Carnival is the great Brazilian experience

Although the festival is also celebrated in other countries and cultures, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Venice and in the United States with the iconic New Orlean’s Mardi Gras, nowhere in the world Carnival more keenly and widely celebrated than in Brazil. From the north of the country to the south, Brazilian Carnival is the biggest party of the year. It’s a holiday from work—a time to enjoy music, dance, and party for five days (or more).

Interested in attending Brazilian Carnival in 2022? We listed here everything you need to know about it, including the best ways to enjoy it as a visitor.

When is Carnival in Brazil?

The Brazilian Carnival is a national holiday and a really big deal and they plan the festivities for months in advance. Carnival celebrates the period leading up to catholic Lent, ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The official dates of Carnival vary from year to year, like Easter. But as the celebrations usually happen during late February and March, which is during south hemisphere summer, the ambiance is perfect for massive street parties all over the country.

During this time, beaches are usually packed and so are hotels, bars and other touristic sites. Some stores just don’t open or only have reduced hours. The entire country seems to slow down, getting ready for the magic moment about to come. 

In 2023, the Brazilian Carnival will take place at February 18 to 21.


Do you know how Brazilian Carnival came about?

Festivities in Brazil date back to 1723 with the Portuguese immigrants from the islands of Açores, Madeira and Cabo Verde introducing the Entrudo. People went out onto the streets soaking each other with buckets of water and threw mud and food. The concepts kept changing throughout the 1800s with more organized parades, where the Emperor joined in with a group of aristocrats that paraded in masks with luxurious costumes and music. During the 1840s, masquerade carnival balls set to polkas and waltzes became popular.

The story tells that the first samba school was Deixa Falar in 1928 and already mentioned in the pages of newspapers in Rio in 1929. The Conjunto Oswaldo Cruz block, on the other hand, would become Portela – and here is one of the first clashes: some researchers claim that the blue and white school in the Oswaldo Cruz neighborhood would actually have been the first, since the block would have been created in 1923, and the school in 1926. Mangueira was also born in 1923, as an offshoot of the Bloco dos Arengueiros. Many other teams from different communities in the Rio neighborhood followed Mangueira’s footsteps and formed samba schools to take part in the Carnival.

A decade later, street parades with horse drawn floats and military bands were the center of focus of the carnival. Towards the end of the century, the carnival became a working class festivity where people wore costumes and joined the parade accompanied by musicians playing string instruments and flutes. 

The Sambadrome

The Sambódromo [Sambadrome] is one of the many buildings of the most important Brazilian architect:  Oscar Niemeyer. The construction was built in 1984 and the idea was to create a permanent stage for the biggest show in the world. 

The samba schools in Rio de Janeiro are probably the most well-known aspects of Brazilian Carnival, and these attract tourists from around the globe. For four nights, various samba schools perform with well-decorated floats and thousands of dancers wearing elaborate costumes. These are accompanied by musicians playing lively drum sections. And they happen all night long until the morning, come rain or come shine! 

To enjoy it, you can either follow the parade or just watch the view from the stands (the best tickets are usually sold months in advance, so if you want a seat, make sure you buy it in advance). Besides the beauty of these parades, they are also usually cultural representations. These escolas often use costumes, big floats, and original samba songs, to explore history and even offer social critiques of various subjects such as politics, social inequality, or even the environment.

In 2023, the Sambadrome parade happens at February 19 and 20 and tickets are already available. Rio’s association of samba schools LIESA has disclosed the order of school to parade in the Special Group, the group competing for the biggest prize.

The Special Group 

Taking place on the third and fourth day of Carnival, the special group compiles Rio’s most coveted samba performances. The main schools compete with fancy costumes, extravagant floats, and no doubt conjure up a roaring atmosphere. 

These two days are a bit more expensive but provide the entire package Rio Carnival is known for. If you are down to spend a little extra cash for the full Rio experience, then this is a stellar choice. Tickets cost around $94 to $284 USD per day, depending on what seats you want. 

Day 1, Feb 19, Sunday 

  1. Império Serrano
  2. Acadêmicos do Grande Rio
  3. Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel
  4. Unidos da Tijuca
  5. Acadêmicos do Salgueiro
  6. Estação Primeira de Mangueira

Day 2, Feb 20, Monday

  1. Paraíso do Tuiuti
  2. Portela
  3. Unidos de Vila Isabel
  4. Imperatriz Leopoldinense
  5. Beija-Flor de Nilópolis
  6. Unidos do Viradouro

Other ways and places to celebrate Carnival in Brazil

Brazilian Carnival doesn’t just happen in Rio de Janeiro. Across the country, from north to south, countless cities offer celebrations on this date, creating a rich cultural experience for visitors from all over the world. In general, they are street parties. In each region, you can find a diversity of rhythms, dance, friendly people, and a variety of local elements that you’ll enjoy to their fullest. Brazilians love to party and celebrate, and Carnival is all about that. 

The beauty of Brazilian Carnival goes way beyond the Sambadrome. All across the country, street parties organized by specific groups called blocos (blocks) offer a variety of options for celebrating—not only with samba but with a number of different music genres. You might hear traditional Brazilian Carnival marching songs mixed in with reggae, MPB, axé, and frevo (these last two are a fusion of typical Brazilian rhythms together with African influences).

