Every year, a crowd of 1 million visitors mixed in with local residents swarms the streets of Rio De Janeiro for Carnival, a mad, wild love fest which marks the beginning of lent in Brazil. Dancing is encouraged, singing is natural, and kissing is but an exchange of words between strangers. Alcohol is sold throughout the streets, drums are heard keeping the beat, and men are wearing… tutus? Wait, what?
At Carnival, anything goes. It’s wild, it’s loud, and no one gives a flying f**k how weird you get. Does it sound like your cup of tea? Then keep reading to know what to expect and things to prepare.
Watch the Parade at the Sambadrome
Before my trip, when I thought Carnival in Rio De Janeiro, I immediately pictured the Samba costumes: feathers, nipple pasties, thongs, high heels and the most muscular butt cheeks I’ve ever seen. Marry me, please? But unfortunately, you’ll very rarely see these costumes in the streets. That’s because the people who are wearing these costumes are competing in the Sambadrome. No, Carnival isn’t just a big parade that everyone watches. It’s actually a competition of parades put on by several different samba schools.
Tickets: Tickets can be bought in advance on this website and can range anywhere from 200 reais and up, depending on where you want to sit. Pro tip: If you don’t really care where you sit, and you just want to be amongst the action, don’t buy your tickets in advance. There are plenty of scalpers that hang out outside of the Sambadrome selling the tickets for super cheap. I’ve known people to get their tickets for as low as 40 reais.
Party in the Blocos
As I said before, Carnival isn’t just this huge parade that everyone watches. In fact, there are so many free events, that you can go the entire Carnival without visiting the Sambadrome because of the amount of festivities that are occurring outside of it. These are called blocos, which is exactly as it sounds-- they’re block parties, and they are everywhere.
Each bloco has music and huge crowds of people drinking, dancing, and kissing. Some are better than others, but they all contain these same elements. Sometimes it’s just a crowd of people surrounding a stage, or it can be a crowd of people following a marching band. Either way, expect to be stepped on. They can start as early as 6 am and some last until 6 am. Expect to have your days full of constant hopping from one bloco to another.
Get Wild With What You Wear
Don’t be shy. Carnival is not a party for wallflowers. Actually, no. Scratch that. It is. Because even the shyest wallflowers will find themselves half naked, covered in glitter, with flowers in their hair that they didn’t start the night off with. I spent the first night in normal clothes that I thought were super cute and comfy, but I ended up feeling out of place because I wasn't half naked with face paint or glitter.
Feeling subconscious about your body? No one cares. Everyone is just looking to have a good time, sing and dance. Cover yourself in glitter, put flowers in your hair, wear fake tattoos, wear tutus and a bathing suit, wear whatever you feel like. It’s Carnival.
Fun Things to wear:
Don’t worry about buying these things before you arrive in Brazil.
Items like these are sold on the street everywhere you go.
As far as shoes: Wear whatever makes you comfortable. I wear flip flops because I'm comfortable in them, but I can't go more than 8 hours walking around in them. Whatever you wear, just know that they will get dirty from everyone stepping on you, so don't wear brand new shoes.
Where to Stay
If you’re thinking that you’re going to find the perfect location for you to walk everywhere, you’re wrong. You will be taking a lot of Ubers and taxis during your time in Rio, not only because everything is spread out, but for safety purposes. Anyway, why waste time walking to the location when you need to get there as soon as the action starts!
I highly recommend looking into Airbnb’s as they can be quite affordable in Rio, especially since hostels can basically be about the same price. Plus you’ll get the privacy that you’ll need during Carnival ;P. You can use my code to get $40 off of your travels!
There are some Airbnb’s or hostels which are located in favelas, but I’ve never felt unsafe in the favelas. If you decide you’re comfortable with staying in a favela, just know that Ubers and taxis won’t go all the way up the hill to your hostel to meet you or drop you off, which can be frustrating.
Other Random Useful Tips
Bring back the fanny pack: Fanny packs and money belts are extremely useful during Carnival. They keep all your things safe and secure and you don’t have to carry anything in your hands. These can also be found sold on the streets of Rio.
Cell phone: If you can, don’t take your phone with you. If not, hide it as much as possible. Cell phones are the number one most desirable item to steal and they are often stolen during Carnival. Therefore, always be careful when taking that Snap, or posing for the ‘gram. You instantly make yourself a target when you do so.
SIM card: Foreigners can get a SIM card now just with their passport. Having a sim card will help you find your friends who also have sim cards and to call Ubers. It’s really easy to get lost in Rio, so a SIM card will be a life saver. I recommend Claro as they have the biggest network and are the most reliable.
Transportation: To get from A to B you have 3 options: taxi, uber, or metro. Ubers are extremely trustworthy and always cheaper than a taxi. Some taxis are willing to bargain, but they have meters and for the most part, can be relied upon. If you’re a solo female, I suggest taking precautions with taxis.
Rio Metro: The metro is extremely useful for getting from one side of Rio to the other. They have AC and are very clean. During Carnival, however, they are extremely crowded. Not just on the metro, but in the station waiting in line to buy a ticket. I suggest that if you want to take the metro multiple times instead of Ubers or taxis (4.30 reais for one way) then buy the refillable MetroCard and load it with as much money as you think you’ll need that way you don’t have to wait in line at the ticket booth.
Final tip: Write down your address. Even if you think you can pronounce your address, write it down anyway. The slightest mispronunciation can confuse a driver, especially if you’ve had one too many alcoholic beverages.
Carnival 2019 is from March 1-9. That's almost a year away, but it's not too early to start planning! Flights can be expensive, and accommodation starts to fill up fast. If you don't buy your flight before November, expect to pay a lot of money. So start planning now so you can save up the money because it's worth it.