Rio de Janeiro Carnival Frequently Asked Questions

Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the biggest & most famous carnival celebration in the world. Rio hosts the world-famous parades, street parties & masquerade balls.

Rio Carnival can be a daunting experience for first-timers. The beaches and streets of Rio are literally bustling with crowds of millions. Everything is a little crazy, the hotels are booked out, and it can be a little difficult knowing where to go, when there is so many events on all across the city.

Here are our answers to all to the most often asked questions to help you celebrate carnival in Rio 2020 with ease of mind!

What is carnival?

What is carnival? Carnival or carnaval is an annual Christian celebration that typically occurs before the onset of Lent and generally involves a public celebration of some kind. Lent is a time of fasting and sacrifice, a farewell from all bodily pleasures for forty days before Easter. These public celebrations typically include street parties, parades, balls or some other form of entertainment.

What is Rio Carnival?

What is Carnival in Rio? As the rest of the world recovers from their Christmas and new year celebrations the Brazilians continue to celebrate in the lead up to their carnival season. Carnival in Brazil is a time to let loose and enjoy life before the period of Lent begins.

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

What is the History of Carnival?

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The origins of carnival are actually older then Christianity itself. The history of carnival dates back to pagan celebrations that were associated with the spring 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.

When is 2020 Rio Carnival? When does 2020 Rio Carnival end?

When is the 2020 Rio Carnival? It will start on Friday the 21st February 2020. Rio Carnival finishes on Shrove Tuesday which is the 25th February 2020 the day before Ash Wednesday.

What time of day is Rio Carnival?

Rio Carnival 2019 will run 24/7. At every hour there is some form of celebration occurring somewhere in the city. The majority of blocos will occur between the hours of 6am to 8pm. The Rio Carnival Balls and the Samba Parades at the Sambadrome will usually start around 10-11pm and end at 6 or 7 the next morning.

Why does Brazil have Carnival?

Carnival in Brazil is linked with Catholicism. The Portuguese settlers brought their carnival celebrations with them from Europe when they first settled in Brazil way back in the early 1600s.

What is the history of Rio Carnival?

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.

These early celebrations were mainly formal balls, held in the homes of wealthy Portuguese. However, the Afro-Brazilians started to create their own carnival celebrations with African inspired dances and music. As time went on the European and African influences fused together and continued to evolve into how we know them today.

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.

Which Carnival is the best in Brazil?

Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the biggest and most famous carnival in the world. Everyone should experience carnival in Rio at least once in their life.

However, some will say that Salvador de Bahia Carnival is better, because it has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the biggest street party in the world. Salvador Carnival is considered to have much more participatory celebrations.

Another carnival in Brazil that is very well known is Olinda and Recife carnival which has its own distinctive folkloric celebrations involving giant puppets and colourful troupes and it’s a great option if you want a slightly smaller more unique carnival experience.

What to expect during Rio Carnival?

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If you’re wondering what to expect during Rio Carnival 2019 the first thing you need to know is that the carnival spirit takes over the whole city! All the business that aren’t related to carnival shut down and everyone from old to young celebrates carnival. Everywhere you go you will hear shouts, singing, horns blowing and non-stop samba tunes filling the air.

There are street parties everywhere! Some attract a few thousand people and others attract millions. The blocos start early around 6 or 7am and most finish by about 7-8pm because of noise restrictions. Essentially most the blocos are wild outdoor parties full of dancing, singing, kissing, socialising and a lot of drinking.

What is a samba school?

Rio Carnival is about unity and community spirit. These elements are demonstrated by the samba schools because they bring people together. Samba schools are an association of people who live in the same neighbourhood in Rio. They are not teaching institutions as their name implies, they are more like football teams that represent a certain neighbourhood.

Samba schools are the absolute backbone of Rio’s Carnival. They are the ones that put on the big shows. Samba schools collaborate to make the dance routines, costumes, floats, samba songs, which are all designed by members of the samba schools.

What is a Samba Parade?

The Rio Samba Parades are the main attraction of carnival. The Rio Samba Schools spend an entire year preparing to compete in the samba parades. The samba parades take place in the Sambadrome which host a week of samba competitiveness, that leads to the crowning of the best samba schools.

The Rio Samba Parades are highly choreographed mind-blowing spectacles. Each samba school picks a theme and then represents that theme through their costumes, floats, dancers and music.

Each samba school has around 5,000 participants who perform in the parades who sing, dance, play percussion to an audience of 90,000 spectators all under the scrutiny of a panel of 40 judges.

With its amazing costumes, catchy samba beats, and incredible samba dancing, the samba parades at the Sambadrome are one of the most unforgettable carnival experiences one could have.

What are the Carnival balls?

The Rio Carnival Balls are the more glamourous and extravagant events that occur during carnival. There are balls for all budgets and most of the balls have themes and costume requirements.

The Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel is known as the ultimate carnival ball. It is a fancy black tie event that is attended by the rich and famous and the tickets are very expensive. The Scala Nightclub in downtown Rio hosts six balls during carnival which are very popular.

Cordão do Bola Preta Carnival Ball also known as the Black Ball is one of the more popular yet affordable balls.

What is a blocos?

A blocos is a street party in Portuguese. During Rio Carnival there are over 500 blocos that are held all over the city of Rio. Some of the blocos attract hundreds and some of the blocos attract crowds of millions.

Each blocos will have a name or theme that is more then often funny or suggestive. Most of the blocos are held in the streets. Sound-systems are attached to the back of cars and move around while followed by crowds of people. Other blocos stay still.

Which are the best street parties Rio Carnival?

The blocos held downtown like the Cordão do Bola Preta or the Street Band of Ipanema are the biggest and most well-known attracting millions of people.

But it really comes down to personal preference, with over 500 blocos to choose from there is something for everyone. There are blocos for Beatles fans, families, the working class, young, old and even for followers of Gandhi.

What to wear during Rio Carnival?

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If you are wondering what to wear to Rio Carnival, then you should be made aware that absolutely everyone dresses up. And most people will usually plan a different costume for everyday of Rio Carnival.

There are no rules when it comes to what outfit to wear to carnival. You don’t need to compete with the elaborate costumes that are seen in the Samba Parades. The Samba costumes with the bright colours, feathers, glitter and headdresses are just for the parade participants.

There are plenty of costume shops and street vendors in Rio if you haven’t pre-organised anything. Street party costumes are more often humour based, a lot of men cross dress for example. Women often wear glitter, sparkles or flowers in the hair.

Just remember that it is summer in Rio during Carnival, which means that it can reach temperatures of around 40 degrees, so light clothing is better. Also wear comfortable closed toe shoes because you will most likely spend the whole day on your feet, and there can be lots of broken glass around. Wear swimmers if you’re at a blocos near the beach so you can cool off in the ocean.

Check out some carnival outfits on Amazon here.

Which are the best balls?

The Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace is the most prestigious of Rio’s Carnival Balls. It is a black-tie event and is attended by the rich and famous. Only a select few are lucky enough to go. The most popular balls are thrown by the Scala club and they are the Gay Gala and the Red and Black ball.

How much are tickets to Rio Carnival’s Samba Parades?

How much are tickets for Rio Carnival? Specifically, how much are tickets for the Sambadrome? The good news is the Samba Parades have tickets for all budgets. Admission can be anywhere between US$20 to US$2000. It depends on what parade you’re watching, and how good your seats are.

Can you attend the Rio Carnival without buying tickets to the Sambadrome event?

Yes absolutely! Most of the carnival celebrations take place at the blocos and with over 500 blocos occurring you have no shortage of places to celebrate carnival in Rio.

How much does it cost to attend the blocos in Rio?

If you’re wondering how much are the blocos in Rio are, then good news the blocos are free to attend! Unlike carnival in Salvador which require you to buy a ticket to enter, there are no fences surrounding the blocos at Rio, and everyone is welcome to join.  

How much does it cost to attend the Rio Carnival balls?

Tickets to the Rio Carnival balls can cost anywhere from US$20 to upwards of US$2500 depending on which one you wish to attend and how luxurious it is. The Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel is much higher costing several thousands.

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.

Are the Samba Parades at the Sambadrome worth it?

A thousand times YES! It is very worthwhile and if you are going to make the effort to attend carnival in Rio, you must make an effort to see one of the Samba Parades. When people talk about Rio Carnival as being the greatest show on earth, this is what they are talking about.

Can tourists participate in Rio’s Carnival Parades?

Yes, you can!! You don’t have to be a professional samba dancer or even a Rio local to participate in the parades. Several of the schools will offer you the chance to buy a ticket to participate in the parades. All you have to do is buy a costume and learn the dance movies. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Accommodation for Rio Carnival

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There are plenty of hostels, hotels, apartment rentals, or even couch surfing options in Rio. For tourists it’s better to stay close to the action. Zona Sur is where most of the popular blocos are held. Its also where the beautiful beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon are. This area is the most popular locations for tourists.

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 ways 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 accomodation deals here.

When should bookings for Rio Carnival be made?

It is recommended you book the 2019 Rio Carnival as far in advance as you can. Most people will book around 4-6 months in advance because this gives you the best chance of availability, as well as getting the best value for money.

How early do I need to book tickets to the Sambadrome?

You will be able to pick up some last-minute seats to see the Samba Parades in the Sambadrome once you’re in Rio. But don’t expect to have great seats to see the parade you will most likely be in the nosebleed section if you buy them last minute.

