For many Rio Carnival revellers the highlight of the festival is the main parade where hundreds of samba schools come to show off their dancing skills... and other feather-covered talents... in a purpose-built stadium called the Sambadrome. Parades in the Sambadrome, also known as the Sambadromo, run every night of the carnival week of Friday through to Monday night.
The most spectacular parades occur on the Sunday and Monday evenings when the top 12 schools, known as the Special Group, bring extraordinary glamour to the event. The show starts at 9pm and goes throughout the night, ending only with sunlight the next day at around 8am.
Samba is an important part of Brazilian culture. It takes many months, if not a whole year for samba schools to prepare for Sambadrome parades and the schools have just one and a half hours to show off their work.
The Sambadrome is big business and the songs performed by the best schools often go on to commercial success so there is a lot of time and money invested in getting everything right.
The samba schools pull out all the stops to win the support of the crowds and whip the spectators into a frenzy of singing and dancing. Some schools have thousands of members parading a time, with dozens of dazzling floats and hundreds of drummers. The parade consists of around 30,000 participants in total while the audience within the parade ground reaches 90,000 revellers.
The choreography and practice of the dance steps, design and creation of the intricate costumes, and building of the parade floats is a complex and expensive business, but the end result is a fantastic display of colour, rhythm and dance that can literally take your breath away.
Judges at strategic points along the kilometre-long (half mile) parade route score the competitors on everything from their passion, discipline and costumes to music and dance choreography.
Which parade will we attend?
Tickets for the Sambadrome are available through Tucan Travel and are included in the Rio Carnival package. We offer sector 13 tickets and sector 11 tickets for the Sunday evening. These sectors are free seating and allow you to choose your vantage point. Sector 13 is at the end of the Sambadrome pista (parade route) which also gives you the unique opportunity to ‘recycle’ the costumes left behind by carnival dancers!
If you want to go to the Sambadrome on the Monday night as well, we can help you arrange tickets locally (if available). During the rest of the week you can choose to attend a variety of street parties, themed balls and special events.
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The Sambadrome parade ground is really only a short walk from our Rio Carnival hotels. If you are visiting the carnival with a group tour or on one of our independent travel packages, you will be met at your hotel at a by a Tucan Travel tour leader or representative at a fixed time and accompanied to the Sambadrome.
- The parade goes on from 9pm till about 8am the next morning in the hours of darkness. The reason for this is that samba is a very physical activity so it’s not possible for the parades to happen in the full heat of the day. You may well have the energy to party all night, however, if you get worn out you can leave at any time.
- The dancers and drummers take 90 minutes to parade from the beginning of the Sambadrome to the end near sector 13. Don’t worry, you’ll hear and see them coming and the dancers and drummers tend to make a big extra effort at the end, so you’ll be sure to get a great view of the action.
- There is no allocated seating in these areas so you can choose your own spot but this means you should try to get to the parade ground around 2 hours in advance to get the best view.
- Each samba school will have its own special carnival song and you’ll be given a booklet with the words in it, so you can sing along with them. Some songs will become commercial radio successes after the carnival.
- Bring your own picnic. Food and drinks can be much more expensive within the Sambadrome complex than outside and it is mostly focussed on beer and burgers. Make sure your bottles are all plastic as anything made of glass will be refused at the gates.
- Bring a pillow. The seating in the Sambadrome in sector 13 and 11 is made of concrete so you’ll need some cushioning to get you though.
- Bring a plastic poncho or rain jacket just in case it rains during the evening. Umbrellas are never popular as they block other people's view.
- Dress up and have fun – the samba schools aren’t the only ones who can get into the spirit of the samba. Shake your thing!
- At the end of sector 13 you may be able to find discarded costumes and wear them for the evening. Past Tucan Travellers and staff have found toucan headdresses, crazy hats and all manner of sequinned outfits.