How to survive Carnival

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Pre-plan your blocos

During Carnival, it is impossible to avoid being swept up in the sound of drums and music blaring out from each and every neighbourhood. You are truly spoilt for choice as there are hundreds of blocos every day, fortunately, there is an official agenda for all the blocos to help pick the best blocos for you. Although it’s tempting to simply walk out into the streets and follow the music, my advice would be to pick a few specific blocos from the agenda that catch your eye, because blocos vary in size, theme and music.

Survive CarnivalBlocos vary in size, theme and music

Buy your Sambódromo ticket well in advance

Before arriving in Rio I hadn’t realised that Carnival is actually an official competition to see which samba schools can put on the best show. This takes place in the Sambódromo; an open air stadium within which the competing samba schools parade equipped with enormous floats and hundreds of dancers. My evening at the Sambódromo was by far the most memorable moment of Carnival as I joined the ninety thousand people in the crowd each cheering for their local samba school. I went on the penultimate evening and thus had the pleasure of seeing all the semi-finalists. From 10 pm until 4 am in the morning the spectacle was truly captivating. Each school has their own theme, colours and gigantic floats showcasing the breathtaking talent of the dancers. Although I personally believe it was worth the money, I did end up paying 360 reais for my Sambódromo ticket as I left it until the week before to buy it. So if you’re lucky enough to be spending Carnival in Rio next year be sure to book your tickets early!

My evening at the Sambódromo was by far the most memorable moment of Carnival

Bring some water and don’t wipe yourself out too quickly

The official Carnival is only four days long but Wow! It is an intense four days. As there are endless options throughout the city it is very easy to hop from one bloco to the next all day long. Almost all the blocos are during the day, and it is common to start as early as 7 am. Therefore, in order to fully take advantage of what Carnival has to offer it is best to try and preserve energy for the coming days and not overdo it too early on, as that’s exactly what I did. Although I did make it out almost all day everyday during Carnaval I became a bit over excited on the first day. I was up, glittered and tu-tu’d by 7 am and dancing through the streets of Santa Teresa by 8 am. I swiftly moved on to a bloco in Gloria and then another in Flamengo. After a brief stop at home to re-glitter and grab a bite to eat, I was off out to one of the evening blocos. I returned home in the early hours of the morning with an alarm set for 7 am, ready to start again.

Needless to say, the next morning was more than a struggle. In the blazing sun of the previous day, I had forgotten to drink any water leaving me very dehydrated. As the last night’s Caiprinha began to settle in it has to be said that I had a little less spring in my step when marching through the streets that following morning. Although I could obviously still enjoy Carnival it was a shame to not be able to share in quite as much energy as the people around me, as Carnival is truly one of the most highly energized experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking part of. During the four days I was skipping, cart-wheeling, jumping and singing as I became completely swallowed up by the Carnival spirit, truly testing my stamina.

I made so many friends and was able to join in with the Cariocas

Don’t hold back with your costume

As I headed out on the first day with my yellow bikini top and green TuTu, not to mention tonnes of glitter, I thought perhaps it was all a bit to brash. I soon discovered that there is no such thing as brash, or over-the-top in Carnival. I saw everything from a man dressed as a giant flip-flop to women wearing nothing but tassels! In Carnival the wackier the better, but if you’re a Gringa like me, you may want to choose a lightweight costume. A brief attempt of dressing like a Roman, draped in a bed sheet, meant I quickly realised there was no way I’d survive the heat in that particular outfit. More than this, you might want to make whatever you wear practical for dancing, as for me, Carnival was a work out!

. . .

Carnival was honestly some of the most fun few days of my life, I made so many friends and was able to join in with the Cariocas and let loose for four straight days. Now as the city awakens from its Carnival hango ver, we begin what the Cariocas refer to as the real start to the year.

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.