By Brazil Nuts Tours Director ADAM CARTER
CARNIVAL… a time when the entire city explodes in five-day-long revelry. While to the casual observer this is an apparently chaotic time, with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the ebb and flow of events and rituals, there is in fact a logic and schedule (albeit a loosely adhered-to-one) that governs the festival. To help you enjoy the best of Carnival in Rio, please review the synopsis of the main events, and consider booking some of your Carnival activities in advance.
Carnival in The Streets
By far the oldest, most widely enjoyed and, of course, cheapest form of Carnival revelry, “Carnival na rua” is simply this: the coming together of people – some in elaborate costume, some not, to dance, parade and party through the streets. Every neighborhood in Rio has its own form of Carnival in the street. For the tourist, however, the most notable are:
q The “street corner samba bands” in Ipanema and Copacabana
During the “official” Carnival period of February 27-March 05, 2003 (and earlier too) spontaneous eruptions of street corner samba can be expected at any time of the day or night, with groups of festive café-habitues or returning beach-goers starting an ad-hoc parade through the streets of these fashionable areas. Prepare to join-in! On a more organized level, the popular “Banda da Ipanema” (The Band of Ipanema), and certain groups in Copacabana, will have scheduled, just slightly more formal parades. Don’t miss them. Ask your hotel concierge for up to date schedules.
q The parades and festivities on Avenida Rio Branco in downtown Rio
On selected days of the Carnival period, the streets of downtown Rio around Avenida Rio Branco will come alive with daytime parades of some of the samba groups from Rio’s working class and middle class areas. This is a very festive event with the streets thronged with families and merry-makers, by far the most traditional of all Carnival events.
With a wide-range of themes, dress and constituents, the only thing these extravaganzas have in common is their schedules. They don’t really start until 11:00PM and they go strong until sunrise, with a never-ending succession of samba bands pounding out a non-stop, steady rhythm all night long, delighting the “cariocas” with a mix of this year’s samba hits and classics from Carnivals-past.
Most of these balls are quite informal affairs, open to the middle and upper-classes of Rio. They are raucous but essentially quite safe as drunken Brazilians appear to have much less propensity to brawl than their gringo counterparts. There are also “popular” balls, cheaper, wilder and potentially raucous are also available, but we recommend against them, for obvious reasons. No real dress code exists, and contrary to what you might imagine, no costume is required. Party-goers will appear in anything from a tuxedo to a g-string. Our recommendation: dress light (shorts and colorful shirt, for example) and some simple “accessories” of hat, mask, glitter, etc. from the many street vendors in Ipanema and Copacabana.
In summary, we urge you to attend at least one of these balls …it will be a story you can pass on to your grandchildren! Check with your guide or our office upon arrival in Rio to determine which ball best fits your profile and interests.
We do not sell tickets in advance for these events, since the ball schedule is always subject to change until the last weeks before Carnival. But based on past years, you can expect the following:
q The Red & Black Ball: The ball of Flamengo, Rio’s most exciting, media-obsessed soccer team (like the NY Yankees). A wild affair.
q Ball of the City: Rio’s most elegant affair, usually held at the incredible lavish Copacabana Palace. Fred Astaire would have gone to this one.
q Gala Gay Ball: A ball run by and for Rio’s exuberant gay community, with visitors (both gay and straight) welcomed from all over the world.
q Panteras Ball: “The Panthers Ball” is the showcase for the upcoming young and beautiful models of Rio to show their stuff. A particularly lusty event.
q And a host of others to be announced…
These balls are general held at large venues throughout Rio, such as the Intercontinental Hotel, The Copacabana Palace Hotel, Scala Club, The Metropolitan, etc. We urge you to consider hiring a car or cab, perhaps in tandem with other Brazil Nuts travelers staying at your hotel, to get smoothly to and from your event. Check with our office our your guide upon arrival.
Certainly the best-known (and let’s be frank – also the most expensive) Carnival event is the legendary parade of the top “samba schools” of Rio de Janeiro. This event is so big and complex that it is now divided into two nights (Sunday and Monday) and lasts from approximately 10PM to just past sunrise each night. It is an incredible sight.
To put it in familiar terms. This event is essentially the “Super Bowl of Samba”, with a lot of money and prestige going to the winner. Each samba “school” (organization, really, most based in the poorer “favelas” of Rio) has its own supporters occupying a series of grandstands and special seating areas (from simple to deluxe) who will cheer the school along the ¼ mile long “sambadrome”. Each school contains from 3,000 – 5,000 “sambistas”, all divided into sections of dancers, singers, and floats. The school’s progression tells a story (ranging from historical tales to satires on current political events), and it is judged on a series of criteria, such as the theme, music, dancing, organization, costume, etc. It is an amazing spectacle to behold.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Carnival Parade, however, is more than just a show for tourists. It is a manifestation of a deep-rooted and rich culture than spans four hundred years, with roots emanating in both Europe and Africa. It is in the Carnival parade and all its pageantry that this culture is expressed, and its expression is a mighty thing to behold. It is, however, a mystery to most visitors, and without some basis of reference, the visitor might feel somewhat confused as to what they are watching. Therefore, to best enjoy this particular event, we strongly urge that you grab a good guide book (Pamela Blooms “Brazil Up-Close” is the best we’ve seen on the topic) and read just a little bit about the roots and ideas that are the basis of the parade… It will make your participation in this event all the more rewarding.