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There are a lot of things to think of when planning your trip to Rio. I have put together some of my best tips I thought would be helpful for any of you who are planning to visit during Carnival.
How long should you stay for?
We arrived into Rio on the 21st of February and had a couple of days to spend relaxing on the beach and getting the lay of the city. We did a great free walking tour with Rio Free Walking Tour who were fantastic and showed us around the city centre and Lapa. It’s a great way to meet new travellers as well!
We had our first week booked in a hostel in Lapa and from the Thursday night, street parties had already begun. From Friday begins the complete shut down of the city and the streets are filled with thousands of party goers and parades. The carnival weekend was in full force.
It wasn’t until we left after 10 days that the city began to return back to everyday life and the tutus started to vanish, exchanged for suits as people slowly went back to work.
I would recommend arriving to Rio the week before Carnival weekend so that you can still get a feel for the city and what it is really like outside of the festival, as it is like a fairy tale world for at least a week once the party starts. We stayed for 10 days and that was a good amount of time to experience Rio in Carnival. After a weekend detox in Ilha Grande, we did come back to Rio to finish all of our sight seeing, such as Pedra do Gavea and Parque Large, for another 4 days.
If you are staying in Rio for a longer period, definitely visit the Sambadromo the weekends prior to Carnival as you can see these spectacular shows for free as the samba school competition whittles down to their finalists for the big weekend. After speaking to some locals, street parties start from New Year and continue until the end of Carnival!
One of my biggest tips would be to leave all valuables at the hostel when going to the street parties and blocos, take R$20 cash and throw yourself into the hordes of people. If you have nothing to loose, you have nothing to worry about.
I unfortunately was wearing a gold necklace and on my last night on my way home I was zigzagging over and under people’s arms. I felt one guy push me under, exposing my neck, which I then felt a very hard tug as he snapped my gold necklace off and ran away. There is not much you can do when it all happens so fast and hundreds of people are squashing you – you just have to move on and accept defeat.
I never took my iPhone out with me or my debit cards – opportunists are everywhere and can ruin your experience just like that. It could have been a lot worse but it’s a lesson to be learned from and I can only warn you to avoid wearing or taking anything too flashy or valuable out with you that you would be gutted about being stolen. I carried everything with me in a bum bag, I mainly had some make-up, glitter and some cash for drinks and metro passes.
All I carried with me was a bum bag and of course the pineapple!
As I mentioned at the beginning, you should definitely get involved in dressing up! Release your inner child and think of that fancy dress you’ve always wanted to do – it’ll go down a storm here! We saw groups of pirates, mermaids, M&Ms, highlighters, pineapples, and anything with feathers! You can bring supplies with you from home or you can find almost anything you need at the Mercado do Uruguaiana.
Not to miss: Sambadromo and blocos!
I haven’t yet mentioned it as my next post will be about this, but while in Rio over the Carnival week, I would definitely recommend going to the Sambadromo to experience the biggest event and parade of the whole of Rio Carnival! Here you will see the Rio samba schools dance their heart out to compete in the greatest dance competition of Carnival.
The amazing Sambadromo parades!
When you picture Carnival, what do you see? You will see it all here! You can buy your tickets online in advance or you can see if there are any once you arrive, some hostels sell them or you can get them at the Sambadromo ticket pick up point. I will explain more in my next post, but Rio Carnival website has all the most important info.
Rio Carnival officially starts next year on the 9th February and goes on until the 13th February. During each afternoon there are parades along Copacabana and Ipanema beach and there are also hundreds of blocos taking place throughout the entire city – these you can hear through word of mouth.
Find the official 2018 Carnival program here. It is the Samba School’s finals that take place in this week at the Sambadromo, however a few weekends before Carnival starts, similar types of parades happen here that you can attend for free. If you are in Rio in the weeks prior to Carnival, I would recommend visiting the stadium for these free processions.
An event not to miss while in Rio for Carnival!
Blocos are also known to continue in the streets after Carnival officially ends, making the celebrations easily a month long.
