The Ultimate Guide to Rio de Janeiro Carnival Brazil

Carnival is celebrated all around the world but without a doubt Rio de Janeiro is the greatest of them all! This article is filled with lots of useful information, advice, tips and more to help you have the best time ever at Rio Carnival!

Friday February 12th 2021

Tuesday February 16th 2021

Days to start

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▷ The Biggest Party on Earth!

Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the mother, the mecca, the king of all carnivals. Every year prior to the start of Lent, Rio de Janeiro transforms into the biggest party on the planet, a party that is attended by five million people from all around the world. 

Carnival is an exhilarating time to be in Rio, all the businesses unrelated to carnival shut down and the Brazilians completely embrace the carnival spirit. From the beaches of Copacabana stretching all the way out to Rio’s suburbs, millions of people join street parties across the city. Rio Carnival is famous for being the biggest party on Earth.

▷ What is Carnival? And How is Carnival Celebrated?

What is carnival? Carnival is an annual Christian celebration that typically occurs before the onset of Lent. Lent is a time of fasting and sacrifice, a farewell from all bodily pleasures for forty days before Easter.

How is Carnival celebrated? Carnival generally involves a public celebration of some kind. Typically, carnival will include street parties, parades or balls. Carnival is a time to leave your inhibitions at home and indulge in the things that are prohibited during Lent. It is not only acceptable, but it is positively encouraged to let loose and get wild during carnival.

Where is the carnival? Carnival is celebrated all over the world mainly in areas with large Catholic populations. How many countries celebrate carnival? In total there are 52 countries that have carnival celebrations, but Rio de Janeiro is without a doubt the biggest, best and most famous carnival celebration in the world.

What is Carnival? If you really want to know what carnival is then head to Carnival in Rio to find out for yourself!

rio janeiro carnival

▷ How is Carnival Celebrated in Rio?

Carnival is an exhilarating time to be in Rio, all the businesses unrelated to carnival shut down and the Brazilians completely embrace the carnival spirit. From the beaches of Copacabana stretching all the way out to Rio’s suburbs, millions of people join street parties across the city. Rio Carnival is famous for being the biggest party on Earth.

While Rio Carnival is famous for being the biggest party on EarthRio Carnival is about much more than non-stop partying or sexy Brazilian women in revealing costumes, that is not the case. Rio Carnival in fact, it is all about music and dance, specifically samba.

The highlight of Rio Carnival is the world-renowned Samba Parade’s hosted in the Sambadrome. These samba shows are said to be the Greatest Show on Earth!

▷ When is the 2021 Rio Carnival?

The Rio Carnival 2020 dates start on Friday, 12th February 2021 and Rio Carnival 2020 finishes on Tuesday, 16th February 2021.

When is carnival in Brazil? One thing that holds true about carnival is that it is always unpredictable! Just like Easter the date is not fixed and changes every year. Carnival in Brazil will always officially start on the Friday prior to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. And it will always finish on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

▷ Everyone can join the Party!

Carnival in Rio is a time when all colours of the rainbow unite. It doesn’t matter your age, race or background, there is something for everyone. Brazil is a very multi-cultural society and the Cariocas (Rio locals) are famous for their friendliness and warmth. There are so many different events for everyone to enjoy it! It doesn’t matter your age or race or where you’re from.

Entire families celebrate carnival together, from the kids to the grandparents. With several blocos thrown just for families! No one is excluded from attending a Rio Carnival Party!  There is even a Children’s Parade at the Sambadrome.

Rio Carnival is also a very LGBT friendly carnival. There are plenty of carnival events solely for the LGBT community including a gay blocos that attracts about 50,000 and a gay ball at the Scala Nightclub.

Brazilian women and men are famous for their friendliness and warmth. The Rio locals known as Cariocas are very proud of their traditions and proud to show off their culture. They are welcoming to tourists and boy do they know how to have a good time!

▷ What is the History of Carnival?

The origins of carnival are older than Christianity itself. The history of carnival dates to pagan celebrations that were associated with the sprig equinox. Whilst the exact origins are not known it is speculated that it originated from the Egyptians.

When the influence of the Catholic Church spread across the world, the celebrations were given Christian meanings. Carnival was the final feast before the 40 days of fasting.

What is the meaning of carnival? The word carnival derives from the Latin words ‘carne’ and ‘vale’ which means farewell to meat. In the 1400’s Italy was known for its prolific carnival celebrations that included masquerade balls, and these celebrations soon spread all over Europe.  

▷ What is the history of carnival in Brazil?

