The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a festival which is held every year before Lent (either February or March).  It is the largest and most colourful carnival on the planet and is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and spectacle.  Nothing can describe the atmosphere and exhilaration you get from actually being there.  Two million people per day throng the streets.

Here are our top tips for maximising your enjoyment and experience.

1. Where to stay and transport options

During the Carnival period, hotel prices do increase and hoteliers usually insist on a minimum stay of 4 nights.  It is worth noting that Rio is not the only place celebrating carnival, so hotels in other areas such as Salvador, Recife or Olinda in the northeast will also be busy and have special prices and terms.  We recommend that you consider a more extended trip and include other beautiful areas in an itinerary such as Iguacu, Bahia, Amazon and the Pantanal.  We would be delighted to discuss this further and present a written suggested itinerary and quotation.

We suggest that you stay in the southern districts of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon where we offer hotels ranging from 3 to 5 stars.  The shuttle, group transfers to the Sambadrome arena pick-up from hotels in these areas.  The Sambadrome is a long avenue, flanked by large spectator stands where the samba school parades take place.   It is important to allow extra time to reach the stadium as due to the large concentration of people and street parties there are normally major traffic bottlenecks.  

Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Group of Baianas in Salvador Group of Baianas in Salvador
Iguacu Falls, Brazil Iguacu Falls, Brazil

After midnight, a group shuttle bus will leave from the Sambadrome to take guests back to their hotels (if you have booked a package with us).  Drop-offs are only made at hotels located along the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.  Alternatively, we suggest that you arrange a private transfer or the official taxi service.  

On the weekend following the main carnival, an event called the Champions Parade takes place.  This is a more affordable experience and avoids the minimum stay ruling.  This features the top 6 Samba schools which parade once more.

2. Sambadrome

The Rio Carnival’s main attraction is, without doubt, the world-renowned Samba parade show which takes place at the purpose-built 700 metre Sambadrome (90,000 strong crowd) which is broadcast to a global audience.  The 12 best performing samba schools strut their stuff on Carnival Sunday and Monday, with 6 schools on each day.  This Samba marathon is a fierce competition.  Thousands of brightly-coloured feather and sequin clad dancers samba to the intoxicating beat of drums, whistles and the rapturous applause of the crowd. The parade starts at 9 pm and goes on until around sunrise (6 am).

Each Samba school represents a neighbourhood or social club from different districts across Rio.  They all have the same underlying goal - to convince the judges that they are the best samba school and so gain the admiration of the whole of Brazil.  The schools pass through the Sambadrome and the judges allocate points according to strict criteria which include story, dance and costume.  

Each school’s parade must last between 65 and 75 minutes (not less or more). The statistics surrounding the performances are truly outstanding. Each samba school has around 300 percussionists and their chosen song is sung around 77 times.  There are gigantic and richly decorated floats which carry enormous figures - normally well-known TV or sports personalities.  

Each school parade is led by a flag bearer and courting master.  A woman carries the flag while her escort shows off her dance skills - they are potentially a big point scorer for their school so they really have to perform ! Traditionally, every school has an ‘Ala das Baianas’ - these performers are usually  found in the middle or towards the end of the parade.  The ’Ala das Baianas’ is composed of hundreds of women (usually elderly ladies) dressed in the flowing costumes typical of the state of Bahia.  This is to honour the memory of the former slaves of Bahia who introduced the tradition of Carnival to Rio.

The presentations are incredibly impressive telling stories with their songs, rhythms, dance routines and extravagant costumes.  Each school parades through the Sambadrome with thousands of sambistas (participants in the parade) divided into sections of dancers, musicians and floats. Preparations start  a year in advance - each school mobilizing thousands of supporters who create the various parts of the school’s display.  A theme is chosen, the music is written, the costumes are created and the richly decorated floats are built.  The practising begins, choreographed by the ‘Carnavalesco’, the school’s director.

Facilities & Services - There are snack bars, toilets and shops in each sector.

What to take -
A disposable raincoat can be a good idea in case of a tropical downpour, and are much better than umbrellas which can easily get in the way of other people's view of the parade. Personal camera/ video cameras are allowed but professional video cameras are not permitted. If you are sitting in the grandstand a pair of binoculars can be useful.

Where to eat
- At the Sambadrome there are plenty of refreshment stands and fast food kiosks in all sectors. Guests are also allowed to take plastic containers with their own food and drinks. Drinks are sold in the Frisas and grandstands.

What to wear - Go comfortable, light and casual !  Our local agent will provide "Carnival " t-shirts to all our travellers that buy Carnival packages - the use of the t-shirt helps them to identify our travellers.