For the street parties, I would recommend taking your own drinks as it works out a little cheaper. If you can find something like our pineapple jugs to put your alcohol in, perfect!! If you don’t want to carry a big bottle of mixed drink, you can buy cold beers for R$2 off the street, sacolé or cocktails for R$5. Take advantage of some hostels allowing you to bring your own drink as the hostel prices are pretty high for what you get. Happy Hour deals are usually R$8-10 for 2 small caipirinhas, where as I said earlier, you can source way stronger and larger cups for the same price or less!
An impromptu bloco starting outside our hostel in Botofogo!
If you are wanting to experience Carnival in other parts of Brazil, you can visit places such as the colonial town of Ouro Preto, MG and colourful and vibrant Salvador, Bahía for more authentic festivities! Apparently a lot of locals actually leave Rio de Janeiro during Carnival weekend to escape the mass crowds and many tourists take their place. I didn’t actually spend much time with other tourists, however I would be interested in seeing what another city can offer as each place celebrates in their own style.
The colourful streets of Pelorinho, Salvador fill with locals and parades during Carnival.
How to get around the city
It’s fairly easy to get around Rio throughout Carnival, just a little slow. The metro runs 24 hours and is almost an event in itself. Everyone is chanting and singing while riding up and down the escalators. Some stations require prepaid cards, such as Carioca in the Centro – this is one of the closest metro stations to Lapa, along with Cinelandia but this was sometimes closed late at night.
Walking through the town you can see these colourful floats being taken to the Sambadromo.
The prepaid cards are purchased from a separate queue outside the station before you enter, these have a minimum load of R$5.
Other stations have people manning the ticket offices inside, such as Botafogo station. Here you can buy a single or a return ticket. A single costs a fixed price of R$4.10 and you can go on multiple journeys at whatever distance but once you leave a station you must purchase a new ticket to reenter.
There are also Metro Bus services at certain stations, which a Metro Superficie card can be used on. You can buy these in the metro stations or on the bus.
I found a really helpful link that gives you a map of the Metro stations: Metro Easy – Rio de Janerio
Where to stay in Rio throughout Carnival
Book your hostel a few months in advance as they fill up very quickly. Some demand full payment in advance and others a higher deposit. This is normal so don’t worry, as long as you are booking through certified sites or directly with the hostel.
I did not really enjoy staying at Books Hostel, as it is over priced during the celebrations and guests preferred to party in the hostel instead of at the street parties so not really offering a great experience for Carnival. It’s brilliant for younger travellers as it’s a great party hostel and I’m sure it’s better for any other time of the year – but you couldn’t really meet anyone to go to the blocos with as many stayed in to party so I didn’t find it as social in that aspect, which I was looking for as I had just arrived and wanted to meet people.
Other hostels we were recommended by people we did meet were Bananaz Hostel in Lapa – they offer free breakfast and free dinner!
If you prefer to stay nearer to Copacabana, we heard Walk on the Beach Hostel was really friendly and super close to the beach.
For Ipanema Beach, where there are also a lot of blocos, we heard Mango Tree Hostel to be great fun!
After our first week in Books, we moved to another area of Rio, in Botofogo, where 2 friends had been staying. We actually ended up spending a lot of time there as locals flocked to their bar and blocos pushed passed their gates. Contemporaneo Hostel in Botafogo was a much cheaper option and had incredibly friendly staff. They were so keen to show us a good time and had friends come round to the bar and hosted great parties – it was an amazing way for us to witness more samba dancing and for them to laugh at our attempts! I loved this hostel and would highly recommend staying here. Wesley who works there is so much fun and can tell you the best places to go out to eat, drink and party! The hostel is close to Botafogo metro station giving you quick and easy access to Lapa and Ipanema – 2 of the best spots to celebrate Carnival.
A screenshot of us in action – dancing with the locals!
If you have any questions about Carnival and if you’re planning your trip to Brazil, please feel free to contact me on my Instagram page @howetoroamtheworld and I’ll be more than happy to help!
If you haven’t read my post already about what to expect at blocos and in Lapa, give my first post a read!