RIO DE JANEIRO CARNIVAL • A LOCAL PARTY GUIDE (2020)
Let's be honest when you hear Rio de Janeiro, you automatically combine it with Carnival. This event is what makes Brazil and its culture so popular around the world.
Its origins go back at the beginning of the 17th century, right after Portugal invaded the lands of Brazil.
Carnival is such an important celebration among Brazilians, it actually shapes the whole year. Indeed, you can notice that Brazilians divided their timeline events through the year into two parts "before and after Carnival".
Furthermore, for Brazilians, the new year will actually start after this event. It's the moment of the year when there are no responsibilities anymore, you just embrace the party.
The preparations for Carnival go on for months before the events themselves.
And throughout February, people are already partying in the streets during the weekends.
Every single city in Brazil is organizing its own festivities, beautifying the streets with shiny banners and colorful ornaments.
Each year, Rio is the city that brings the most of the Brazilian population together for this event. Not forgetting the massive wave of tourists traveling over there for this unique occasion as well.
What to expect ?
Spectacular parades from the city’s samba schools, street parties or live Brazilian music, that's Rio's Carnival in all its grandeur.
Officially, it's 5 days of pure joy, eccentricity and craziness. But like I said earlier, the whole month of February is spent celebrating and Carnival is the way to finish this partying month beautifully. You must be ready to be covered in glitter, dancing and sweating surrounded by thousands of happy souls, with the pleasant sound of samba echoing in the streets.
One of the main reason tourists decide to experience Rio for this time of the year is the famous Parade of Sambadrome. With its extravagant beaded costumes, rhythmic percussion bands, sequins flashing and other hips swinging, the parade leaves you astonished.
But this is not the way we decided to experience it, we went for the proper Brazilian way : In the streets. So, let's take the party outside.
Carnaval in the streets
Every local will tell you this : "Carnaval happens in the streets and that's the best way to enjoy it". Street parties take place all over the city and there are over 300 street bands performing throughout the Carnaval in Rio. It's where the true spirit of Carnaval remains.
Streets are getting filled up by numerous so-called blocos. What is that ?
Well, a bloco is a traditional street party organised by a suburb or carnival association, where people walk behind a float with music from a live band.
There are blocos happening all day and all night long, each of them has its own theme and kind of music.
The coolest street parties mainly happen in Copacabana, Ipanema and Botafogo's areas. The largest blocos are Cordao do Bola Preta and Banda de Ipanema, both attended by tens of thousands of partiers. They are a must if you decide to celebrate Carnaval in the streets. So grab a Caipirinha (Brazil's signature cocktail), get your hips ready to swing along with the wild sonorities of the music and embrace this taste of Brazil's flavor.
Our favorites blocos
Praia de Flamengo - For Carnival opening we spent our first time enjoying Carnival along a beautiful beach in Rio, located on the east side of Rio. The bloco started at 7 am and finished around 1 pm.
Bloco Cordão do Boitatá - On the same day, we headed to the centre of the city for another great bloco : Cordão do Boitatá.
Vila Isabela - On the next day, we went to a bloco by night in the north of Rio, enjoying some amazing samba vibes. Be careful though, this neighbourhood has some dangerous spots, don't wander alone by night, stick to your friends and follow the bloco.
What to know about blocos
- The organisation of a bloco is rather uncomplicated and beautifully messy. It's better to go to a bloco with few friends like this everyone is kind of looking after each other. Even if the group split, you will never end up alone.
- We recommend you the blocos happening in the mornings, they are the greatest and most recommended by the locals. Plus, the temperatures are way fresher, which helps a lot to enjoy the most of it.
- Keep in mind a bloco usually starts one to two hours after the official starting-time, so don't worry too much with your schedule.
- There are plenty of drink sellers along the route. Try to buy a few drinks at once, you will be able to get a discount. The more you buy, the cheapest per drink it will be. That's one other benefit of being in a bloco with a group.
- At the end of the day, many people will go to the beach and join in the beach parties. And the best way to conclude your bloco day is to go to Ipanema Beach. Amazing beach vibes, the music and the last lights of the days setting up on the ocean while enjoying your favorite drink. Sounds good, doesn't it ?
- Participating in a bloco is totally safe if you choose the right areas. Participants are respectful to foreigners, as long as you respect the party and the people.
- Blocos are happening all day long. During the day, you will be exposed to the scorching sun. Cover your head, use plenty of sunscreens and bring an extra bottle of water (the vendors tend to sell out quickly).
What to avoid
- Beware, you may be offered home-distilled liquor, usually in plastic tubes. Do not buy this, as you don't know the substance or percentage of alcohol. Talking about alcohol, under the heavy sun, it tends to hit you way harder. In other terms, Carnival isn't a good place to test your alcohol limits.
- When one bloco is finished, some people stay hanging around but we recommend you to go to the next one. At this hour it is hard to get a taxi or uber though, so you may have to wait a while. But don't get tempted to share it with people you do not know to go faster.
- Even though the authorities are well spread during Carnaval, in case you see someone getting in trouble nearby you or your group of friends, grab them and always walk away to avoid it. A fight can take huge proportions and you better stay away from it, you never know whom you will be dealing with.
- Leave all valuables in your accommodation place if possible. Keep money for the day in front pockets of your trousers. Some would say to keep it in your shoes, but that's a known trick by the pickpockets. So, some of them are actually aiming straight for your shoes. Don't want to take the risk ? Wear flip flops.
Other famous Carnival places
If you want to enjoy the music all night long and party hard until the sun rises, then Rio's festivities are definitely made for you. This is the right Carnaval for ultimate partiers. However, not all Carnivals are about crazy partying and getting wasted. Some are more traditional, some others more cultural... The choice is yours. Let us give you some ideas about where you can spend a great time during Carnaval.
Salvador - Capital of Bahia's state, in the Northeast of Brazil. It's third biggest after Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Recife - Capital of Pernambuco, one of the northern state of Brazil. Recife's state is actually were the first Carnaval was born. It's really rooted and authentic. You will discover the typical Frevo music and dance from the Northeast of Brazil.
Belo Horizonte - Capital of Minas Gerais's state. Really traditional, with smaller parties and chill vibes. The people over there are made of pure kindness.
We hope you enjoy this guide through Rio's streets for Carnival. Some of you guys have been in Brazil for Carnival before ? You can let us know in the comments below.
See you next you for another adventure by our sides.