The Rio de Janeiro Carnival (Carnaval) lives up to its billing as the biggest annual party in the world, and certainly has no equal.
In the 2 weeks leading up to the start of Lent, Carnaval festivals happen all over the world and in all cities of Brazil. But nothing comes close to matching Rio's elaborate celebration in terms of size, scope, and general craziness. The Rio ed Janeiro Carnival is one of things that you need to experience at least once in your lifetime.
More than 750,000 Brazilian and foreign tourists descend upon the city at the peak of summer, to soak up sun, party
like mad, and watch or join the festivities. Prices for hotels, apartments, and hostels skyrocket to triple the usual high
season rates and sell out far in advance.
The city restaurants and bars are packed, but despite the crowds, a warm communal
atmosphere is maintained by the welcoming Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro natives).
The festival really starts 10 days before Carnaval Tuesday, and peaks a week later on Sunday and Monday nights, with the all
night parades and music at the famous Sambadrome (Sambadromo). The party continues on Tuesday in the city neighborhoods, including Copacabana and Ipanema, and it's all pretty much over by Ash Wednesday. (Except for the Champions Parade on the following Saturday)
The O Globo media conglomerate has extensive coverage of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival on TV, in its newspapers, and on its website. The website is in Portuguese, and you'll need to set up an e-mail account to get much past the front page. You'll find current photos, schedules, articles, and video interviews of the "Muses", the celebrated mulatto dancers of the Samba School parades.
Rio de Janeiro Carnival Schedule through 2017
2013 - February 9 to 12
2014 - February 28 to March 4
2015 - February 13 to 17
2016 - February 5 to 9
2017 - February 24 to 28
2018 - February 9 to 13
2019 - March 1 to 5
2020 - February 21 to 25
2021 - February 12 to 16
2022 - February 25 to March 18
For more information about the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, click on the links below, or scroll further down on this page:
Carnival was brought from Europe by the Portuguese, over 500 years ago, as a pre-Lenten feast and celebration. In the 1800s,
the Rio de Janeiro aristocracy attended masked balls and conducted parades. The commoners partied in the streets in a much more raucous manner. After slavery was abolished, the African musical rhythms permeated the celebration, eventually evolving into the Samba street parties of the mid 1900s.
The Samba Schools were born in the poorer neighborhoods of Rio, the parades became much more organized, and over the past 50 years, has turned into multi million dollar productions.
Oscar Niemeyer designed the outdoor Sambadrome, or Sambadromo, which is the parade ground of the top tier Samba Schools, and enables thousands of people to watch the best schools compete for top honors.
The Blocos, or Bandas, are local neighborhood moving street parties. They are remnants of the past and may be truer to the Rio de Janeiro Carnival history and spirit, as most anyone can join the action.
Many Samba Schools (Escolas) participate in the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, but about a dozen of the largest, well funded, and best known schools garner most of the attention. They prepare months in advance for the Parades in the Sambadrome, in which they compete for top honors and bragging rights over the next year.
The top tier Samba School parades for 2013 Rio de Janeiro Carnival are listed below:
Sunday night February 10, 2013 Special Parade Groups starting at 9pm:
Inocentes de Belfort Roxo
Unidos da Tijuca
União da Ilha
Monday night February 11th, 2013 parades starting at 9pm:
The Champion's Parade Saturday, February 16th starting at 9pm.
6th best school
5th best school
4th best school
3rd best school
2nd best school
2012 Grand Champion
For information about each of these Samba School's 2013 parade schedule and theme, please link to Rio Tur, the official government website guide.
The Sambadrome (Sambadromo) is a long narrow stadium, in which the Samba School parades enter from the end. One at a time, the schools parade slowly through the stadium for 80 minutes, all the while singing their Enredo (theme song) to the beat of tremendously loud drum corps.
The sight and sounds are spectacular. Scantily clad (and occasionally nearly naked) beautifully costumed Samba Dancers and other performers, dance on or beside the fantastic floats. The floats are enormous in size and elaborately decorated. Every year the schools change their float and parade themes, usually having something to do with current social issues, Brazilian history, or the environment.
Take a few minutes to watch this Sambadrome video documentary
Blocos, also known as Bandas, are loosely organized samba groups that parade through the streets in some of the Rio de
Janeiro neighborhoods, during scheduled times in the 2 weeks leading up to Carnival Tuesday. There are hundreds of organized Blocos every year, over 180 in the Zona Sul alone. Some blocos are quite large (Banda Ipanema draws over 40,000 people) and others are localized to specific areas within a neighborhood. Othes have crazy names, such as "Galinha do Meio-Dia" (Mid Day Chicken).
The blocos carry a large banner (estandarte) and move through the streets while playing traditional marching songs (marchinhas). Blocos are led by a drum corp that's followed by a group of vocalists who "sing" the songs of their Banda. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of costumed followers (foliões) sing and dance behind the band.
Tourists are generally permitted to walk and party behind the Bloco. Usually all that's required is that you buy the Bloco's T-shirt, or on occasion wear a thematic custom.
Link to our Carnival Blocos page to see photos and a list of the most popular of these street parties.
Samba City, the newest tourist attraction in associated with the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, has been built in the port district near the City Hall in the Gamboa neighborhood. This area is considered to be “Sacred Ground”, as legend has it that the Carioca Samba was born here.
It's here that many of the Sambadromo Parade floats are constructed, inside the enormous warehouse "factories" that
surround the open air complex.
Samba City can be visited by tourists throughout the year, but is best seen in the months leading up to Carnival, as you will see the Samba Schools practicing and the floats nearly completed.
Admission to Samba City is just R$5 per person. Throughout the year on Thursday evenings, Samba City holds mini performances of the Sambadrome parades with costumed performers and live music. For just under R$200 you can attend the show which includes food.