Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For a lot of people this is a highlight in their travels to South America. Or one that is high on a lot of bucketlists. For us this is an experience to never forget.
Arrival in Rio
After a long night at Salvador Airport, we arrive totally knackered for the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Now it will be 3 hours by bus to get to our host. We could have taken a shorter bus ride but this one goes through the city, so it’s a ‘free’ sightseeing tour. It’s 9AM on carnival Sunday, and there are already a lot of celebrating people in the streets. Therefore the bus is having a hard time to get through down town Rio.
Another 2 buses follow and then after a long walk with our heavy bags, we get to a super fancy neighbourhood with huge houses. Best thing is that our host, Mauricio, lives here! Now that’s the most pleasant culture shock.
Mauricio is a really friendly guy and after a short chat he prepares us a really nice lunch. After this we go to a bloco nearby where we meet a few of his friends. As you might remember from Salvador, a bloco is a big street-party with loud music. This bloco is even on the beach! After a few hours of partying the music starts moving along the beach and everyone follows the music truck while dancing on the beat. At some point we decide that we’ve walked far enough and that it’s time to go home. We are still pretty tired from the flight here. This was a nice party and a really great experience. Dancing on the beach, meet some locals and expanding our Portuguese dictionary.
This night was our best night in Brazil so far, a double bed in a nice cool room with a slight breeze coming from the fan. In the early morning we take a shower and get ready to go to the next party. This one starts at 10 in the morning, but it’s an hour and a half by bus from our ‘home’. We were aiming to be there at 10 am, but unfortunately we didn’t make it until 11:30. But like our host always says: if you worry about time you are better off not doing anything at all. How it goes is the way it should be. Luckily for us the samba band that plays Beatles covers is still playing, so we get to dance all afternoon in the burning sun.
We meet 2 local girls who decorate us with glitter. In comparison to Salvador, the people in Rio do dress up however they like. Also most girls wear glitter in every colour all over their body and a lot of guys dress up as a woman. We also see a lot of guys and men, dressed up as a lady. This was sometimes shocking and hilarious at the same time. By the way, it’s not a fact that these guys are all attracted to men. You can see the difference between the straight and gay guys pretty well, as the gay men often walk around in 10 cm high heels! Respect.
Sunset at Ipanema beach
After some power food, Mauricio takes us on a sightseeing tour through Rio. We watch the sun go down at Ipanema beach. A beautiful image, this bay with an enlightened boulevard and pointy mountains in the background. Far away we can even see the Christ the Redeemer statue! You know, the one Rio is most famous for. After lots of pictures of the sunset we walk to Copacabana.
At Copacabana beach it’s super crowded but also very nice. This place has the most luxurious hotels that we’ve seen so far. The whole boulevard is full with people selling souvenirs, clothes, food and drinks to tourists. This is the place to be in Rio. Even in the night there are so many people on the beach, I don’t even want to know how crowded it is during the day! The sea is much different from Salvador; very blue, clear and clean. The only thing that’s the same are the crazy high waves!
This is carnival in Rio de Janeiro
Then it’s time to go to the Sambadrome; some kind of stretched arena, with thousands of seats on two sides of a very long road. The parade starts at 10 pm, so at 8 we jump in the metro. We get some drinks and go find our places. We have one of the cheapest tickets available. It’s a block with a good view and we have the so called grandstand seats. This means that we don’t have assigned seats, but that we should just be there early to get good seats. Although we arrive at 9 pm, we manage to find very good seats, only 3 rows from the bottom. This is still very high, because the grandstands start at about 10 meters above the ground. Later it turns out that even at this height parade cars are passing by on eye level. What if you have to be the one dancing at this height! I would be terrified, that’s for sure.
At 10.15 the first group finally starts. Six groups will be competing today for the big money, and of course one year of fame. All the groups are samba schools, with each between 3000 and 3600 participants. Because we are almost at the end of the street, it takes about 20 minutes before we can see the first act. While waiting we can already start dancing and singing on this schools music. By the time the last one in the group finished, which should be 75 minutes after the first one started, we can sing along the whole song. The live singing band repeats their schools song the entire 75 minutes!
The samba schools are preparing all year for this parade. The parade cars and costumes can’t be too crazy, as long as it fits their schools theme for this year. There’s some strong competition. What seems to work best for the public are the big surprise elements, like a flying carpet, a lady in a huge dress suddenly going up in the air for a few meters, knights fighting a huge dragon and Michael Jackson rising from his grave.
The parade passes several judges, who check a lot of different aspects. For the drummers there are special judges at the middle of the street. The drummers turn into a special part of the street where they are not in the way of the ones behind them in the parade, where they can show their skills. When the group has passed, the drummers go back on the street and they will be the last what the public sees of this group. This year the pressure is incredibly high for the winners of last year, a samba school in bright green and pink colors. Lots of people wear this samba schools t-shirts to show their support. And we are wearing our hats in the very same colour! What a coincidence.
We are in for many surprises and we’re amazed single time. This is what imagine when someone mentions carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It is hard to describe what we’ve seen, therefore you should really watch our videos. And even then it will be totally different to experience it like we did. I can only say that this is the most wonderful parade that I’ve ever seen and I don’t expect it to ever be topped by another. It was worth every single penny that we spent on the tickets! Imagine that we almost didn’t go because the tickets were so expensive, what a shame that would have been.
The atmosphere at the grandstands is indescribable. Literally everyone is dancing, singing, swinging, clapping and cheering. Also the people that are here to root their own favela (neighbourhood) are also cheering for the other ones. After every group we are able to sit down and recover for like half an hour until the next group is in sight. Those 30 minutes are a life saver because it gets harder to stay awake with every next group. When the last group starts the sun has already started to rise. With the end in sight and no more new floats entering the arena we decide that it is time to go home. We are saturated with all the beauty, colours and sounds anyway. Our minds can no longer handle new nerve stimuli and we still have to travel for another 2 hours to get to our bed. What an awesome experience this was celebrating the carnival in Rio de Janeiro.