The origins of carnival in Brazil date back to the 1700’s when the Portuguese settlers brought their carnival traditions with them from Europe. What is the history of carnival in Rio? The origins of Rio carnival start in 1723 when the first Rio Carnival was held. Originally these celebrations were private parties and masquerades that were only for the Portuguese aristocrats.

African slaves were not allowed to attend these carnival parties and used to hold their own celebrations mocking their European owners. As the years went by and the celebrations grew larger carnival transformed into a popular public street party.

Rio Carnivals traditions vastly evolved from their original form incorporating elements from African and Indigenous cultures, creating uniquely Brazilian carnival celebrations. Colourful feathered costumes and competitive parades quickly became the main attraction of modern Rio Carnival.

▷ King Momo and The Carnival Queen

rio janeiro carnival

An amusing Rio Carnival tradition is the crowning of the King Momo. Rio Carnival begins each year when the mayor of Rio crowns a carnival king, known as King Momo. When King Momo gives the signal, Rio Carnival kicks off and carnival fever spreads over the whole city of Rio.

In Greek mythology Momo is the god of mockery. Carnival legend has it that Momo was expelled from Olympus and decided to settle in Rio where he is seen as representing joy and posterity.

Every year a jolly fat man is selected to be King Momo. There is also a Rio Carnival Queen but unlike the selection for King Momo, the Carnival Queen is chosen through a series of beauty and dance pageants.

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▷ Samba

Samba music is the beating heart and soul of carnival in Rio and has been ever since it first appeared in the 1920s. Samba music is famous for its rhythmic beats and catchy rhythms. Samba is central to all the traditions seen during Rio Carnival, it is a core part of Brazil’s cultural identity.

Samba infiltrates all parts of Brazilian society, from the richest neighbourhoods in Rio to the poorest favelas, Samba brings Brazilians together. Your economic class doesn’t matter because everyone is bonded over their love of Samba.

It’s a contagious style of music that makes it impossible for the listener to not dance along. Samba music and dance evolved from African slaves that brought their music, dance and rhythmic drum beats from Africa.

▷ The Sambadrome

The Sambadrome, or Sambadromo in Portuguese is a giant custom-built samba stadium, where the main carnival event takes place. The Sambadrome was built specifically to host the main Samba School Parades. The Sambódromo features a long 700m runway and seats 90,000 spectators.

During carnival all roads lead to the Sambadrome. It is the centre of all carnival celebrations. Although of course the focus is undoubtedly upon the samba schools and beautiful Brazilian women samba dancers.

Only the top 14 Rio Samba Schools get to perform in the Sambadrome. The Samba Schools compete against each other in the from sunset to sunrise, in the most extravagant 2-night spectacle, that is broadcast to the world.

rio janeiro carnival

▷ Samba Schools

It is the Rio de Janeiro Samba Schools that make Rio Carnival so incredible. Rio de Janeiro is home to over 100 samba schools. Each Samba School represents a neighbourhood from Rio’s metropolitan area. These Samba schools are large social groups with around 3000 – 5000 members.

The background and economic status of each Samba School varies widely. Some of the samba schools are at the forefront of the samba scene and take the parades very seriously. Each Samba School selects a theme that is then represented through their costumes, floats, performance and music. The Samba Schools that don’t make the Sambadrome will parade through the streets of Rio during carnival

▷ Samba Parades

The Rio Samba parades also known as the desfiles are the absolute highlight of the Rio Carnival and known as the Greatest Show on Earth! Rio Carnival goes big on everything! Except maybe the skimpy Rio Carnival Costumes worn by the Brazilian women, and nothing highlights this more than the Rio Carnival Samba Parades.

The Rio Carnival Parades are a result of a years’ worth of hard work, dedication and passion. They feature giant 20m floats, dazzling costumes and 60,000 performers. Each Samba School sings and dances to a packed stadium of 90,000 screaming spectators. All whilst under the intense scrutiny of the judges, with the goal of being crowned the Best Rio Samba School.

▷ When is the Rio Samba Parade’s 2021

When is the Rio Samba Parade 2021? The top Samba schools compete on Sunday the 14th February and Monday the 15th of February. The top five winning groups will perform again in the Champions Parade on 20th February 2021.

The second division group, Series A, will compete on Friday 12th February 2021 and Saturday 13th February 2021.

What time is carnival? Carnival in Rio is 24/7! Blocos are always occurring somewhere in Rio during carnival.  The Samba Parades at the Sambadrome start around 10 or 11 and end at 6 or 7 in the morning.

Read Our Guide to the Rio Carnival Samba Parades.

▷ The Blocos – Rio Carnival Street Parties

It doesn’t matter if you attend the samba parades at the Sambadrome or not, because most of the action takes place outside the Sambadrome. Most of the Rio Carnival Celebrations occur on the streets and beaches of Rio at the blocos.