If you want a good view of the parades, then purchase your tickets as far in advance as possible as they sell out early. The main samba parades are always held on the Sunday and Monday of carnival.

How to get to the Sambadrome?

If you are staying around Ipanema or Copacabana, then just take the subway instead. There are crowds of people heading there anyway so it’s fun heading out there. It is also possible to take a government taxi. There are also many private shuttle companies offering transport to the event.

How to get to Rio?

There are two airports international airports in Rio. Additionally, Brazil has a great bus network so if you’re on a budget you might consider a bus journey instead of an expensive air-fare. To get a quote for a flight click here.

Is Rio Carnival Expensive?

If you are wondering can I do Rio carnival on a budget it should be known that it is virtually impossible to do so. But it is a once in a lifetime event and worth the money. While Rio Carnival is not very cheap holiday it doesn’t have to break the bank either.

You can stay in hostels or couch surf to save money on accommodation. Or staying in neighbourhoods that are further away from the action also make it cheaper. You can buy cheap street food and drinks or bring your own alcohol to the blocos to save money. Don’t take taxies during carnival just ride public transport.

How long should you spend in Rio?

It depends because if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing as well as attending carnival than just going for the week may feel rushed. Ten days would be a good minimum to enjoy the carnival celebrations and see Rio’s beautiful sights. Obviously, a longer holiday is always more fun!

When should I book my flight for Rio Carnival?

You should book ASAP because most likely flights will be the most expensive part of your trip. Flights to Rio are not cheap and they become more expensive as the carnival edges closer. Flights from the USA will be about $1000 US. To get a quote for a flight click here.

Do I need a visa for Rio Carnival?

Some counties require a visa and you will need a full blank page in your passport for that, if needed. A tourist visa needs to be applied beforehand and costs about $140US. You just need to schedule an appointment with a Brazilian Embassy or Consulate and when applying you will need proof of a round trip flight in and out of Brazil.

Do I need any vaccinations to attend carnival?

If you are planning on only staying in Rio de Janeiro, then you probably won’t need any vaccinations. However, if you are planning on travelling to other areas in Brazil or South America then you should definitely check in with your doctor before going to see what vaccinations they recommend.

Also, your own country may have vaccination requirements when going to Brazil. For example, in Australia people that are flying back from Brazil are required to obtain a yellow fever vaccination before they can re-enter the country.

What else there to do and see in Rio?

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If you’re wondering what can I do in Rio?  Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city and makes for delicious eye-candy with its scenic landscape, mountains and stunning Brazilian women and men. Visit some of Rio’s most famous attractions or play football with the locals. After carnival you can visit some of Brazil’s other most famous sights like the majestic Iguassu Falls and the Amazon Rainforest.

Here is a list of some of Rio’s top attractions:

  • The Christ Redeemer Statue, this famous Rio icon offers the most spectacular views, as well as a chance for a photo-op in front of the statue
  • Sugarloaf Mountain is an amazing place to see the sunset
  • Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon beaches are beautiful and very lively
  • Escadaria Selarón these colourful steps are worth the climb!
  • Santa Teresa is an artsy and bohemian neighbourhood with cobblestone streets that offer beautiful views over Rio
  • Favela tours are offered
  • Tijuca National Park is the biggest urban national parkin the world. And this beautiful jungle is only twenty minutes from the city centre
  • Aproador, is the rocky area between Ipanema and Copacabana where people gather to drink beer and watch the sunset
  • Maracanã Stadiumis home to famous local football team Flamenco and one of the biggest stadiums in the world
  • The Lapa Arches are an historic piece of architecture
  • Fort Copacabana
  • Guanabara Bay
  • Rio Botanical Gardens

Or even check out Viator which has hundreds of carnival tours and activities!

Is Carnival in Rio safe?

While Rio doesn’t have a reputation as being one of the safest cities in the world you shouldn’t have any troubles so long as your sensible and leave your valuables back in your hotel.

Many Brazilians speak English so catching the metro around is considered safe and even fun with its pre-party crowds. It is important to stay in the more touristy areas and not advisable that you go wandering around the favelas yourself.

To truly understand what carnival is, you must experience it for yourself. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is an absolute once in a lifetime bucket list item.

Be aware of pickpockets during carnival when there are big crowds and it’s easy to get your stuff stolen. 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.

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 itineraries you can check out on Tour Radar. Whether you want to samba in the parade, join a conga line with locals, or witness the parades, 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.  Or even check out Viator which has hundreds of carnival tours and activities!

Read our ultimate guide to Rio Carnival here.

Read our guide to the Rio Carnival Samba Parades.

Read our guide to the Rio Carnival Balls

Read our guide to the Rio Carnival Blocos

Can’t decide between Rio and Salvador Carnival, let us help you decide! 

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