Carnival is just around the corner and Rio is electric with excitement. ‘Pre-carnival’ has already started and Rio’s streets are full of colourful costumes. Thousands of Cariocas and tourists are dressed from head to toe in glitter and feathers accompanied by the sound of samba drums ringing out from all corners of the city. As Carnival only happens once a year, there are a few things to consider in order to fully take advantage of Rio during the biggest festival of the year.
Rio Carnival is known for it’s flamboyant costumes – pretty much anything goes
GET YOUR OUTFIT READY – WHERE TO BUY
Carnival is known for it’s flamboyant costumes: bright colours, headdresses and tiny underwear! Uruguaina market can supply you with all of these and so much more. At this time of the year the market, which stretches over multiple streets, houses hundreds of stalls that overflow with Carnival related accessories. The market is very easy to access as it has a metro station with the same name. However, if you are short for time and don’t wish to make the journey, there are other options throughout the city. Stalls on the beachfront or on most high streets and plazas sell just about anything you could ever need to look the part for Carnival.
WHAT TO WEAR
When it comes to Carnival, you can get away with wearing anything! Generally speaking the rule of thumb is a lot of colour. If you would like to buy yourself an authentic Carnival costume, such as those worn in the parades at the Sambodromo, samba schools throughout the city sell them. A word of advice; as these costumes are highly detailed, they can reach prices of about 250 reais.
When it comes to the dress code for the blocos, feel free to get creative! Be it a giant parrot, a Brazilian football player, or wear just a brightly coloured swimsuit – anything goes. However, there are some blocos which are themed and people seem to go all out in order to keep in tune. There is a huge variety of themes, ranging from Animals to Zombies. The one I’m most looking forward to is the Beatles themed bloco: my friends and I are currently in the process of making an 8-person yellow submarine!
You might also like to read: Carioca Fashion: What to Wear in Rio De Janeiro
The majority of blocos and the official parades in the Sambodromo move to the sound of samba
TEST OUT THE BLOCO ATMOSPHERE
Although Carnival is officially 4 days long, the build-up actually starts a couple of weeks before. This period, known as ‘pre-carnival’, is a perfect chance to get a taste of Carnival before it officially begins with hundreds of blocos popping up across the city. I have been to a few smaller blocos near to where I live in Zona Sul and was so impressed by how much effort goes into these street parties. Women on stilts, amazing samba bands and the most talented dancers I’ve seen since I arrived… and Carnival hasn’t even begun!
There are also a few better-known, larger blocos that take place before Carnival. A good example is the bloco on Ilha de Paqueta, an island in Guanabara Bay. The Bloco is reached by boat and begins when the shuttle ferry transforms into a giant boat party where everyone is dressed head to toe in colour and sequins. The party on the island runs from 10am until 10pm, and although the ferry trip lasts an hour, this bloco is very popular and well worth the visit to the island.
Helpful Hint: Although the talented women in the parade can samba for hours in stiletto heels, I personally found a supportive pair of closed-toe shoes offered far more comfort. With all those people dancing through the streets, there’s bound to be a few trodden toes!
LEARN SAMBA TO DANCE THROUGH THE CROWDS
The majority of blocos and the official parades in the Sambodromo are accompanied by samba drums and crowds of Cariocas stepping fast to the beat. There are Samba schools dotted throughout the city, ranging from the famous Mangueira and Salgueiro samba schools that make it into the final parade year after year, to much more low-key samba schools which you can find in almost any neighbourhood. If you want to blend in with the rhythm of Carnival, then a private samba class or two in the company of Rdj4u will help you do just that.
Alternatively, if an official lesson is not what you’re looking for, you can turn up to any bloco and ask a few Carioca’s to teach you a few basic steps and almost everyone would be happy to oblige. However, there is absolutely no need to be a professional samba dancer to enjoy Carnival nor to know any specific steps. In reality, you can simply tap your feet to the rhythm and enjoy the spectacle around you and still have the time of your life.
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The whole city is overflowing with anticipation as both Cariocas and resident Gringos like me prepare to break free from our day-to-day routine and experience 4 days of pure celebration and fun! For front row seats to the action, get your hands on some official Carnival parade tickets with Rdj4u.
By: Lucy Gavan, student of Spanish and Portuguese culture at the University of Bristol in England, currently living in Rio as part of an exchange programme with Rdj4u.