What are blocos? Blocos also known as bandas are free street parties organised by the neighbourhoods during carnival. Over five million people attend the blocos, and one Rio blocos alone attracts over two million people.

Over 500 blocos are thrown during carnival in Rio. For six wild days people dressed in costumes sing, dance, kiss and drink the days away. Blocos are led by floats with sound systems attached. They crawl through the streets pumping out the samba tunes and are followed by thousands of people.  

▷ Rio Carnival Blocos by Neighbourhood:

Blocos cover every inch of Rio. Here is a quick snap shot to help you determine which blocos may suit you.

  • Centro: The city centre of Rio is home to the biggest, oldest and most popular blocos. The first blocos of Rio Carnival is called Cordão do Bola Preta which can attract crowds exceeding 2 million.
  • Ipanema & Leblon:These two different neighbourhoods often merge together as one during carnival when the blocos spill over into each other. Blocos in Ipanema and Leblon are worth attending for their fun and friendly crowd. Banda de Ipanema is one of the most popular carnival blocos to attend which parades along Ipanema beach. Two other popular blocos are Simpatia é Quase Amor and Que Merda é Essa?!
  • Copacabana & Leme:This is a touristy area. There are dozens of blocos held every day. Blocos in these neighbourhoods will appeal to the under 30s crowd, who want to party
  • Santa Teresa:This is quite a bohemian and artistic neighbourhood that hosts two very popular blocos. The first is called Carmelitas based on a nun who escaped a local convent to join in the carnival celebrations. The second is Ceu na Terra which hosts traditional carnival celebrations with large puppets re-enacting local stories.  
  • Aterro do Flamengo:Blocos here are held in a park on the grass so they feel more like a music festival. One of the most famous blocos is Sargento pimento which is a blocos dedicated to playing Beatles music.
  • Jardim Botânico: Rio’s Botanical Gardens hosts much smaller yet still lively Blocos’. A popular one is called Suvaco do Cristo, which translates as the Christ’s Armpit because it takes place just under the Corcovado mountain where the Christ the Redeemer statue
  • Lapa:This area hosts several wild blocos similar to the ones found in the Due to its smaller streets, the crowds are smaller and more manageable.
  • Botafogo:This area is a favourite amongst the locals.

Read Our Ultimate Guide to the Rio Carnival Blocos 

▷ Rio’s Carnival Balls

What are the Rio Carnival Balls? The Carnival Balls are deeply rooted in the history of carnival celebrations. In keeping with the European origins of carnival in Brazil, there are many extravagant private parties and balls in Rio during carnival. These balls add an air of exclusivity to Rio Carnival. Your Rio Carnival experience is not complete without attending a carnival ball.

The Carnival Balls are themed and have a fancy-dress requirement. The Rio Balls can be described as glitzy, entertaining and over the top affairs. The most famous balls are the Magic Ball at the Copacabana and the Scala Balls held each night at the famous Scala Nightclub.

Read Our Guide to the Rio Carnival Balls

rio de janeiro carnival

▷ Rio Carnival Costumes

What to wear at Rio Carnival? Wondering about your Rio Carnival Costumes? We highly recommend that you get into the carnival spirit and dress up in some awesome Rio Carnival Costumes! The rule is that you can wear as much or little as you like, there are absolutely no guidelines! The key is to just make some sort of effort.

When you think of Rio Carnival, most people just think of the Rio Carnival Costumes that are worn at the Rio Carnival Parades! But colourful, sexy costumes with the giant feathers are just for the Rio Carnival Dancers in the Samba Parades, you do not need to wear one to the street parties or the watch the parade!

When it comes to the blocos, the locals take Rio Carnival Costumes very seriously and it’s a time when everyone indulges in their fantasies. Most locals spend months planning their carnival costumes. And they may dress up as anything from animals to superheroes, Disney characters, pirates, police, fairies, vampires, celebrities and more.

If you don’t want to wear a full-blown Rio Carnival Costume then just select a cool Rio Carnival Outfit, most people will just wear some bright or sparkly colours, or some face paint, glitter or just bring along some cool accessory! Many people will have colorful Rio Carnival Makeup.

Just remember it is summer and the temperatures can reach above forty degrees so make sure that your Rio Carnival Outfits are not too hot. Also, you will also be on your feet all day so no high heels, just wear some comfortable shoes with your Rio Carnival Outfit.

Get creative, become uninhibited and engage in some Rio Carnival Costumes diy! Hop on Amazon and check out some cool Rio Carnival Costumes and Rio Carnival Outfits that you can wear! Let your imagination run wild! 

