Rio without carnival would be like New York without fashion, or Sydney without surfers. The city lives and breathes carnival, and this colorful, musical pageant of Dyionisian delights is totally in keeping with Rio de Janeiro’s hedonistic character.
A vibrant, lively city at any time of year, Rio really begins to live up to its repuation as 24-hour party city in the months leading up to carnival, when the heat of summer instills the locals with a desire to eat, drink, dance and make very merry indeed.
And while the images of the extravagant floats and parades at the Sambadrome make up the image of carnival that is projected to the rest of the world, in reality carnvial fever sweeps over the entire city, with street parties taking place in every neighborhood from the touristic beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon to far-flung, little-visited
areas of the city’s less scenic north and west zones.
Carnival cultre is as entrenched in Rio society as Thanksgiving or Christmas in the West, and the build up to Carnival begins months in advance of the event, with the samba schools opening their doors to onlookers as soon as rehearsals begin in October/November. For the samba schools themselves, preparations for the next year’s event begin as soon as the current year’s is finished, with a great deal of pride (as well as a great deal of time and money) invested in trying to grab the title of Winning Samba School.
Carnival itself is a moveable feast, with dates depending on when Easter falls that year. Held in the four days leading up to Lent,it usually takes place in February, but occasionally falls in March.
While carnival is undoubtedly the most exciting time of year to visit Rio (from a partier’s perspective, at least) it is also the most expensive, meaning that travelers on a budget will need to plan well to avoid being priced out of the party altogether.
The key thing is to plan well in advance. Don’t expect to be able to turn up in Rio on the first day of carnival and find yourself a hotel room or hostel bunk for the night. With millions of visitors descending on the city, accommodation gets booked up months in advance.
It is common for hotels and hostels to charge at least four times their regular rates, so do plenty of advance research to find the best deals. Most places will impose a minimum stay of three or four nights, and for anyone planning on staying
over a week booking an apartment is often the cheapest way to stay.
While the carnival parades themselves may be the most attention-grabbing element of carnival, but tickets are expensive – expect to pay upwards of R$250. Tickets and information in English are available from riocarnival.net , and it is best to book as far in advance as possible, especially for the extravaganza that is the final night.
For carnival fun without the high price tag, head to the many street parties, or blocos that are completely free to attend,
snack on street food and enjoy an inexpensive caipirinha or two from a street vendor, have fun making your own carnival outfits (the maze of streets that make up the shopping district of Saara, in downtown Rio, is the place to come for inexpensive fancy dress items, from glitzy samba-queen bikinis and headgear to animal costumes) and prepare to have a blast at the biggest party on the planet.