The biggest carnival in the world happens right in the heart of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro opens its arms to welcome an average of one million tourists from all around the globe to experience the extravaganza. This was my Rio Carnival Experience as a solo traveler.
I arrived the day before Carnival kicked off flying in from São Paulo. My Portuguese is non-existent, but my tiny bit of Spanish allowed for a basic conversation with the taxi driver. Upon the arrival at my hostel the taxi driver handed me a condom, at least they’re being safe. The government handed out 800,000 condoms during carnival! That’s a lot of love.
My hostel Pura Vida Hostel located in Copacabana was fabulous. It included free breakfast, great rooms, friendly atmosphere, only a few minutes walk to the beach and of course, a bar. The hostel is located just inside a favela, they are okay to stay in but be careful. These places aren’t as bad as you may think. (Keep an eye out for my soon to be post what are Favelas for the history and stories of the Rio favelas).
Accommodation is expensive when the Carnival is on. If I were to book right now, it would be six times cheaper!
- Carnival Starts, Friday night
Fireworks exploded into the nights sky triggering the start of carnival, even though suburbs like Lapa and Santa Teresa had already started hours earlier. People were everywhere, music was blaring, food & drink carts flooded the streets. Make you sure you try Brazil’s caipirinhas – alcoholic beverage.
Blocos are moving or stationery street parties and they are everywhere but if you are unsure check the internet as they list where they currently are. They start at 9am in the morning and go into the following morning. So pretty much 24/7 partying for the four days. The locals love it and visitors are treated to an unreal scenery. These parties are full of love, seriously, randoms will come up and kiss you, people will be hugging you and you’ll make friends. I attended a few of these parties and they were amazing. Keep an eye out soon for another post on Safety Advice in Rio as these scenes are full of thieves!
- Sambadrome for the parades
Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended for the purposely built stadium for the parades. The sections fill up real quick and the leftover tickets become more pricey. Also, book your accommodation and flights well in advance! If you plan on going solo, check with your hostel (if you choose to stay at one, which you should) if they sell tickets at their place. This is a great option as other backpackers will buy them and you can generally sit in the same section together. The sambadrome is 700m/.43mi, with tight security and you won’t be able to get into another section. Arrive early, 8pm or before, as spots on the grandstand disappear fast. Take a poncho with you. Make sure you dress and glitter up!
- Which Carnival parade should I watch?
There are parade’s every night but the main parade is on the Sunday night. It will kick off about 10pm and go through until about 6-7am. Yes, you can read it again. Food is allowed to be taken in and some will sneak alcohol too. Lost in translation will exist with the parade as it is all in Portuguese, but at the start you’ll stand up for the national anthem. They actually also let you know days/weeks before the carnival some of the songs that will play at the parade. So if you’re wanting to belt out a Brazilian song look them up! This night involves standing most of the time (and long toilet lines as a heads up girls), so wear comfy shoes.
- What happens at the Sambadrome?
You’ll watch approx 13 schools and they each have 70-85 minutes to make their way down the stadium. On average tourists stay for 3 or 4 schools, this would take you to about 1-2am. However, the schools get better as the night goes on. I stayed until 5am with one or two schools to go. It was safe and fine to catch a train back to Copacabana. I didn’t carry my phone with me during party times in Rio. Remember to read my safety blog link when it comes out.
Next day most people are passed out but if you still have energy get out for the last day of the blocos. Being in a hostel is a great environment, as you’ll find at least one other travelers with energy too, so you’ll always have someone to go with.
The parade comes to an end on the Monday night/Tuesday morning. Although the winning school and parade is announced the following Saturday. But by then tourists have dispersed and the city returns to normal.