Rio Carnival

The world’s biggest party is starting today – February 28th – and will continue with all its joyous dance and vibrant atmosphere until next Tuesday. We are of course talking about O Carnaval do Rio

Early Celebrations

The party atmosphere starts much earlier than today. As soon as the year starts people can see Samba Bands – street parties guided by singers and drummers that move around the streets of Rio. You can simply join these as you see them pass. Some sell their own t-shirts – with the official colours of the band – but others are simply happy for you to join the dancing.  Traffic around the city is diverted as these start between 4pm and 5pm, but those stuck in the middle of one can only relax and enjoy the music until they pass.

A little bit of history

The Carnival Parades started as street festivities as early as 1723, but it was only in the 1800s that more organised parades were born. It is interesting to note that back then samba was not the music that filled the parades, it was actually polka and waltzes. In 1917 Samba became an essential part of the Carnival.

Other cities hold Carnival celebrations as well – Salvador, Recife, Olinda, São Paulo – but the one in Rio is without a doubt the star of the festivities.

The Carnival

All the hard work that has taken place for months is due to be shown to the world right from the Sambodromo in the Samba Parade. The best 14 Escolas do Samba (Samba schools) in Rio get ready to entertain us and of course compete for the prize of best Escola do Samba.

Samba schools, unlike their name might suggest, are not teaching institutions but associations that represent a particular neighbourhood in Rio in the Samba Parade. They prepare all year for it and a few months before the Parade they have Samba Nights, which are open to the public for a small fee. Here you can see them rehearsing the songs and lyrics and join the dancing of course. They say these are the best place to learn how to samba.

Escolas, a few facts

They have a theme for the year, and everything from the costumes to the songs and their lyrics have to do with that theme.

Each Escola has between 3,000 and 5,000 members parading on the night.

They can have between 6 to 8 floats – here, here and here you will see a few examples. These today can cost up to 200 thousand dollars to make!

They are judged in 10 categories by 40 judges.

This video, although in Portuguese and quite long as it has a full day of the Carnival, will show you in the first few minutes an Escola in full action at the Sambodromo.

Beyond the Parade, however, we need to remember the Carnival is about celebration, about samba music filling every street in Rio and everyone being welcome to the biggest Brazilian party.

You can find more tourist information about the Carnival at Rio Carnival Services.


Main photo credit: Telegraph Travel.