Rio Carnival – A weekend to remember

I don’t know about you, but there are some words that automatically transport me to a much better place than where I am at the moment.  For example, I hear “pyramids”, and I automatically think “Egypt”.  I hear “vodka”, and I think “Russia”.  I hear “curry”, and I will often think “Indian” vs any other region.  When it comes to Latin America, if someone says “empanadas”, I am sorry, but I am going to think Argentinean vs any other countries’ version, and that is simply because I was more exposed to these while I lived in Buenos Aires.  If I hear “vino”, I think either Chile or Argentina, and that’s that!

There is one thing that will always remind me of the exotic city in Brazil.  I have seen three of them, and by far, the most glamorous one has to be the “largest party in the world” back in February of 2012.  I am talking about the “Carnival” in the marvellous city of Rio de Janeiro.

When I signed up to attend this party, I didn’t know how the night or the weekend would turn out.  You never do. All I knew at the time was that there is a massive procession with all these floats, and loads of dancing and well as little clothing as possible.  I knew it was going to be a legendary night, didn’t know it would be in my Top three Nights of all time for me.

Atmosphere in the Sambadrome

We arrived in Rio at the end of our two-week tour, which we saw some of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.  I can definitely feel this city was preparing for their best Carnival to date and everyone was excited.  How excited? Well let’s just say that if you needed to do some banking, or see a Consulate for a Visa extension, good luck because the way I saw it, the only shops that were open were little stalls selling water, beers, and some goodies.  The entire city shuts down during these 5 days, and you just have to go with the flow and well…do as the Cariocas (residents of Rio) do, and party.

What exactly is Carnival and how did it get to become the world stage for an amazing party?  Basically, it is a massive 4-day festival that is always ahead of Lent, sort of a way to let loose, and go all out.  The Friday night is usually reserved for the little kids and the Access Group A (one level below) to come out on the Sambadrome, and do the parade mostly in front of family and friends.  Our schedule for the carnival meant we were going to the festival on the Sunday night, and we had all day Friday to Sunday to see all of Rio.

We got there the Friday night, so we did what Rio is known for on the Friday night – we went to Lapa and enjoyed the street party.  We headed over to the Arches of Lapa and the night began.  There was so much music in the air, but I have to tell you, you need to be careful.  My tip for a good night out means ONLY bring what you need.  This means only bring the money you need for the night, a photocopy of your passport, hotel card, and that is it.  DO NOT bring bags, cameras, phones or anything that makes you a target.  You are in a midst of thousands of cariocas who are partying, and it’s very jammed packed, an you do not want to bring any valuables to this party that starts around 11:00pm and goes on all night.

The next day, many of my fellow travellers joined those on Tucan Travel’s Rio Carnival package people and went about to do some sightseeing.  The majority chose to do a Favela Tour in the morning, after a very hearty breakfast buffet.  Did you know Brazil is the only country where they will set up a separate table with desserts for breakfast??   After the favela tour, many chose to do the city tour which included the Sugar Loaf for sunset, which turned out to be a phenomenal experience.

Tour a Favela

Finally, the day has arrived.  Sunday was going to be a great day where we would all dance the night away and well, we had no choice.  We planned to meet around 7:30pm at the lobby, and there is a reason for that.  You see, everyone, and I mean everyone , is out partying on the streets, known as blocos.  So for a taxi, bus or any transport to move 150 people from one hotel to the Sambadrome, is as feasible as me swimming from Havana to Miami.  So we did as the cariocas did and walk to the Sambadrome to prepare for our night.

Our walk was great!  There were soooo many people on the streets, the party has been going on since noon and we were just about to start!  It didn’t take very long before we ended up at the actual sight, the main stage, where we will be among the 90,000 in attendance, all here to admire one of the great spectacles that life has to offer.

Sunset in the Sambadrome

We decided to hit up a local bar first, since it was just before 9pm when we arrived at the stage.  After a couple of killer caipirinhas, the night was young and so were we, and we were ready to be in the spotlight.  We walked to our Gate 13, along the way, we find some left over pieces from the parade and we don them to fit in.

As soon as we walked in, it is a free for all.  The entire section 13 was just vibrating!  On our left-hand side, there was a sea of hands in the air and no one was sitting down.  On our right, was the famous pasarela, or the parade avenue where thousands and thousands of cariocas will be living many of their dreams in front of thousands of spectators and been seen by millions across the world.

We managed to grab a few spots along the bleachers and this is the view we will get to see for the entire spectacle.

Dancers in the Sambadrome

The way Carnival is set up is unique as well.  Many samba schools from Rio compete for the grand prize of bragging rights upon being crowned the Champion of Carnival.  Each school presents about 4000+ participants, who in 90 minutes will try to impress the judges as they all sing, dance (think choreography), and smile for the entire ½ mile parade.

Each school presents a theme, with elaborate customs and very impressive floats.  Some school will have up to 8 of them and over 4500 participants who give their heart out to be part of a night to never forget.

Now you need to know this party really starts after 9:30pm or so, by the time all the schools parade through the pasarela and it’s all set and done, you are looking at finishing up around 7:30 am.  The reason of course is that during the summer months of February and March, it is way too hot to do this during the day.  So if you like going to bed around 10:00pm, you will need about two espressos and two açaí shakes laced with guarana to get you to stay up for the entire night.

The Sambadrome with Tucan Travel

At the actual venue, you will be able to purchase some food (burgers, etc) and some beers, water, etc.  So it is essential that you have a proper dinner before getting ready to pull an all-nighter.

I have to tell you, I thought Carnival was going to be something else, and was I ever wrong about this?!  It was such an amazing night with good people, great music, perfect weather, and lastly loads of happy cariocas singing for 90-minute rounds.  It was such a fabulous night that I will most definitely never forget.

About the Author: Tony is Sales & Marketing Executive for Tucan Travel. He has extensive experience tour leading in most of Tucan Travel’s most popular destinations. You can find him on  or read his other contributions here.

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