Tips to Survive Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
My first trip to Rio de Janeiro coincided with Brazil’s annual Carnival celebration. Each February, millions of Brazilians and visitors from all over the planet flock to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, taking part in the parades and parties. For those attending this unparalleled cultural experience, I share the tips I wish I had been given before I arrived:
Before You Go
United States passport holders need a visa to enter the country, which can be obtained from the Brazilian Consulate at home. The best hotels in Zona Sul, the area hugging the Atlantic coastline between the Tijuca Forest and Guanabara Bay, book up far in advance, and travelers should secure reservations at least three months beforehand. Tickets for the Sambadrome go on sale two weeks before Carnival and cost less than purchasing admission the day of.
Plan your vacation itinerary to arrive in Brazil a few days before Carnival is in full swing. This gives newcomers an opportunity to acclimate themselves with the sprawling city and tropical climate before throngs of party-goers descend upon the streets. Since many of Rio’s shops and tourist attractions are closed during the celebrations so employees can participate, coming to town a few days ahead allows you to check these off your bucket list.
Where to Party
Meet locals by joining street parties called blocos before watching the parade at the Sambadrome. All day the beachfront avenues are clogged with performance troupes in florescent costumes and trucks hauling samba bands. After the sun goes down, the runway within the Sambadrome becomes an ending river of flamboyant floats flanked by bedazzled dancers. The parade takes place nightly for over a week before climaxing with the most dramatic spectacle on Shove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday).
How to Party:
- Dress: Less is definitely more when it comes to outfit choices for Carnival. Locals sport anything from bare feet and bikinis to outrageous group costumes. Whatever you choose to wear, make sure it’s colorful echoing the vibrant shades of your tropical surroundings.
- Dance: Even if you didn’t master the steps to samba, don’t be afraid to head for the middle of the crowd. Brazilians are extremely friendly and will teach lyrics and dance moves to anyone willing to learn and have a good time.
- Drink: The national drink of Brazil is the Caipirinha, a lethal concoction of cachaça with sugar and lime. The sweet drink goes down easy but hits hard, so drink slowly and alternate with water.
Carnival takes place in February at the height the tropical country’s summer, when daily temperatures hit 90 before lunchtime. Juice shops dot the city blocks and offer an extensive menu of refreshments for thirsty party-goers, including açaí (Ah-sai-ee). Beachside, vendors cracked into giant green coconuts with machetes and add a straw for thirst-quenching água de coco.
When traveling in groups, it’s easy to lose companions in the mob on Avenida Atlantica, the seaside highway separating the beaches of Copacabana and Leme from the hillside neighborhoods. Before heading out, designate one of the 13 numbered postos (lifeguard towers) as a meeting spot if severed from your friends. Always use caution when traveling in Rio, especially at night and carry only small amounts of money. The subway runs 24 hours a day during Carnival and is considered a safe way to get around.