It’s the main festivity in Brazil which earned the distinction of being “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The Rio Carnival starts on Friday until Tuesday or just a day shy of Ash Wednesday, a significant Catholic tradition which signal the start of Lent. If you really want to understand the question what is Carnival, head off to the Sambodromo particularly on Carnival Sunday and Monday to experience first-hand why this annual tradition is visited by millions of people from all the part of the world.
Prior to the construction of the Sambodromo , the top samba schools go around the streets of Rio to perform the samba. But this all changed when Rio officials and organizers realized that a change is in order.
The objective is two-fold: first is the need to build a facility for the comfort of the tourists, second is the potential revenue through tickets. In 1984, the Sambodromo was completed and almost immediately, the parade registered an increase in participants and spectators.
The stadium can sit more than 80,000 visitors as well as accommodate 5,000 participants through the wide Marquês de Sapucaí Avenue. Now, what is Carnival without the samba parade ? You can feel the resonance of the drums, cymbals and trumpets echo through the Sambodromo and brim over to the streets.
The Carnival is celebrated five days preceding Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent in the Catholic calendar. At the heart of the Carnival is the samba, which is the perfect illustration of the Afro-European blend that defines Brazil culture.
The top samba schools get the honor of performing in front of millions at the Sambodromo . It’s obvious by watching the performances at the Sambodromo the amount of preparation that goes into each dance step, the choice of song and the selection of dancers to represent each school.
There’s a panel of around 40 judges who sit at key points throughout the stadium watching every nuance of movement, appraising the thread and sequin of each costume, the significance of the song, the integrity to the samba. The energy is palpable throughout the stadium that spectators are known to dance along with the participants.
The judges will announce the champion on Ash Wednesday.
The exotic nature and sensuality of the samba is only enhanced by the flashy costumes of the participants. But these costumes are not chosen because of aesthetics but rather they form part of the story.
While the spectators only see the different pigments and designs of the costumes, the significance of each garb is not lost on the judges. That’s why the samba schools give particular attention to the type of costume they will display. The preparation and decision-making process take months. Tracing the Carnival’s origins to the European masquerades, the visitors are also encouraged to bring their own costumes to feel the spirit of Carnival.
The Carnival wouldn’t have experienced the type of success it enjoys today without the stiff competition among the samba schools .
These schools just started from street bands which developed into groups and clubs then associations before they became the samba schools of today. Each school has a close relationship with the host community mainly because the samba schools help support the poor sectors in its surrounding areas.
The community provides the labor to build the floats, sew the costumes, logistical support and even as security enforcers to ensure the safety of the dancers.
While the competition among schools remains stiff, they nevertheless never forget what the Carnival is about.
The Carnival is still a commercial endeavor. It’s a multi-million dollar industry when you consider at least a million foreign visitors flocking to witness the event and the ripple effect to the economy, such as the number of indirect jobs created for example. The tickets at the Sambodromo always sell like hotcakes weeks and even months prior to the Carnival.
Imagine the cutthroat bidding since the stadium can only seat 80,000 people. You can bookmark the ticket seller’s website and visit every now and then to make sure you can purchase the tickets. Ask your agent what’s the best seat in the house and determine if the price within your budget range.
The ticket cost varies from where you are seated. Beyond the walls of the Sambodromo , there are a number of parties or balls held at hotels and restaurants like the Copacobana Beach Hotel or the gay or costume balls at Scala. If you are under budget, however, you can join the street bands by bringing your costume along with you. Some samba schools also open their doors to tourists as long as you buy a shirt signifying what school you represent.
It is only during the Carnival where every inch of Brazil, and Rio in particular, screams party.
The partying starts a day before the formal launch of the Carnival until a day after the festivity formally ends. If you can manage to secure a ticket for the popular parties, such as the Magic Ball in Copacobana Beach Hotel, don’t be surprised that you will be rubbing elbows with the celebrities and the wealthy.
Or be as ridiculous as you can be when you participate in the many balls over at the Scala Bar in Downtown neighborhood Rio. Indeed, what is Carnival without these balls?
The Best Street Parties are organized by street groups called ‘blocos.’ It’s virtually impossible to turn a corner without bumping into another Best Street Parties . Here you will find a large crowd milling and dancing to the tune of samba.
A Best Street Parties begins as a small group of people congregate on a predetermined location. The crowd then marches through the streets and gather more and more people along the way.
The most sought-after Best Street Parties are those organized by Simpatia é Quase, which is wholesome enough that you won’t be afraid to take along your kids. For the more risqué crowd, there’s the Blocos and Bandas de Ipanema neighborhood which still remains the preferred bands for gays. The beauty of these bands is that they compose their own songs and choreograph their own movements; that means no two parties are the same.
These parties start three months before the official kickoff of the festival in March. Aside from the more formal balls hosted by hotels and top establishments, there are also Best Street Parties which feature the who’s who in Rio politics, entertainment and business industries.
For example, there’s the "Estica do Flamengo neighborhood " which you can find in one of Rio’s most well-known communities that bear the same name. The Barbas party is popular because the revelers are soaked in water by fire trucks when the temperature proves too humid.
The “hose-down” sometimes continue on through the night. The upscale district of Leblon neighborhood also features parties that incorporate its famous beaches into the theme. The Downtown neighborhood , meanwhile, attracts the younger crowd.
It would be a shame to go to Rio with the plan drinking the whole time you are there. For the city has more to offer than the Carnival.
A trip to Rio wouldn’t be complete without dip on its famous beaches, a hike to Sugarloaf mountain or the Christ the Redeemer statue, which is now considered among the world’s modern marvels. Schedule a tour with your agent so you can soak in the sights and sounds of the local people and culture.
Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about the Carnival is that it’s too racy for children. True, the television is a brutal medium because it fails to provide a context. Lately, organizers have clamped down on too much nudity although some dancers push this rule to the limit by exposing skin.
Although some men may balk at that notion thinking that “what is Carnival without the nudity?” Suffice to say, it’s safe to bring you own kids to see the Carnival. The Sambodromo even hosts the Children’s Parade where kids and teens showcase their talents in the samba. It’s always good for your kids to expand their horizons by experiencing other cultures.
While Copacobana and Ipanema neighborhood have become bywords for beautiful beaches after they were made famous through pop songs, there are still several untouched beaches in Rio that can compete with the world’s best. There is something for everyone when you visit these beaches. The verdant mountains and the scenic landscape make up for a delicious eye-candy.
Not to mention the number of stunning women in bikinis, particularly in Ipanema neighborhood . Take heed, however, just because they are wearing the skimpiest bikini doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to gawk. Just like in most cultures, it’s considered rude to stare. You can relax in these beaches with your tropical drink such as Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha. If you are into sports, you can join the locals in playing soccer, Frisbee, or volleyball.
You can also learn to surf or just lounge around with your kids, building sandcastles or just let your imaginations run free. Without meaning to do it, you will simply adopt the carioca quality of living in the moment. The other beaches frequented by locals are Leme, Beach of Barra da Tijuca , Prainha and the upscale Leblon neighborhood . Surfers, meanwhile, prefer the Arpoador because of its strong waves.
The Carnival is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s a multi-million dollar industry that involves each sector from all walks of life. It’s best to make your reservations early to get the best deals from hotels, airlines and tickets. The Carnival is one of the world’s biggest attractions, but it will remain conceptual if you are not there to experience it. After all, what is Carnival but a week-long party?