Recife & Olinda Carnival – Brazil’s most Authentic Carnivals!

Carnival in Recife and Olinda is said by many to be Brazil’s best carnival. It is certainly Brazil’s most authentic carnival with few tourists.

Friday, February 21st 2020

Tuesday, February 25th 2020

Days to start

Recife and Olinda – Brazil’s Best Carnival

recife olinda 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 cityies carnival celebrations.

Where is Recife and Olinda?

recife olinda carnival

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?

recife olinda carnival

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?

recife olinda carnival

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.


recife olinda carnival

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.

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Recife Carnival

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

recife olinda carnival

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

recife olinda carnival

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

recife olinda carnival

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

recife 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

recife olinda carnival

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)

recife olinda carnival

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!

recife olinda carnival

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!

Where to stay?

Here are some accomodation options in Recife.

If you would prefer to stay in Olinda check out some accomodtions here. 

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

Before you go!
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