Everything You Need To Know About São Paulo Carnival – A Carnival that rivals Rio!

Sao Paulo Carnival is one of Brazil’s best carnival celebrations. It puts on Samba Parades that can easily rival the ones seen at Rio.

Friday 12th February 2021

Tuesday 16th February 2021

Days to start

What is carnival in São Paulo?

sao paulo carnival

Brazilians are the undisputed carnival kings when it comes to celebrating! While Sao Paulo carnival may not have the same fame as carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador or Recife and Olinda, it actually puts on a carnival celebration that can easily rival them all.

São Paulo’s world-famous samba parades are second only to Rio de Janeiro in terms of extravagance and decadence. The Parades are considered the highlight of Sao Paulo Carnival with over 30,000 attendees and 25,000 performers.

The street parties known as blocos draw crowds of millions onto the streets of Sao Paulo for wild carnival celebrations. The carnival spirit is just as vibrant in Sao Paulo as any other city in Brazil.

When is São Paulo Carnival?

sao paulo carnival

What are the dates for the 2020 Sao Paulo Carnival? Unlike Rio Carnival the main days of Sao Paulo Carnival are on the Friday Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday. Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. 

In 2020 all eyes will be on the Anhembi Sambadrome on Friday 21st February when the carnival celebrations kick off with the first group for the samba parades beginning. And Carnival Saturday, 22nd February will be equally as exciting!  The date for Ash Wednesday is 26th February 2020.

Where is São Paulo?

São Paulo city is the capital of São Paulo State, located in south-eastern Brazil. It is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. The city lies about 350 km (220 miles) southwest of Rio de Janeiro and about 50 km inland (30 miles) from its Atlantic Ocean port of Santos.

What is the History of Carnival in São Paulo?

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Carnival was first introduced to Brazil with the early Portuguese settlers who used to hold masquerade balls and private parties before the onset of Lent.

The African slaves would throw their own carnival celebrations mocking their European owners and over the years the European traditions merged with the African traditions and public street celebrations and parades began to be held.

Back in the fifties carnival celebrations in Sao Paulo were still relatively small. Only a few samba schools existed who would parade on the streets. However, over the years the event continued to grow and today the Sao Paulo’s Sambodromo draws millions of visitors.

Samba music

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In Brazil, Samba is much more than a type of dance or music, it is a diverse and versatile art form that is an important part of Brazil’s culture and heritage. Samba music was birthed in the Brazilian favelas and Brazilians are fiercely proud of their heritage. 

Samba dominates every aspect of carnival in Sao Paulo from samba songs, to samba themes, the upbeat and catchy music is inescapable during carnival season in Brazil.

Anhembi Sambadrome

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Sao Paulo Carnival is similar to Rio hosting a prestigious samba competition that sees Sao Paulo’s top 13 Samba Schools compete against each other. São Paulo like Rio also has its own Sambadrome, named Sambódromo do Anhembi.  

Anhembi Sambadrome opened in 1991 and holds up to 30,000 spectators. It was built similar to Rio and because the popularity of the samba parades continued to grow year after year. The Anhembi Sambadrome is the heart and soul of Carnival in Sao Paulo. 

The Samba Shows that are seen at the Sambadrome amount to a years’ worth of planning. A lot of creativity as well as blood, sweat and tears go into creating the parades. Anhembi Sambadrome Samba Parades features thousands of performers, incredible floats and gorgeous costumes.

São Paulo Samba Schools

sao paulo carnival

The winning Samba School receives nation-wide fame and adoration. Additionally, the Champion Samba School’s song will also become a nation-wide hit getting continuous air play throughout the year.

Samba Schools in Brazil are not like the name suggests a teaching school but samba clubs that represent different neighbourhoods. Samba Schools are similar to soccer teams in that they have avid supporters and receive loyalty and support from their fans.

The most popular samba schools in São Paulo are Mocidade Alegre, Vai-Vai, Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi, Rosas de Ouro and Unidos de Vila Maria. 

The São Paulo 2020 Special Group

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The top 14 Sao Paulo Samba Schools that compete in the Main Samba Parade are called the Grupo Especial. These samba schools compete against each other in a two-night extravaganza with the aim of winning the prestigious title for Best Samba School.

The top Sao Paulo Samba Schools are judged in numerous categories including music, theme, costumes and choreography. The event is broadcast to a national audience on the Saturday and Sunday of Carnival week, so as to not distract from Rio’s Samba Parades, which are also televised.

Special Group Samba Parades will be held on February 21 and 22, 2020 at the Anhembi Sambadrome. The schedule hasn’t been released yet but it generally starts around 10:30 – 11:0pm but here are the Samba Schools that will be in this year’s Samba Parades.

