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The Essential Guide to Recife & Olinda Carnival in Brazil
Friday, February 21st 2020
Tuesday, February 25th 2020
- 1 Recife and Olinda – Brazil’s Best Carnival
- 2 Where is Recife and Olinda?
- 3 When is carnival in Recife and Olinda 2020?
- 4 How is carnival celebrated in Recife and Olinda?
- 5 Frevo
- 6 The most authentic and folkloric Brazilian Carnival
- 7 Recife Carnival
- 8 Recife – Parade of the Rooster at Dawn
- 9 Recife – The Night of the Silent Drums
- 10 Carnival in Olinda
- 11 Blocos at Olinda Carnival
- 12 Olinda Carnival Best Blocos
- 13 Olinda Carnival – Bonecos (Giant Puppets)
- 14 Olinda by day, Recife by night!
- 15 Recife and Olinda Carnival Tips
- 16 Where to stay in Recife/Olinda?
- 17 How to get to Recife/Olinda?
- 18 How to get around Recife/Olinda?
- 19 What to do and see in Recife/Olinda?
- 20 Take a tour for Carnival!
Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland
Recife and Olinda – Brazil’s Best Carnival
When it comes to celebrating carnival in Brazil most people think about Rio de Janeiro Carnival and the Sambadrome, however carnival celebrations in Olinda and Recife are considered by many Brazilians and travel experts to be the best carnival in Brazil.
Olinda and Recife Carnival are the third biggest carnival celebrations in Brazil after Rio Carnival and Salvador de Bahia Carnival. With around two million people joining the carnival celebrations, so that also makes Recife and Olinda one of the biggest carnivals worldwide!
Whilst Recife and Olinda are two different Brazilian cities who each host individual carnival celebrations. The cities close proximity to each other (7km) means that most people will swap back and forth between the two carnivals.
Where is Recife and Olinda?
The cities of Olinda and Recife are located in the northeast of Brazil. They are located in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. Recife is the capital of the state of Pernambuco and its sister city Olinda is located only 7 kilometres away.
Olinda is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site making it an incredibly unique setting to experience carnival.
When is carnival in Recife and Olinda 2020?
While a few pre-carnival celebrations kick off as early as December in Recife and Olinda. The official carnival celebrations always start on the Friday and end on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
The dates for the 2020 Carnival in Recife and Olinda will begin on Friday, February 21st, 2020 and finish on Tuesday, February 25th 2020.
How is carnival celebrated in Recife and Olinda?
Carnival in Recife and Olinda is different to the other carnival celebrations in Brazil because its large street parties have very few tourists, making it a more authentic Brazilian carnival experience.
Recife and Olinda Carnival each have a unique and distinctive feel about them. They are often referred to as having the most democratic carnival celebrations in Brazil because all the events are held ‘by the people and for the people’, this is because everyone is invited to the party, and all events are free to attend.
While these neighbouring cities of Recife and Olinda are only 7kms apart and their carnival celebrations have a lot in common like the fact they both take place in historic districts and their passion for frevo.
You’ll find no samba at these carnival celebrations. Here its all about the Frevo music! It is the passion for frevo music that is at the absolute forefront of Recife and Olinda Carnival celebrations, and one of the biggest elements that bonds these two carnivals together.
What is frevo? Frevo is a unique style of music that mixes native Brazilian Indian music along with African maracatu beats. When combined these different styles create a very high energy music. Recife Carnival is all about participation!
The most authentic and folkloric Brazilian Carnival
Recife and Olinda Carnival is said to be so unique because of their native Brazilian feel. Recife and Olinda Carnival is very focused on Brazilian folk traditions rather than giant samba parades. They are described as being the most exuberant and folkloric of all the carnivals in Brazil.
Carnival in Recife and Olinda is special and unique compared to other Brazilian Carnivals because they have been so heavily influenced by the Native Indian tribes. The African slaves were very inspired by the music, art and dance of the native Brazilian Indians and adopted man of their traditions.
Carnival in Recife is a very music orientated carnival. Different styles of music have their own designated areas in the city of Recife. Recife is also famous for hosting the largest carnival parade in the world, that has over 2 million participants.
