Everyone has heard of it, but who has actually been able to experience it? carnival is one big party and offers last minute debauchery before Lent takes over. The images of carnival include multi-colored costumes, masks, lavish floats and millions of people. carnival looks like a blast, but it actually means hard work and dedication for many Cariocas.
carnival is a religious celebration of sorts that allows people to party and have fun, before they give up many daily indulgences when the Lent season begings. The date is determined by the ecclesiastical calendar and officially occupies four days preceding Ash Wednesday. The Cariocas, however, have managed to stretch carnival into an event that lasts several months, that culminates in a an all-night party. The Samba School Parade includes tens of thousands of dancers where beautiful and colorful costumes
There are thousands of percussionists and hundreds of performers on elaborate floats that move together in harmony to the non-stop beat of the Samba music
Rehearsals for carnival generally begin in October and these offer just as much fun as the real thing. If you can’t be in Rio during carnival, this is the next best thing. The closer you get to the real carnival, the better the rehearsals get. They spend months putting together the parade and practicing for those four big days.
Two weeks prior to the actual event of carnival, the blocos begin signing and dancing in the streets. They go around the neighborhoods playing music, singing and dancing. Their instruments and costumes show that they are the bloco members and everyone is encouraged to join in the party. Soon, they will have tens of thousands of people following them through the streets. Banda de Carmen Miranda is another extravagant event as the drag queens of Ipanema join in the party. The blocos are community groups and the official leaders dress in extravagant costumes that easily identify them.
carnival officially kicks of on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The start begins with an explosion of dancing balls or bailes . These bailes were the way that the elite members of society would celebrate carnival and the poor masses would party in the streets. Today, however, the balls are open for anyone willing to pay the price. The most expensive and lavish ball is the Copacabana Ball and remains the event for the highest on the social ladder. The blocos also get into the party mode by parading everyday from Saturday through Tuesday.
The Samba School Parade is an event in which several schools work together. The schools work and sweat over the parade for a year so that they will be able to compete in the contest that takes place between the schools. The schools compete for the honor of being best in show in the parade. The competition takes the Sambodrome, which is a one-mile concrete parade ground, built in the center of the city for this event. Each night spectators come to watch the live contest. The contest is also televised. The samba schools are really community groups that work on the parade for a whole year.
Before the parade officially starts you will see thousands of people begin arriving. The grounds are set up with stages and food vendors. The “samba land” is open the weekend before carnival and is open from Friday through Tuesday of carnival. On Saturday is the parade of champions.
Tickets for the bleachers are around $83 USD and chairs start at $191 USD in sections. Hotels may have tickets, but the prices will be higher. If you still are not able to find tickets, you can try the scalpers, however, you will want to be sure that they give you the whole ticket. The tickets are magnetic plastic cards that also have an attached paper slip, many scalpers will try to sell you one or the other and you still will be unable to get in. The parade grounds are divided into sections. The best sections are 5, 7, 9 and 11. These sections are in the middle of the route and will allow you to see the upcoming schools as they come through the grounds. Sections 9 and 11 are exclusively for tourists. You may be able to get tickets for these sections through agencies. The advantage to this is that your section is marked on the concrete and you will not have fight to get to your section. Try to avoid sections on the Avenida which are 1, 3 4, 6 and 13.
The parade is an all night affair going on until around 6am, having started around 9 the night before. You will want to leave the event a bit early, as when the parade ends the place is crazy with everyone trying to leave. Food and drinks are available on the grounds, but it will be difficult to get through the crowds and back and forth to your section. It is recommended that you get what you want before finding your seat.
You will also want to bring all the money you will need for the event. The event itself is generally very safe but there are still pickpockets out there. It is recommended that you bring your ID and not your passport to the event. You will also want to leave any personal valuables and purses at your hotel. Try to carry everything you will need on you. Avoid any deserted streets and unfamiliar neighborhoods and take a Taxi to get around from your hotel and back. All the banks close during the event and the ATM machines are known to run out of money. You will need enough cash for the full four days