You’ll often see a special truck equipped with speakers and a stage that carries a band that leads the party. These are called trios elétricos and travel throughout the streets, entertaining people with live concerts. They are most commonly seen in the northeast region, in states like Bahia and Ceará. Particularly in the state of Pernambuco, the parades also traditionally feature giant dancing dolls (Bonecos de Olinda) representing different famous characters or other figures from folk legends. If you are more into partying in the street and dancing for days on end, the street Carnival scene might be the best choice for you. 

The famous Rio de Janeiro street blocos

The street blocos are groups of individuals who plan street parties during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Their parties are much more casual than the parades in the Sambadrome. Each Bloco writes a theme song and has a band to play the Samba music. These groups gather in their local hangouts and play percussion music well into the early hours of the morning. The Blocos are considered the heart and soul of Rio Carnival and there are Blocos popular with singles, others that hold parties suitable for families and still other Blocos that are popular with LGBTQIAP+ audiences.

Top spots for the best street parties

Santa Teresa: The key appeals of Santa Teresa are its bohemian vibe and artistic flair, reflected in the blocos that slowly weave through the winding streets of this captivating neighborhood. The blocos here hold a special place in many Cariocas’ (residents of Rio) hearts and it attracts a fun-loving, friendly crowd. Check out the bloco Carmelitas, which is themed around the story of a nun who allegedly jumped over the convent’s walls to join in the carnival mayhem, and has led to people wearing colored veils during the party in honor of the escaped nun. One of the most popular blocos is Céu na Terra, which uses brightly colored costumes and large puppets throughout its festivities.

Centro: Rio’s city center is home to some of the biggest, oldest and most popular blocos in town. Head downtown to enjoy blocos such as Cordão do Boitatá, which attracts families as well as partygoers and where costumes are highly encouraged. Pack your stamina and brace yourself for Cordão do Bola Preta, the official first-ever bloco of carnival. It is undoubtedly the largest bloco, often with 1 million people in attendance – in 2019, it attracted a massive 2.3 million people. Be sure to dress up in black-and-white polka dots for this bloco; it’s the party’s trademark pattern.

Ipanema and Leblon: These two different neighborhoods 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. Another two popular Blocos are Simpatia é Quase Amor and Que Merda é Essa?!

Tips for making the most of the blocos experience

  • First of all: forget about the car. On bloco days, spaces become scarce and the cars that are parked in the revelers’ path can suffer damage due to the large agglomeration of people. Also, leaving the car at home, you can drink without worry. Take an Uber or get the subway.
  • Plan which blocos you are heading to beforehand as if you turn up too late, the parade may have moved on and will be hard to locate.
  • Try not to cross the city in the time between parties as public transport can be wildly busy. Plan to hit up blocos close to each other in one day (e.g. An early morning parade in Santa Teresa, followed by parties in Lapa or Cinelandia)
  • Speaking of Santa Teresa, the neighborhood has many slopes and cobbled streets, making access difficult for people with mobility issues. 
  • If two blocos you want to see are located far apart, make sure you have enough time to get between them.
  • Vendors will be selling booze and food for fairly cheap at the blocos, but we recommend stocking up on beer and spirits at a supermarket beforehand.
  • Don’t take too many of your possessions with you as the close-packed crowds can be easy pickings for pickpockets. I took all my drink in a bag and any extra cash, room keys and camera (the cheaper, the better) were in a money belt around my waist.
  • Although the police turn a blind eye to some of the rules during blocos, urinating in the street is still a big no-no and can result in a hefty fine. Portaloos are located near each party but take a few Reals as many bars and restaurants will open their bathrooms to the public at 2-3BRL a time. Just make sure you bring some toilet paper.
  • To get the most out of Rio Carnival, head to as many different blocos as possible. Downtown parties have a very different feel to the beach front ones and small blocos of just a few hundred people can be as much if not more fun than gatherings of a million.

Fancy a trip to Brazil? We would love to take you there! 

We, at GT DMC, are eager and ready to take you to Brazilian Carnival! Use these quick tips to make the most of it and create an experience of a lifetime!

  • Choose what to in advance: There are tons of events, but also tons of people. Choose the blocos and the escolas da samba you want to attend ahead of time so they don’t sell out. If you have to buy tickets, buy early from a legitimate vendor. 
  • Drink water! Carnival takes place in summer and it can get REALLY hot! Some days in Rio can reach a steady 40 degrees Celsius. Don’t spare to enjoy a caipirinha or two, but also make sure to drink MUCH water. 
  • Use sunscreen all day! Even on cloudy days! 
  • Be prepared for flirting: The street parties are about drinking, dancing, socializing and, for some, kissing as many people as possible. Foreigners tend to receive quite a lot of attention and it is mostly harmless although some men may try holding your arm to get your attention. If you are not interested, just say ‘no’ or walk on.
  • Wear comfortable clothes (and bear in mind that they can get really dirty): Make sure you can wash everything you’re wearing and that you’re not wearing anything expensive… Carnival can ruin clothes. Outfits must be light and comfortable, especially shoes.
  • Or have fun wearing costumes: Carnival is a time to go a bit wild and have fun dressing up. Think Halloween, but fun rather than scary. Don’t be afraid to accessorize, wear bright colors, feathers and lots of glitter. Extra: Get to know the best Carnival outfits at our blog!
  • Be careful with your valuables: Here a bum bag (or fanny pack) will become your most useful accessory. Leaving your money or your phone in your pocket is not advisable as pick-pocketing happens during Carnival. 

Count on us to be no worry about the trip and live the best of Brazilian Carnival!