A Gringo’s Guide To Carnaval In Rio de Janeiro

Advice for attending Carnaval – the world’s biggest party.


The notorious Brazilian Carnaval that we all hear about, the one that supposedly leaves the Mardi Gras of New Orleans in the dust, the party that hosts visitors from all corners of the world and exhibits a week-long parade with some of the world’s most beautiful women and most elegant floats ever created is real. But in order to fully enjoy the festivities, you should know and expect some things before blindly walking into the biggest party on earth.


Before you go out searching the city, looking for “the party,” realize that Carnaval is a just a host of different block parties that occur all over the city. Go online and look for a schedule of the “Blocos do Carnaval.” This is a guide that introduces the themes of each bloco, the type of music played there, and the estimated number of people attending said bloco. Some guides even give you an indicator for which parties are “the best”…and the best for finding a date for the night. Experiencing a short fling is often a fundamental aspect of the festivities for many people attending.



The bottom line is this: if it is important to you and/or valuable, leave it in the hotel. Robberies are common in Rio even on normal days, and Carnaval is basically a field day for pickpockets. Just bring cash, a phone (a “junk phone” if you have one) and, if you so desire, a camera. Do not bring ATM or Credit Cards, and please, for the love of God, do not bring your passport.  Moreover, ATMs will most likely run out of money during the week. It’s not a bad idea to pull out a generous amount of cash before the first day of Carnaval, and to take a daily allowance with you to the blocos.


Transportation in itself is an event during Carnaval. Mentally prepare yourself for terrible traffic and overflowing buses and subway stations. (But really, what can you expect when the entire city is celebrating in the streets?) The subway is easily the fastest and most reliable way to reach your destination. However, though taking the bus is a nightmare, it’s worth the adventure. As you pack yourself into the giant sardine-can that is the bus, you embark on a long journey through traffic to your next destination. While you’re leaving one bloco to go to another, the party on the bus doesn’t stop. There is drinking and singing, and no one in their right mind tries to put an end to it. These bus rides may become some of the most fun experiences of the week. You can even look up the lyrics to some of the popular Carnaval songs so that when the mob begins to sing “Rema Rema Rema Remador…,” you’ll know the vulgar lyrics that follow and can join in.



The poster child of Carnaval is without a doubt the Sambadrome (Sambodrómo). It is the location where the famous parades take place, where amazing floats and eloquent costumes that come to mind when picturing Brazil are displayed. The parades occur in the center of the City, and they are hosted nightly during the festival. The three best days to see the parades are on Sunday, Monday or the Saturday of Champions. Tickets are pricey, but if you’re feeling adventurous and confident in your Portuguese, I would suggest buying them from a scalper standing right in front of the gate. There are thirteen sections from which to view the parade, and each varies in its price. But, it is well worth it to pay a bit more for one of the middle sections (6,7,8,9) since this is where you will enjoy the best view. In these sections, you will be able to witness the Samba School put on the best show for the judges, who also sit in this area.

Kevin Mawhinney

Kevin grew up in Santa Rosa, CA. He's lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His travel style is laid back and open to whatever opportunities present themselves. He also can't be without hot sauce. Hot sauce from any culture will suffice.

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