Since the 1700s, Rio de Janeiro has hosted one of the biggest and most extravagant parties in the world. Carnival celebrations take place throughout South America and the world but with more than 2 million people on any one day celebrating Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, there is nowhere on the planet quite like it. If you a planning a trip to the Rio Carnival, there are some activities and events that you cannot miss out on. Below you will find some of our favorite things to do during the Rio Carnival which will help you to maximize your experience during the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.
♦ Join the Bloco do Sargento Pimenta Street Party
Street parades known as ‘bloco’ take place throughout Rio de Janeiro and provide a more informal way to enjoy the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The number of organized Carnival bloco parties and parades has steadily increased over the last few years and today there are over 400 that take place with some starting as early as November. Our Central & South America Encounter Latin America Specialist, Alex Radtke, went to the 2015 Rio Carnival and highly recommends the Bloco do Sargento Pimenta for those travelers going to the 2016 Rio Carnival.
“Try experiencing Carnival like a local by attending one of the local neighborhood blocos. The schedules are all available online and the blocos are open to anyone who wants to celebrate Carnival” – Alex Radtke, Central & South America Encounter Latin America Specialist
The band at the Bloco do Sargento Pimenta plays all Beatles covers set to samba beats. There is always a good crowd and the music keeps the audience dancing and singing from start to finish. At the 2016 Rio Carnival the Bloco do Sargento Pimenta will be taking place at Av. Infante Dom Henrique in the Glória neighborhood of Rio’s Zona Sul District. More than 120,000 people attend this bloco and it provides a great twist to an otherwise authentic bloco experience.
♦ Don’t miss the Sambadrome Parade
Packed to capacity with 90,000 travelers and ‘cariocas‘(locals from Rio), the world-famous Sambadrome stadium, purpose built for the Carnival parade, plays host to the magnificent samba parade. With the top 12 samba schools taking part, and with the parade being broadcast across the world, the open air runway is flanked by spectators, marveling at the colorful floats and samba dancers with their bright plumes.
The parade lasts for about 6 to 8 hours and continues into the early morning with the samba music and Carnival energy rippling through the stadium.
Rio’s one of a kind stadium, the Sambadrome opened in 1984 and was constructed by Brazilian architect extraordinaire, Oscar Niemeyer. As the samba schools dance their way through the 2,300 foot-long stadium, the judges rate the schools based on the song lyrics, drumming precision, costumes and overall harmony with the Carnival’s theme. Seeing the Carnival parade live at the Sambadrome in Rio is a once in a lifetime experience and one that cannot be missed.
♦ Get prepared by watching the Samba School Rehearsals
A wonderful insight into the preparations the samba schools make for the Sambadrome Parade can be experienced by attending one of the Samba School Carnival rehearsals. Starting in September the samba schools begin preparing for the Carnival parade, holding samba nights which are often referred to as ‘rehearsals’.
Taking a guided tour of the different samba schools is one of the best ways to explore the history of the various samba schools.
Once the Carnival is over, the samba schools begin preparing for the following year’s Carnival immediately. The largest and most well-known samba schools have their own hangars in the so-called Cidade do Samba or Samba City which is often referred to as the center of samba.
♦ Tuxedos & Gowns at the Copacabana Palace Magic Ball
Staying true to the European origins of the Carnival, Rio de Janeiro has a number of formal masquerade balls that add an air of exclusivity to the festivities. The luxurious Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel which has become the go to accommodation for the rich and famous visiting Rio holds the annual Magic Ball (Saturday, February 6th 2016 from 23:00).
Make sure to pack your evening gowns and tuxedos as this legendary ball is not only the most famous Carnival Ball but is also the most glamorous as you rub shoulders with Brazil and South America’s elite and international VIPs.
All tickets (from U$D1000) include dinner and an open bar and the level of the ticket relates to the individual dining rooms. The best value ticket is the standing ticket as although you won’t have assigned seating, tables are available in the balcony and other areas close to the buffet. There are plenty of other more accessible masquerade balls that take place throughout Rio during Carnival like the Rio Scala Balls and Devassa Balls among others.
♦ Don’t forget to explore the Marvelous City
While soaking up the Carnival atmosphere, with its rhythmic samba beats and colorful costumes, you will be constantly surrounded by Rio’s impressive cityscape. With one of the most spectacular locations in the world, Rio de Janeiro also has some of the most notable landmarks to visit.
Rio offers something for everyone from the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain viewpoints offering unrestricted views of Rio de Janeiro to the Christ the Redeemer statue, city parks and historical city center.
The golden beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema also offer a welcome escape from the bloco street parties and samba music, as you relax under the sun. There are also a number of more secluded beaches in Rio de Janeiro where you can leave the crowds behind and enjoy some rest and relaxation while watching one of the Rio’s breath-taking sunsets.