It is called the most demographic carnival because it doesn’t matter your age, nationality, if you’re a Brazilian local or a tourist, everyone is invited to join in the Recife Carnival celebrations and they are all free to attend!
Recife – Parade of the Rooster at Dawn
The Recife Carnival Parade has the largest carnival parade in the world, called the Desfile do Galo da Madrugada which translates to the Parade of the Rooster at Dawn.
The Desfile do Galo da Madrugada begins at the Recife landmark Forte das Cinco Pontas. The parade kicks off on Saturday morning at 6am. The parade got its name from the Giant Rooster float that leads the procession, making his way through the streets of Old Recife.
It is the largest parade in the world because spectators are encouraged to join in and follow behind the parade. As it twists its way through the crowds, along a 4km parade route, the parade continues to get bigger and bigger. Eventually it swells in size to over 2 million participants!
The parade eventually just gets so big that it essentially transforms into a giant bloco. Everyone is having a good time partying, drinking, socialising and dancing along to the frevo music.
Recife – The Night of the Silent Drums
Another highlight of the Recife Carnival is The Night of the Silent Drums or Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos in Portuguese. The Night of the Silent Drums sees hundreds of drummers rhythmically beating their drums to the different samba, afoxe, maracatus, and reggae tunes.
The drumming gets more and more intense as midnight approaches. Then right on the stroke of midnight all the music stops, and the drums fall silent. The lights are also dimmed, and a minute of silence is held to pay tribute to the towns ancestors and honour the slaves of Maracatu who died.
This minute of silence is followed by a ceremony where the priestess of Umbandan an Afro-Brazilian religion delivers a prayer, while there is a mix of drums and African chants that are carried out to please ‘the gods’ with locals lifting their hands to their god in gratitude.
The Night of the Silent Drums is a very unique spectacle that occurs at Praça Terco in Recife. The place essentially transforms into a little slice of Africa, with all the rhythmic drum music.
Carnival in Olinda
The Carnival in Olinda is very similar to its neighbour Recife because both carnivals are about everyone participating and heavily feature frevo music. Olinda Carnival is renowned for their popular street parties known as Blocos which unlike Salvador Carnival are free to attend.
Olinda Carnival also hosts some incredibly exclusive private parties which are called Camarotes. However, to attend these private carnival parties it is important to purchase a ticket in advance because they are popular and also very expensive.
Blocos at Olinda Carnival
Olinda Carnival is famous for essentially throwing a street party that lasts one-and-a-half-weeks. Blocos occur all over Olinda. The streets heave with huge crowds, endless live music and all-day partying.
Blocos at Olinda Carnival have large crowds of people who follow slow-moving trucks that blast Frevo music out of a large sound-systems called Trio Electricos.
Similar to the Recife Carnival during Olinda carnival you will see people at the crack of dawn partying out on the streets, dressed up in crazy carnival costumes dancing along to the frevo music.
Olinda Carnival Best Blocos
The majority of carnival-goers head to the liveliest part of Olinda which is its historic centre Cidade Alta. Party Central is the main square at the corner of Rua do Amparo and Rua Prudente.
The most popular streets in Olinda are Rua Bernardo Vieira de Melo and Rua do Bonfim which fill up with party-goers before lunch. Every street in Olinda has its own unique blocos party. It doesn’t matter to much which street you go to because by the end of the day everything eventually merges into one giant blocos.
One of the best blocos in Olinda to attend is the Enquanto Isso Na Sala Da Justiça.
Olinda Carnival – Bonecos (Giant Puppets)
One of the highlights of Olinda Carnival and something that makes it so unique is the Bonecos which are giant papier-mache puppets who kick of the Olinda Carnival. This is an old tradition that has been kept alive.
The Parade sees the giant three meters tall puppets, accompanied by the parading bands, march through the historic city to the sounds of frevo music. The Bonecos represent the town saint and spirits which are referred to as mamulengos.
The most famous puppet is Homem da Meia Noite, which translates to Midnight Man. The Midnight Man is carried through the streets at midnight to symbolize the beginning of Olinda Carnival.
Olinda by day, Recife by night!
