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rio carnival

Rio Carnival, Brazil – 2020 dates: 21st – 26th February

It’s the main festivity in Brazil which earned the distinction of being “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The Rio Carnival starts on Friday until Tuesday or just a day shy of Ash Wednesday, a significant Catholic tradition which signals the start of Lent. If you really want to understand the question of what is Carnival, head off to the Sambodromo particularly on Carnival Sunday and Monday to experience first-hand why this annual tradition is visited by millions of people from all parts of the world.

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Prior to the construction of the Sambodromo, the top samba schools go around the streets of Rio to perform the samba. But this all changed when Rio officials and organizers realized that a change is in order.

The objective is two-fold: first is the need to build a facility for the comfort of the tourists, and second is the potential revenue through tickets. In 1984, the Sambodromo was completed and almost immediately, the parade registered an increase in participants and spectators.

The stadium can sit more than 80,000 visitors as well as accommodate 5,000 participants through the wide Marquês de Sapucaí Avenue.


Now, what is Carnival without the samba parade ?

You can feel the resonance of the drums, cymbals and trumpets echo through the Sambodromo and brim over to the streets.

Behind the parades are 14 of the best samba schools in Rio. They train for months in advance so that they can give their very best performance. All have the same underlying goal: to win over the judges and earn themselves the title prize and the most admiration. Though many of the schools are at the forefront of the samba scene, with rehearsals and planning taken very seriously, some welcome visitors to participate in the parades alongside their best dancers.

Each school picks a theme, which is expressed through their performance and their elaborate costumes. Between 200 and 400 drummers help by beating a quick, hypnotic rhythm that seduces the crowds and draws them into the compelling scene. The spirit of Carnival is alive at these parades, and witnessing it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

To get to the Sambódromo, take a taxi or a shuttle bus direct from your hotel to the entrance. Bear in mind that during Carnival there are dozens of street parties with tens of thousands of people taking part, so factor in major traffic delays if you use the roads. The easiest way of getting to the Sambódromo is to take the metro to Praça Onze and walk for about 15 minutes from here. It’s well-signposted, and you can enjoy some of the street celebrations along the way.

Street parties

Outside of the Sambódromo, Rio comes to a halt for a week as the city’s streets fill up with dozens of daily parties that are a key feature of Carnival. The parties become a test of stamina and endurance as each day sees more drinking, more dancing and more fun than the last. Known as blocos in Portuguese, the street celebrations are led by moving vans or floats that trail slowly along, with streams of samba music filling the air. Street vendors weave in between the sweating bodies selling refreshing frozen vodka tubes and ice-cold cans of beer. Costumes are a must, and while some blocos have special themes, really, any costume goes. Popular choices include police officer, cowgirl, sailor and pirate – or just plenty of glitter and brightly colored clothes.

The Cordão da Bola Preta is one of the biggest and most popular blocos based on the traditional roda de samba (samba band performance) in Rio. It’s held in the city center and attracts around a million people. The typical colors of this bloco are black and white polka dots, and thousands of partygoers dress up to match the theme.


The full program is released close to the first day of Carnival, so check with your hostel or hotel to get the full schedule. The best blocos tend to be in Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana, as being in a packed crowd of thousands of people in the middle of Brazil’s summer will make you appreciate the sea breeze more than ever before. There are smaller ones in Gávea and Botafogo, and they’re still loads of fun. Some of the most laid-back celebrations take place in Santa Teresa, while Centro has the space for Rio’s largest and most intense blocos, with after-parties in Lapa. However, often it’s enough to just go out onto the streets – the blocos will find you. Temperatures can reach over 40C (104F).

Carnival balls

The Carnival balls are large events held at certain venues throughout the city. In true Carnival style, the balls are glitzy, outrageous and daring, reimagining the limits of a standard night out and promising an unforgettable party. From masked balls at the glamorous Copacabana Palace to outlandish antics at the Gay Costume Ball, these parties command the most extravagant costumes and the most fun-loving crowds. The music played at the balls can lean away from the samba that is filling the streets and towards an international music scene, providing a whole additional layer to Carnival.

The prices range from €28 to €300 for parades, but these include some benefits depending on the type. These prices are based only on the Sambadrome event, so they do not include the plane ticket, the travel document fees, and so on.

Buy your carnival tickets here.

Rio Carnival Hotel and Accommodations

Where you want to stay is an important consideration to make when planning a vacation to Rio Carnival. There are three basic accommodation types for travelers visiting Rio de Janeiro: Hotels, Hostels and Rental Apartments. Hotels, hostels and apartments are available in all neighborhoods and for all levels of luxury and budgets.

The most popular accommodations location during Rio Carnival is the South Zone (Zona Sul), which consists of the beachfront neighborhoods spread out along the Atlantic coast in Ipanema, Copacabana, Leme, Leblon and Arpoador. However, most of the events of the 2016 Olympics were held in Barra da Tijuca, this neighborhood in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro is up-and-coming and great for families. What’s more, Downtown (Centro) Rio is centrally located and easy to get to via taxi or subway (Rio Metro). There are many wonderful locations to choose from, but what is important is: your budget and how you want to experience the Carnival.

Rio de Janeiro boasts a large selection of hotel options for travelers to choose from. It is important to note that during Carnival, most hotels in Rio have a mandatory check-in date and a 3 or 4 nights minimum stay. This means that for Rio Carnival 2021, best results for hotel searches are found from Feb 12th at 20th, 2021. Most hotels come with complimentary breakfast. Prices for Rio de Janeiro hotels during Carnival can get rather expensive for the high-end properties, but that doesn’t make the trip out of reach for those looking to experience Rio Carnival on a budget. With all the activities and events of Rio Carnival, it is highly likely that you will spend little time in your hotel room.

Or…. get the complete Rio Carnival Experience

Take centre-stage in this epic annual event and let the rhythm of Rio take over. Don an elaborate costume and samba your way through the non-stop action as you get swept up in the energy and euphoria of the biggest party on earth. Witness the festivities reach their dizzying climax, join the conga line with the locals, move and shake among the drum-fuelled street fiestas and revel in the magic celebration of life. With a mix of festival-specific activities and iconic Carnival experiences – you don’t want to miss the party of a lifetime.

Carnival in Rio is a busy, hectic and chaotic time, which is all part of the fun; however, this means there can be long queues and delays when joining included and optional activities. The concept of personal space may also be quite different from what you’re used to at home – particularly at crowded street parties. While one of Intrepid’s local leaders will be with you throughout the entire trip to help you understand the fantastic happenings around you, plenty of patience and flexibility will help you make the most of the Carnival experience. This 6 days tour package takes you through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio Carnival Experience includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more. Check tour availability.


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