From the sands of Copacabana to the sticky streets of Centro, Rio is erupting in an explosion of sound and color that can mean only one thing: the Carnival blocos have arrived. While the rest of the world may associate Carnival in Rio almost exclusively with the flashy, flamboyant (and expensive) parades at the purpose-built Sambodromo stadium, the neighborhood blocos are perhaps even more integral to the carnival spirit as well as largely free of charge.
Attracting hordes of party people from every walk of life, these raucous celebrations involve pounding samba percussion, frenzied booty-shaking and equally frenzied consumption of ice cold beers and caipirinhas.
A Carnival tradition that goes back hundreds of years, the blocos are more popular today than ever before, with some, such as the effervescent Monobloco, attracting hundreds of thousands. Others are more laidback neighborhood affairs, attracting a largely local crowd.
Each bloco features a band of local musicians – from rag tag assortments of up-for-it members of the community to polished and professional high-budget outfits, who take to the streets on a set night (usually a weekend evening) each week in the run up to Carnival, offering followers the choice to choose their favorite from a number of specially-penned anthems. Once the favorite has been picked, the remaining couple of weeks are spent perfecting the number, with locals and tourists reveling in the opportunity to get into the Carnival spirit before the four-day funfest begins in earnest.
During Carnival itself, each bloco will wind its way through the streets of its assigned neighborhood, with troops of revelers following in its wake. Many blocos have ‘themes’ and encourage partiers to use appropriate fancy dress, while a few require followers to buy an official t-shirt if they want to join in the fun. There are blocos to be found taking place in some corner of the city virtually every hour of every day during Carnival, and the 24-hour Metro service that runs throughout the party period. Ones to watch include the fun, animal-themed Zoo Bloco in Centro, Santa Teresa’s much-loved Carmelitas (come as a nun!), the aforementioned Monobloco, in Copacabana, and Cordão do Bolo Preto, the city’s oldest bloco and one of the most enduringly popular. Also based in Centro, the bloco is famously raucous. Wear black spots/polka dots if you want to blend in.
Of course, even the most dedicated partier needs to refuel occasionally and there are usually plenty of opportunities to eat and drink from street stands. This year, it’s even possible to do both at the same time. After the successful introduction of caipirinha ice lollies onto last year’s bloco scene, this year’s alcohol of choice looks set to be chilled caipirinha jellies. Make mine a double.