Special Group 1 – Friday, 21st February 2020  

  1. Barroca Zona Sul
  2. Tom Maior
  3. Dragões da Real
  4. Mancha Verde
  5. Império de Casa Verde
  6. X-9 Paulistana

Special Group 2- Saturday, February 22nd February 2020

  1. Pérola Negra
  2. Colorado do Brás
  3. Gavião da Fiel
  4. Mocidade Alegre
  5. Águia de Ouro
  6. Unidos de Vila Maria
  7. Rosas de Ouro

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2020 São Paulo Access Groups – Second Division

The second division Sao Paulo Samba Schools also get to perform at the Sambadrome during carnival! Their parades are just as creative and as amazing to watch as the Special Group because their motivation is to advance into the Special Group for the following year.

Think of it like premier league football the best performing groups from the Access groups move into the Special Group, and the worst groups performing groups from the Special Group move down to the Access Group. It makes the samba parades one fierce fight! The tickets are a little cheaper to see this group.

Access Group 1 – Sunday, 23rd February 2020

  1.  Estrela do Terceiro Milênio
  2. Nenê de Vila Matilde
  3. Independente Tricolor
  4. Leandro de Itaquera
  5. Mocidade Unida da Mooca
  6. Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi
  7. Camisa Verde e Branco
  8. Vai-Vai

Access Group 2 – Monday, 24th February 2020 

  1. Flor de Vila Dalila
  2. Primeira da Cidade Líder
  3. Unidos de Santa Bárbara
  4. Amizade Zona Leste
  5. Camisa 12
  6. Uirapuru da Mooca
  7. Torcida Jovem
  8. Unidos do Peruche
  9. Morro da Casa Verde
  10. Tradição Albertinense
  11. Imperador do Ipiranga
  12. Dom Bosco de Itaquera

You can participate in the São Paulo Samba Parades!

The São Paulo Samba Parade also allows anyone who is interested to participate, even tourists! It is the ultimate carnival experience and all you must do is organise it with one of the participating samba schools ahead of time.

Tickets to watch the Samba Parades can be purchased in person, at the Sambadrome or online and cost from R$25 to $150, depending on which parade you choose.

São Paulo Anhembi Sambadrome Tickets

There are plenty of tickets to see the Main Samba Parades at the Sambadrome held on Friday and Saturday night. You can choose from seats available in the bleachers, grandstands or you can rent a private box.

Prices to see the Special Group can be as cheap as R$90 right through to R$2500 depending on how good your seat is. Tickets can be purchased at the stadium during carnival.

São Paulo’s Blocos

sao paulo carnival

São Paulo Carnival isn’t just about the Samba parades at the Sambadrome it’s also about the street parties known as blocos. Blocos are where the majority of the city celebrates carnival. The São Paulo neighbourhood associations throw raving, block parties and everyone is invited!

Roving bands or sound systems called trio electricos pump out the Samba music all over the city. They are followed by large boisterous crowds wearing fancy dress singing, dancing, drinking and flirting the night away. Many people bang drums, pots and pans along to the Samba music.  

Blocos represent the whimsically democratic carnival spirit in which anyone can participate. Interestingly, the Sambadrome’s elaborate samba school parades evolved from these little street parties, that used to parade up and down local streets.

Best São Paulo’s Blocos

sao paulo carnival

Which street parties to attend at São Paulo Carnival? The most sought after blocos in Sao Paulo are Bantanta and Banda do Trem. The Sao Paulo neighbourhood of Bixigia hosts some of the best street parties during carnival because it is home to Vai-Vai one of the best samba school in the city.

Banda do Trem Elétrico occurs on Rua Augusta in Consolação and Bantantã is held on Avenida Waldemar in Butanta. Bloco dos Esfarrapados on Rua Conselheiro Carrão in Bela Vista also draws large crowds of party people.

There are lots of little carnival celebrations that occur in small villages near the city if you want to escape the crowds. The towns of São Luis do Paraitinga and Sorocaba host popular yet much smaller carnival parties.

São Paulo’s Carnival Balls

sao paulo carnival

In keeping with European carnival traditions Sao Paulo Carnival hosts several carnival balls that add a touch of elegance to the celebrations. The most exclusive balls are invitation-only and attended by the Brazil elite. However, there are many restaurants and nightclubs that keep the masquerading tradition alive, offering non-stop parties during all five nights of the Carnival.

Bar Brahama and the Avenida Club in Sao Paulo are the two most popular and prestigious venues hosting carnival balls every year. They both host balls every night of carnival. Starting carnival Friday and finishing on Shrove Tuesday.

The Bar Braham Ball is known to be one of the best parties in town. The Avinda Club in Pinheiros hosts 800 people every night and their carnival balls also host the theme songs from the top samba schools.

Arsenal da Esperança

Arsenal da Esperança which translates to Arsenal of Hope was an organization founded in 1996 in São Paulo. For 23 years this organization has been opening its doors for thousands of people who are in difficulties, people on the street, young people and adults who suffer from a lack of home, food, work, health or family. Whoever enters this house will find food, and a clean and cozy place to rest and bathe. Over 23 years this organization has provided help to over 60,000 people!

