A Guide To Rio de Janeiro's Colourful Carnival

28 February 2014

Is there a more quintessentially Brazilian sight than the spectacle of thousands of samba-loving Cariocas parading down the Sambadrome during Carnival? Rio de Janeiro’s incredible, simply unforgettable week-long street party is considered one of the biggest, best and brightest festivals anywhere in the world.

Held every year before the start of Lent, this year’s Carnaval takes place between February 28 and March 4. It’s a raucous, riotous week of revelry, with Rio’s famous samba schools practising for months on end to perfect their routines. Sambadrome parades are held late every night until the small hours of the morning from Friday to Monday, although this year’s Champions’ Parade will take place on March 8, outside the official Carnival dates.

 Dusk glimmers over Copacabana beach

Street Parades

Though Carnival is marked around the world, it’s safe to say it’s not celebrated quite like it is in Rio. Every year more than two million revellers line the streets of Brazil’s legendary party capital, eager to catch a glimpse of scantily-clad dancers gyrating rhythmically atop a procession of colourful floats. Even if you’re not in possession of a ticket to one of the official Sambadrome parades, the countless street parties and raucous festival atmosphere makes visiting Rio during Carnival a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The numerous unofficial parades which erupt with joyous regularity throughout Rio’s beachside suburbs offer the perfect opportunity to jump in and join the festivities. Simply slip on your dancing shoes and sidle on in – one of the joys of Carnival is that it’s accessible to everyone. Indeed, many of Rio’s most raucous revellers hail from the hillside favelas which ring the city, with Carnival seen as a time for all of Rio’s residents to come together and let their hair down.

Superb Scenery

Routinely regarded as one of South America’s most spectacular cities, Rio’s breathtaking scenery ensures the city is well worth a visit any time of year. Nestled along the western shore of Guanabara Bay and loomed over by the imposing Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado Peak, Rio’s stunning landscape lures thousands of visitors to its beach-fringed shores each year.

Indeed, beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema are world famous, with the great and good of Rio’s high society jostling with throngs of tourists for a prime position on the sand. And with Rio set to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final and the 2016 Summer Olympics, there’ll be no shortage of visitors to this stunning world city in years to come.

Samba Style

Brazil’s samba swagger is reflected in Rio’s inimitable carioca culture, with the city’s cosmopolitan residents said to be more relaxed and outgoing than their counterparts from hard-working Sao Paulo. Little wonder that the football-loving, caipirinha-sipping inhabitants of this famous Brazilian city look forward to Carnival each year!

Accommodation fills up quickly, so it’s best to plan your trip to the Rio Carnival well in advance. Sector 9 houses the Sambadrome’s designated tourist seating, and you can buy numbered seats from official tourist agents across the globe. If, however, you’re more interested in the city’s buzzing block parties than the official Carnival parade, simply make a beeline for the beach and get ready to have a blast. Whatever your preference, Rio’s racy Carnival is one party you’re unlikely to forget!

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.