Most of Olinda’s parties take place during the daytime so most of the crowds will move to Recife for the night-time entertainment. They say Olinda Carnival is better during the day and Recife Carnival is better during the night.
But for the maximum Brazilian Carnival experience it is suggested that you spilt your time between the two carnivals!
Recife and Olinda Carnival Tips
- Keep your valuables in a safe place as pickpocketing can happen! Anything really valuable like your passport, jewellery and even your credit cards, we recommend leaving back in your hotel. Just bring out some cash and an old cell phone if you need one because losing your new iPhone will be a bummer. We recommend using a travel money belt or something similar that keeps your belongings safe and hidden like a fanny pack or something, check some out on Amazon.
- No need to anticipate the purchase of the tickets to the Carnival celebrations as you can easily acquire tickets once you arrive, from local agents or your hotel
- Absolutely wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes as you will be on your feet all day! And there may be glass on the ground.
- Stay hydrated and don’t overdo the drinking! It is very hot and couple that with excess drinking and body heat and you don’t have the best combination! Also eat something before partying because drinking on an empty stomach isn’t advisable!
- Wear sunscreen! It is hot and you will be outside all day partying! Nothing will kill the party quicker then looking like a lobster!
- Try to familiarise yourself with the main carnival songs because they get played hundreds of times throughout carnival and even if you don’t understand the words, its cool to try and sing along with the crowds.
- If you are in a group, leave together rather then trying to meet up at the Blocos because the huge crowds will make that difficult. Also establish a meeting point in case you lose each other.
- Give preference to buses over taxis when travelling between Olinda – Recife. Apart from the normal bus lines there is a special bus system that is in place for carnival – the Expresso Folia which leaves from several malls around Recife
- Don’t even bother trying to walk against the flow of the blocos, either wait for them to pass, or join in and follow them.
- You can buy drinks on the streets at the blocos. When buying beer purchase something called a “camisinha” (condom), which is a foam wrap that keeps the beer cold. You may see some drinks with weird names like ‘Pau do Índio’ or ‘axé de fala’. These are made of a Brazilian Spirit called cachaça that gets mixed with various herbs and results in a sweet mixture. Drink at your own risk as they can be very strong!
- Be prepared for lots of flirting! The blocos are about drinking, socialising, dancing and for many kissing! If you are part of a couple don’t stress out about the approaches towards your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Bathrooms are few and far between and when you find one often the que can feel like eternity. So, if you come across a good bathroom opportunity take advantage of it.
- Get your costumes ready! Carnival is the time to get dressed up however you like! Indulge in your fantasies and become a superhero, policeman, pirate, cartoon character, movie star, unicorn or whatever your heart desires. Or just wear something bright and colourful, or weird and wonderful! Remember that it is hot so choose an outfit that is light and comfortable. But have a look online and play around for some fun options here on Amazon.
Where to stay in Recife/Olinda?
Are you wondering where to stay for carnival Recife or Olinda? Well both these neighbouring cities offer plenty of options for all budgets and levels of comfort. It is pretty easy to get to and from the two cities so regardless of where you stay, you are able to easily explore the other.
Where to stay just comes down to your personal preference. If you like historical/colonial towns then Olinda is your best bet, but if you prefer a big city or being close to the beach then Recife is your best bet.
Olinda has gorgeous scenery but is a much quieter area with not too much to do at night. Also, it worth noting that Olinda is hilly so be prepared for some serious uphill climbing. If you think you would prefer to stay in Olinda check out some options for accommodation here.
Recife on the other hand is much busier with many happening spots and a bustling nightlife. Also, most of the big tourist hotels are located in Recife. Recife’s residential districts are Graças, Espinheiro and Casa Forte, where you will find plenty of accommodation options.
Its more affluent neighbourhoods Boa Viagem and Piedade, being closer to the beach are home to some of the more luxurious and expensive accommodation. There is also Old Recife which is the historic centre of the city and whilst there are not too many hotels here there are a few and you can easily explore the authentic heart of the city.
