Known as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, Carnival time in Brazil unites extravagant displays with the rhythmic samba beat, creating a spectacular experience which has made its way to the top of many bucket lists. For almost 300 years, Brazil Carnival celebrations have been taking place, and every year it aims to be bigger, better, more colorful and more ornate than the previous year.
Every year the Rio de Janeiro Carnival attracts over 500,000 visitors who come to enjoy the Carnival rhythms, vibrant colors, unrelenting dancing and, to experience Rio’s party atmosphere.
We have previously shared with you our favorite Carnival celebrations throughout South America including those that take place in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and of course Brazil. The Carnival in Rio is the most impressive and well-known in the world and we have therefore provided you with an essential guide to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
♦ A Short History of Carnival
The origin of Carnival is closely tied with Europe, when in the 17th century Rio’s bourgeoisie combined the opulent balls and masquerades held in Paris with the Portuguese ritual of embracing a sense of freedom before the restrictions imposed by Lent. Infused with the African influence so inherent in Brazil’s culture, Carnival has adopted the samba rhythms, extravagant costumes and breath-taking parades that have turned it into the world-famous event that it is today.
♦ Carnival Today
Today Carnival in Brazil is much more than its relatively humble origins. No longer just a farewell to hedonistic impulses before Lent, the Carnival has come to embody a sense of what it is to be Brazilian, and is an iconic celebration of Brazilian culture.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world come to participate in the festival that engulfs entire cities around Brazil, with the most famous and elaborate taking place in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s almost impossible to escape the celebrations in Rio, and everywhere you walk you’ll be greeted emphatically with samba rhythms and dancing.
♦ Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro isn’t called the ‘Marvelous City’ for nothing. Set amongst jungle-covered mountains and idyllic golden beaches, Rio de Janeiro is simply one of the most strikingly beautiful cities in the world.
Mostly characterized by its dedication to leisure and pleasure, Rio also has a more serious side and is home to a vibrant artistic and cultural scene, as well as many fine museums and heritage landmarks.
Over a 5 day period the city is engulfed by the vibrant Carnival festivities with travelers and local Cariocas soaking up the atmosphere side by side, throughout this magnificent city.
♦ The Rio Sambodromo
Though Carnival fever grips the whole city, the most spectacular event takes place in the Rio Sambodromo (Sambadrome), where a total of twelve samba schools compete over two nights. Part of the uniqueness of the Carnival in Rio is the fact that each year the 12 Rio Samba Schools have to put on a whole new parade and theme. The resulting show includes carefully rehearsed dances, rhythmic samba beats and of course lots of colorful plumes and costumes.
The Rio Carnival floats are becoming more and more impressive and intricate and can cost up to USD $1 million to make.
Playing host to more than 30,000 samba performers and some 80,000 spectators, the Rio Sambadrome is a magnificent, purpose built stadium which is the home of this unrivaled and most unforgettable procession on Earth. Entrance to the Rio Sambadrome during Carnival is only possible with a pre-purchased ticket, which can sell out as much as 6 months beforehand, so you better be quick as the next Rio Carnival is set to take place on Friday 5th February 2016.
♦ Carnival in Salvador de Bahia
Carnival in Salvador de Bahia takes place on the streets of this picturesque city from late February to early March. The Salvador Carnival is different to the Rio Carnival as music and spontaneity rule with ‘trios elétricos‘ (electrically amplified bands playing atop trucks laden with speakers), ‘Blocos Afros‘ and ‘Afoxes‘. More than 2 million revelers descend on Salvador de Bahia which is arguably the largest Carnival celebration in Brazil.
The variety of the rhythms and music in Salvador de Bahia is greater than those found in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival.
For an entire week the locals and visitors dance and celebrate through the quaint streets of Salvador before getting up the next day to start all over again. Each year the city of Salvador de Bahia designates a theme for Carnival, and decorates the city accordingly making each year unique.
♦ Celebrating Carnival in Ouro Preto
A good alternative to the Rio Carnival and not too far away from the ‘Marvelous City’ is the popular Carnival parades of Minas Gerais. The Carnival festivities in Minas Gerais were influenced by both the Rio de Janeiro and the Salvador Carnivals, and nowadays the parties are for their famous ‘blocos carnavalescos‘.
Throughout the city of Minas Gerais, you’ll be able to hear and enjoy the live music produced by the many, local brass and percussion bands that party through the city’s streets.
The Carnival celebrations in Ouro Preto generally attract a younger crowd as it is mostly visited by students who study at the nearby universities along with their friends. The party goes on all day and all night, making it a perfect place to experience Brazil’s largest festival and celebration, Carnival.