The Arsenal da Esperança community represents kindness and compassion for all, feelings that circulates in the streets of São Paulo during the carnival. They have created a carnival blocos and a small neighborhood parade to spread that message. This group tries to show every year that with strength and commitment, the world can be a better place!

Each year this blocos selects a different theme for carnival. The 2020 carnival theme is Caring. There is a cute story that inspired this theme. It was inspired by a conversation between two people in which the question about ‘what caring is’, came up. One person asked the other, “what does caring mean?”, and the other person who was a mother, without saying a word showed the person her child. They thought that this would be the perfect theme for 2020 carnival! Why not take care of 1 child or 3, 5, or … the whole neighborhood or the whole city!

This year Arsenal da Esperança is going to give a big hug in the streets of her neighborhood. And they want to demonstrate with this beautiful gesture that a hug from each of us could change the lives of many people. And by joining all the hugs they want to make everyone in the city feel welcome. So that nobody feels alone and everyone feels they know what the word care means.

And so, Arsenal da Esperança is building a big hug, made of cloth and cardboard and 2 giant hands of polystyrene foam that will be transported through the streets of the Mooca neighborhood (where the Arsenal da Esperança is located) by young people, volunteers, received Arsenal da Esperança, friends of the parish of Nossa Senhora Aparecida dos Ferroviários.

A beautiful gesture that helps those who have less to enjoy carnival in a unique way in São Paulo. From Carnivaland we want to say THANK YOU for the work that Arsenal da Esperança does not only with its neighborhood, but with the world. And if you want to learn more about this wonderful organization and how you can help, please check them out here.


How to get to São Paulo?

By Plane

Most international flights go to São Paulo. Even flights bound for Rio often stop in São Paulo first. There are two main airports which receive international flights including Guarulhos Airport, 30km northeast of the city. The other airport is Congonhas Airport which is about 15km from downtown.

By Bus

São Paulo has three bus terminals which connect with any city in Brazil and even some South American cities. All three bus terminals then connect to the Metro system. Terminal Rodoviário da Barra Funda serves buses to the interior of São Paulo, northern Paraná, Mato Grosso, and Minas Gerais. Terminal Rodoviário de Jabaquara, provides transport to Santos and the South Coast. And Terminal Rodoviário do Tietê is the largest and most important bus station. It has buses to Rio, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

Transport in São Paulo can be complicated! For a start as this city is home to almost 20 million residents the roads are on the edge of their capacity and small incidents can cause huge delays. The best way for tourists to get around is to use the subway/metro, trains and trolleybuses and choose taxis for shorter distances.

Where to stay in São Paulo?

sao paulo carnival

Where to stay in São Paulo depends on your budget, interests and level of comfort. Do you want to be close to the main attractions and museums, or would you prefer to stay in an artistic neighbourhood? Whatever you prefer we have got your covered!

São Paulo is divided into nine zones and 31 districts. The most popular neighbourhoods for tourists are Vila Madalena, Paraiso, Jardins and Higienopolis. Vila Madalena is São Paulo’s bohemian quarter. It is home to lots of cool bars and has a lively nightlife. Tourists come from worldwide to attend many cultural events that take place here.

Centro Velho is the historic district of Sao Paulo and beasts a huge array of architectural styles and is home to Praça da Sé which is the busiest square in the city centre. Granja Julieta and Alto Da Boa Vista are two residential areas that are lined with large houses and high-end buildings but while they are lively neighbourhoods you can enjoy natural tranquil surroundings.

Liberdale is the historic Japanese quarter and home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. It is like a small piece of Japan was transplanted into Brazil! Jardins is one of the most attractive areas of São Paulo’s. The area is packed with a huge number of bars, cafes, restaurants and museums.

Check out some great accommodation options in Sao Paulo here.

What to do and See in Sao Paulo

sao paulo carnival

As this is the largest city in South America there are so many cool things to do and see that it may take you a few visits to see it all. The city of São Paulo is rich in political, historical, and cultural value, so it truly offers visitors a memorable and authentic experience of Brazil.

Because of its rich heritage and history, São Paulo is home to a numerous art galleries, parks, museums, architecture and statues. The most popular attractions are Paulista Avenue, Catedral da Sé, Ibirapuera Park, Edifício Copan, The Sao Paulo Museum of Art, The Sacred Art Museum, Liberdade, Banespa Building, Estação da Luz, Itaim Bibi, Pátio do Colégio and Bixiga.

We recommend booking a city tour so that you can easily see it all! For more information about things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. Or check out some cool itineraries for vacations around Brazil, including some great carnival tours here on Tour Radar.

How safe is São Paulo Carnival?

For the most part, carnival is considered to be very safe. Having said, there is still a bit of petty crime and during carnival, lots of people in compact groups.

We suggest when you head out leave your valuables back in 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.

Before you go

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance. Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

Read our ultimate guide to Rio Carnival here.

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