock to these areas to listen to themed music, dress in wacky attire and revel in the company of old and new friends.
If you’re considering attending Carnival solo, there’s certainly no challenge in finding people to celebrate with; however, given the majority of party-goers are Brazilian, your fun factor could be impacted by the language barrier. Having a group of (at least) four friends will ensure an all-round great time and provide that little bit of comfort in the haze of the bloco blur.
The party continues from the streets to the beach and Ipanema, in particular, is a beach party haven, particularly for the LGBT community. There’s a seemingly endless array of party favours on offer, meaning you and your friends won’t have to leave the beach for anything; vendors stroll by selling all kinds of goodies from bikinis and massages to drinks and fresh watermelon.
#3 People Are Friendly. Very Friendly
There’s a sexual energy that runs through the veins of Carnival, and it can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. A sense of free-spiritedness drives the festival and – whether it’s due to the pheromones or the summer humidity – inhibitions are often abandoned and you’re encouraged to embrace every moment with an open mind.
Because of this, people are prone to be quite forward and they’ll approach you and possibly pursue you as if they’ve known you for years – especially if it’s men approaching women. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not feeling the chemistry; some local advice I was given was to do a simple face-level wag of the finger to ward off unwelcome attention. Apparently, this is a stern indication that you’re not interested and your admirer will back off accordingly.
#4 Don’t Leave Your Street Smarts At Home
Carnival is high crime season in Rio and, with hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to the city to celebrate, some pickpocketing inevitably happens. Keep your wits about you and stay street smart.
If you’re worried about taking a camera but still want to capture all the festivities, a small and inconspicuous GoPro is an excellent alternative.
#5 Schedule Some Quality Downtime
You’ll be surprised at how quickly the city of Rio is abandoned after four days of absolute chaos. Use this quiet period to your advantage and explore the parts of the surrounding city that were previously overflowing with the masses.
There are numerous ways to unwind: relax on one of the many beaches, hike to glorious views (like the top of Morro Dois Irmãos), go on one of the humbling favela tours, or visit Jardim Botanico – a breathtaking botanical garden – to relax and reflect on the events of the past days.
Within what seems like a blink of an eye, the entire festival is over and all you have is memories of glitter being blown on your face, of witnessing lovers in a passionate kiss, and of seeing people let loose with wild and beautiful abandon. Oh, Carnival.
Andee Maher is a travel writer and photographer from the Gold Coast who loves to relish in the wonder of her worldly wanders. When she's not exploring the vast land and cityscapes of new places, she spends her time daydreaming of her next adventure. To see the world through Andee's eyes, find her on Instagram @violetspring.