After a few days of seeing the normal tourist hotspots of Rio, it was time for Carnaval. Supposedly the world’s biggest party, it’s fair to say it lived up to the name – often feeling like a festival with no fence.
From our experience there are two sides to the Carnaval, the street parties (locally knows as ‘blocos’) and the ticketed Sambadrome. It’s definitely worth checking out both while you’re here, but shall we say…. one is more cruise ship friendly.
The view from our box
The big ticket. The main event. This is what the papers report on, and the biggest and best carnaval show around. In comparison to the rest of Brazil, tickets were not cheap. In a city where you can get a fully cooked lunch with a beer for £5, shelling out over £120 for tickets seemed a little steep. That said, given we’d already paid so much to be in Rio in Carnaval week, and the likelihood of us coming back so low, we went ahead and bought the tickets months in advance. None of us regretted it.
Just one of the many intricate floats
We enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning wondering around the lago by our apartment in search of a bloco supposedly at Ipanema. Failing to find it (and wondering what all the hype was about these street parties) we headed back to our apartment to get ready and have some Caipirinhas. On our way back we visited a party outfit shop, which I’m sure is probably dead 90% of the year but on this day the queue was round the shop and out of the door.
Ready in our party attire
Fair to say we were all pretty proud of our costumes, whilst not the most glamorous at least we weren’t walking down the street in morph suits and Heinekens in our hands (spot the Brits abroad…). we grabbed an Uber around 9pm and headed to the Sambadrome.
Mikey making official friends
The parade was due to run from 10pm to 3am, a 5 hour long march of incredibly detailed floats, talented dancers and swarms of people. We had a box to ourselves with an ‘English speaking assistant’ who never materialised but that was hardly a problem. Surrounded by cruise ship groups, our box turned into a dance floor as we watched. The parade was fantastic, and clearly months of work had gone into every detail of the floats, costumes and dance routines. We were fortunate enough to sit by the judges and saw some incredible displays – and this was only the amateur night!
It was clear we were by the judges stand!
Our cruise ship neighbours
All said and done, it would be a mistake to come to carnaval and not to see the Samba; argument being if you can afford the inflated cost of flights & accommodation you can probably stretch to a Samba ticket!
Blocos – The Real Carnaval
The street parties of carnaval, whilst somewhat less rehearsed than the Sambadrome, offer a chance to immerse yourself in the full-on party spirit, with fancy dress at every turn and suspiciously cheap drinks – it’s hard not to get involved.
One of the day blocos
Having failed to find a street party on the day of our Samba tickets, we decided to brave the hangovers the next day and try again. We stumbled upon the party we were originally looking for the day before, but our state of exhaustion, dehydration and overheating defeated us and we had to swiftly move back to a cosy balcony. Our last day in Rio – it was time we truly experienced Carnaval.
A crowded staircase!
The day started with a trip to Escadaria Selaron in which we foolishly failed to show up in full party attire. Within half an hour we decided the best course of action was to go home, drop all our valuables, put on some hula skirts and get back out to the same spot we were at. When we returned (a little merrier) it was much more relaxing. Walking back down the main street in Santa Teresa, which only a few hours ago had been no busier than a town centre, we were packed in like sardines between leprechauns, fairies and enough glitter to light a runway. This was the carnaval we had been looking for.
Getting ready for the professional Sambadrome
Bars and restaurants completely opened up, a stall every 5 metres selling anything you could ask for. The man we decided to buy our drinks from was consistently offered 20 Reals, and Mikey, in limited Portuguese attempted to ask why however it was definitely lost in translation. We swiftly paid and moved on after the person manning the stall thought we were after some drugs…
One night only…
It’s hard to pin down exactly how the time was filled in the evening – not due to lack of memory from drinking. You could spend hours wandering through the streets, trying local foods at little cost but full of flavours to rival top restaurants charging 20 times the going rate. It’s a magical experience which is hard to put into words – and unfortunately hard to put into pictures as we were quite ‘valuables conscious’ after Anna’s mishap with her bag!
Safe to say Carnaval probably beat us, as we met people who were in the blocos day after day, but it was an experience which will never be forgotten. The premium you pay for being in Rio in Carnaval is so worth it, even without the parties the whole city feels like it’s on steroids with fancy dress at every turn.
Carnaval, not to be forgotten
It was time for a few days of downtime, so we’re off to Iguazu Falls in Argentina next. Hasta Pronto x