▷ Where to stay for Rio Carnival?

If you’re wondering where to sleep during carnival in Rio, you have plenty of options. There are hotels, hostels, or apartments to rent for all budgets. The best place to stay is close to the blocos.

The best place to stay in Rio during carnival is in Rio’s Zona Sul which includes the suburbs of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon & the Centro, the most popular events happen in this vicinity. Staying here means you’re close to the action and close to Rio’s best beaches and shopping.  Zona Sur is where most of the popular blocos are held. It’s also where the beautiful beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon are.

Flamengo, Botafogo, Lapa and Santa Teresa are also popular areas for tourists during carnival. These areas see plenty of blocos occurring and near the Lapa Arches is where tons of people meet for drinks each day.

There is no need to stay close to the Sambadrome during carnival because its neighbourhood doesn’t have the best reputation at night. There is plenty of transport heading to the samba parades, so it’s recommended that you just make your way to the parades.

Anywhere near a train station is also recommended during carnival because most of the main streets of Rio are closed for blocos during carnival. The train goes 24/7 so it is easy to just pack in with all the other party goers.

For those really trying to do carnival on a budget then you can check out a couch surfing website for friendly Brazilians willing to open up their home.

Check out some acommodation deals here.

▷ Tickets to Rio Carnival 2021

rio janeiro carnival

Do you need tickets for Rio Carnival? The blocos are free! However, if you want to go see the world-famous samba parades or attend a ball then yes you need tickets.

How much are tickets for the Sambadrome? The Samba Parades have tickets for all budgets ranging from between $20 -$2000US, depending on what parade you see and how good your seats are.

How much are tickets to the Rio Carnival balls? Tickets to the Rio Carnival Balls can cost anywhere from $100 to over US$1000 depending on which one you wish to attend. The high-profile balls like the Scala Balls and the Magic Ball are sold out months in advance so it would be wise to book your ticket as soon as possible.

 Is Rio Carnival worth it? The answer is YES, absolutely!!! Carnival in Rio may hurt your bank account but it’s something you must experience at least once in your life.

rio janeiro carnival

▷ What to See and Do in Rio?

When is the best time to go to Rio? You’ll be happy to know that any time of year is the perfect time to visit Rio, irrespective of carnival. So, if you’re wondering what else can I do besides attend the carnival in Rio? The answer is lots!

Rio is famous for its beautiful beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon and its tropical rainforests that cover the city. Make sure you visit some of its most famous sights like the statue of the Christ Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain. Rio’s beach culture is great. You can go to the beach to relax, have a swim or surf. Or you can join the cariocas in a game of football or beach volleyball.

Check out Viator which has hundreds of cool city tours, sightseeing tours, carnival tickets and other carnival tours for Rio! 

▷ How to get to Rio?

Rio has two international airports that have connecting flights to many major international cities and domestic flights across Brazil. Brazil also has a great bus network so if you’re on a budget, you might consider a bus journey instead of an expensive air-fare.

rio janeiro carnival

▷ Is Carnival in Rio Safe?

Is it safe to attend carnival in Rio? Many people want to know how safe Rio carnival is. While Rio doesn’t have the best reputation for being a safe city it is fairly safe. The most common crime affecting tourists are pickpockets and street muggings.

So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. If you have to take your phone out with you, don’t have it on show for long and keep an eye out for teens on bikes who are trying to to pinch phones.

It is best to stay in the touristy areas and don’t go wandering through the favelas. A lot of Brazilians speak English so if you need help it won’t be too hard to find.

▷ What should I know about carnival in Rio?

The best advice is to plan as much of your carnival in advance as you possibly can. That way you can get the best deals on accommodations and tickets. It is very important to check if you need a tourist visa as Brazil has strict visa requirements for several countries.

Also, it is good to note that it is summer in Brazil and temperatures can reach at least 40 degrees. So, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and protecting yourself from the sun. Remember carnival is a marathon not a sprint so don’t get too drunk too quickly. Also, you can be arrested and fined for public urination so don’t pee in the streets.

Find a good group of people to celebrate carnival because nothing will be more enjoyable then celebrating with like-minded people. Choose with blocos you want to attend and go all out with your Rio Carnival costumes. The best tip is to just let loose and go with the flow because you never know where your carnival experience might take you.

▷ Take a tour for Rio Carnival!

Leave the guidebook at home and experience carnival under safe and knowledgeable guidance. There are loads of Rio Carnival Tour itineraires you can check out on Tour Radar. Whether you want to samba in the parade, join a conga line with locals, or party in the blocos there is something for everyone!

Carnival in Rio 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 Rio Carnival Tours here

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

Before you go!
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