Known the world over as “The best show on earth”, the Carnival in Rio truly is a spectacle and one experience that should be lived at least once in your life. Held every year, the Carnival’s dates are not fixed as it falls between the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday. The most famous is the one in Rio de Janeiro however, do consider the one in other areas of Brazil, like Salvador, the country’s second biggest celebration. Nonetheless, if you have never been we do suggest to choose the one held in the Cidade Maravilhosa for a true once in your life experience.
Sambadrome, the temple of samba
The Sambadrome is where you’ll find the most traditional Carnival in Rio. Each samba school represents a neighborhood, and they compete to see which one can put on the best parade. In the contest, schools are awarded points in several categories, including costumes, percussion, and storytelling. If that sounds like something you would like to experience, be prepared. Tickets sell out very fast. Ticket sales usually start in the second half of the year, so make sure to plan ahead.
How the samba school parades work
Twelve schools compete for the title of Carnival champion. They each have up to 82 minutes for their parade, and the number of components must range from 2,500 to 4,000. Judges award points for each school based on a number of categories, such as costumes, song, drums, and the more subjective categories “progression” and “harmony”.
The group with the highest score wins the competition. Each school chooses which story or theme they will explore during their parade. The most popular choices are historical events and the lives of important people. Every year, one or two schools manage to fall into the crowd’s favour. That, however, does not mean they have a higher chance of winning, as popularity is not one of the criteria judges take into account.
Parades start in the evening and go well into the night, only ending at sunrise the next day. Watching both nights of the competition requires plenty of stamina, as it often adds up to eight hours of non-stop samba.
The main parades are always on Sunday and Monday and the Winners parade on the following Saturday. Usually, international travellers get tickets for the Winners parade only.
Carnival parades on 2021 will be on February 14th and 15th (main parades) and on February 20th (Winners parade).
Even if you don’t get a ticket for the Sambadrome, the best Carnival atmosphere is actually on the streets! The best street parties are organized by street groups called ‘blocos’ and it is virtually impossible to turn a corner without bumping into one as the whole city truly comes alive with the sounds and colours of Samba!
How to book
Planning ahead and booking as early as possible the prior year is a must! Tickets sell out fast and you want to avoid disappointment, however, do note that hotels will require a minimum number of nights and the prices during this periods will be much higher than normal. But don’t let this put you off and make sure to enquire early to gain access to the best prices and availability.