Boa Viagem in Recife is where most of the foreign tourists stay. It is a trendy area that attracts many of the well-heeled Brazilians. It is an attractive area thanks to its 7km long golden sandy beach. It is a fun and lively place to stay in Recife with plenty of accommodation options. This neighbourhood is more expensive then some of Recife’s other districts.
If you are going to attend carnival in Recife and Olinda, then you must book your accommodation in advance because over 2 million people attend carnival here and it gets pretty booked up. You can always reserve now and cancel later if your plans change. Trust us don’t get caught out with no where to stay. Check out some Recife accommodation here.
How to get to Recife/Olinda?
By plane: The closest airport is Recife Guarapes Airport. A taxi from the airport to either Boa Viagem or Olinda will cost you around R$45 to R$60. Alternatively, you can take the metro all the way to Recife’s central station and from there catch a bus to your destination. To get a quote for a flight click here.
By bus: Brazil has an excellent bus network that runs all throughout the country. Buses to Recife/Olinda will arrive at Recife’s Terminal Integrado de Passageiros. A metro bus then connects the bus station to Estação Central, Recife’s downtown station. Note that buses from Recife to Olinda leave from the downtown station and Boa Viagem.
How to get around Recife/Olinda?
Olinda is approximately 7km from the centre of Recife and it is very easy to get between the two cities as there are plenty of local buses running between the two cities. The only bus stop in Olinda is Praça do Carmo, which is the central park.
There are two buses which travel directly from Olinda to Boa Viagem and back again with the trip taking about 50 minutes. Of course you can always take a taxi which is the more expensive option but only takes about 20-minutes from the centre of Recife to Olinda.
From Boa Viagem to downtown Recife, regular buses run along Avenida Domingos Ferreira and it is a 20-minute trip. Buses marked CONDE DA BOA VISTA loop through Boa Vista and into Santo Antônio, stopping at Praça da Independencia. From there it is a 10-minute walk to Old Recife where all the main sights are easily reachable on foot, some buses may travel all the way there.
During Carnival be aware that the transit in Recife and Olinda is hectic and you can be stuck in traffic for ages, so we recommend taking a bus instead of a taxi to go between the two. The best way to go between Olinda and Recife is the take the special carnival bus – the Expresso Folia which only operates during carnival and departs from Shopping Tacaruna in Recife.
Get a quote for a rental car here.
To rent a bike or a scooter get a quote here.
What to do and see in Recife/Olinda?
Carnival is just the icing on the cake if you are visiting these amazing cities. Recife is a mixture of new and old and has been dubbed the Venice of Brazil because of its abundance of picturesque waterways that flow throughout the city. It is a vibrant tropical city that is home to pristine beaches and a lively nightlife.
Visit Boa Viagem, which is the main tourist attraction as it is the city’s central beach. It stretch of sand is surrounded by upmarket cafes, shops, restaurants and bars. Or visit Recife’s Old Town which is full of imposing architecture and colourful markets. If you love shopping, then Recife is home to Brazil’s second biggest shopping centre.
Visit the Casa de Cultura which is one of the most interesting buildings in Recife and dates back to 1850. Today it is home to a wonderful arts and crafts centre. Or visit Olaria de Brennand which is a ceramics factory that displays thousands of pieces. Or visit Recife’s best museum – Museu do Homem do Nordeste which is home to many art and objects that show the anthropology, culture and history of the region.
Historic and picturesque Olinda is an immaculately preserved colonial town that enchants travellers with its twisting streets filled with pastel coloured houses. Set around a tree-covered hill it offers incredible vistas over the treetops, church towers and red-tile roofs to Recife and the ocean. Olinda is not only one of the prettiest colonial towns in Brazil but also one of the best-preserved, so much so that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site! Wandering around the colonial centre is a delight.
For more information about things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.
Take a tour for Carnival!
Leave the guidebook at home and experience carnival under safe and knowledgeable guidance. There are loads of Carnival Tour itineraries you can check out on Tour Radar.
Carnival in Brazil is a crazy, hectic and chaotic experience, which is all part of the fun but if you want to have a hassle-free vacation then why not join a tour! Also carnival is better to experience with people so check out some awesome Brazil Carnival Tours here. Or even check out Viator which has hundreds of carnival tours and activities!
Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland
Before you go!
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