Rio Carnival, Brazil Rio Carnival, Brazil

3. Sambadrome ticket options

It is important to consider carefully what is important to you in attending the carnival, as this will ultimately dictate the ticket type that you will buy.  There are a number of different types of seats that vary considerably in the nature of the experience and the amount you will be asked to pay.  Please be careful when considering buying tickets online as there is a vast black market and a great many unreliable suppliers.  We offer competitive packages including hotel, transfers and Sambadrome tickets.

1) Camarotes (Luxury Boxes) are the most expensive and desirable seats.

2) Frisas (Front Boxes) are open air boxes with 6 seats. When you buy a ticket for a Frisa it is important to note that you will have 1 seat per ticket purchased. As each box has capacity for 6 people you will share the box with other people unless you buy all 6 seats. These are located at street level and offer a close view of the parade.

3) Arquibancandas (benches) are the most reasonably priced seats. Their elevated position provides a better view of the samba school parades in their entirety. Standard Arquibancanda tickets are not numbered, EXCEPT for the VIP benches in Sector 9 which are more expensive. These open air sections of the Sambadrome do not have individual seats; instead, visitors will watch the festivities from large ascending concrete benches/steps like at a sports ground.

Depending on the budget we would recommend:

1) Frisas sector 9, 11 or 7

2) Grandstands (Arquibancandas) Sector 9 (numbered seats)

3) Grandstands (Arquibancandas) Sector 7 (seats are NOT numbered)

As part of our package, our local agent will have staff inside the sambadrome to help our travellers with their seats, transfers and any general queries.  We recommend that you take a cushion to sit on - the seats can be quite hard !

Map of the Sambadrome Map of the Sambadrome

4. Join a street party

Over Carnival weekend hundreds of free, informal parties take place across the whole city. 

This is the coming together of thousands of people with the fun-loving carioca soul to dance, parade and party through the streets.  The parties are a test of stamina and endurance !  

Each neighbourhood in Rio has its favourite Bandas or Blocos (street parties).  The largest of these lively parties are centred around a large truck rigged with a sound system and a stage for singers and dancers which drives along a pre-determined route and is followed by hordes of enthusiastic samba dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, bathing suits and even in drag !  People also gather at a square or bar (for the smaller parties) and then the band starts marching its way down the street.  Street sellers weave in between the bodies selling refreshing frozen vodka tubes and ice cold cans of beers.  Go easy on the Caipirinhas (Brazilian cocktail) which are very strong and can quickly send you into orbit !  Santa Teresa, Flamengo and Laranjeiras are known for their great blocos and a good place to start.

For the street parties you will ideally need a fancy dress.  Don’t let a costume take up precious space in your suitcase - if you are in Rio early on the Friday (before Carnival commences) it is possible to buy one locally in the Sahara district.  Cash machines have been known to run dry during Carnival so take some cash with you.  Keep up your energy levels with a bowl of feijoada - a typical Brazilian dish made with beans and pork which is extremely tasty !   

5. Rio Carnival dates

1-6 March 2019

21-25 February 2020 (packages available from August 19)

12-17 February 2021

Rio Carnival - a once in a lifetime experience Rio Carnival - a once in a lifetime experience

Talk to our Costa Rica expert

Lloyd Boutcher
Lloyd Boutcher

Lloyd joined Sunvil for a year as part of his International Tourism Management sandwich course in 1995. After having completed the course at Brighton University he came back to Sunvil to develop a UK programme and to run the Royal Shakespeare Company’s short breaks programme in Stratford-Upon-Avon. After several years it became quite clear that clients were quite happy to make their own UK travel arrangements and so he was tasked with developing the Costa Rica programme which had just been launched. He is now director of the growing Sunvil Latin America programme.

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8568 4499

We're open today till 5:30 PM

Make an Enquiry

Please use this form to request further information about a Sunvil holiday or destination.

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
  • Marketing: 020 8758 4731

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify

Details

Preferred departure date *
Duration *
Preferred UK departure airport *
Party size *

Back

  • Adults(12+ yrs)
  • Children(2 to 11 yrs)
  • Infants(Under 2 yrs)
Budget range
Other comments:

Email newsletters

 

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
  • Marketing: 020 8758 4731

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify
Booking reference number *
Alternatively, please enter your query in the box below:

Email newsletters

 

Thank you for your enquiry

Thank you for your enquiry. A member of our specialist reservation teams will be in touch shortly.

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774

Your details have been saved

Feel free to continue to browse the site and add to your enquiry. Don't forget to send the enquiry before you leave!

My Suitcase

We understand that so much choice can be overwhelming which is why we have developed 'My Suitcase'. This facility allows you to save and compare your favourite holidays, and even allows you to return to your selection at a later stage.

Why not use 'My Suitcase' to compile a wish list of your future Sunvil holidays?

 

Sign in


New to Sunvil?

Create Account


Already have an account?

Password reset

Back

Close

Close