5 reasons to join the Carnival revelry in Brazil


One of the most anticipated parties on Brazil’s calendar, Carnival has, over the centuries, become an integral part of national culture. However, it is neither a Brazilian invention nor is it celebrated in Brazil only. In fact, Carnival dates back to Ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. In Brazil, the revelry began in the colonial period with Entrudo, a festival introduced by the Portuguese and celebrated by slaves in the colony. Then came the cordões (street blocks), dancehall parties, corsos (parades), and samba schools, which, especially in Rio de Janeiro, have taken on the look of a major production and have enchanted the whole world for decades. But there’s more to Carnival than just samba: it includes other traditional cultural and regional manifestations such as afoxés, frevo, and maracatu. From North to South, there is no shortage of attractions to indulge in. Check out these four insider tips to have fun:

1.São Paulo: the spectacle of samba schools in Brazil’s largest city

In Rio and São Paulo, Carnival is taken very seriously. The two largest cities in the country start to prepare for the traditional samba school parades almost a year in advance. Behind each samba school there is a veritable industry of seamstresses, dressmakers, and musicians, who practice year-round on the school compound (quadra) to put on a show of music, dance, and magic for the audience in the stands. The grand parades, filled with costumes and floats, gather hundreds of people who sing along the samba school’s theme song (samba-enredo) throughout the show. Carnival kicks off on Friday with the parade of special samba schools at Anhembi sambadrome in São Paulo and is followed by Rio’s parade. São Paulo has attracted a growing audience, not only to samba schools, but also street carnival blocks have gathered a record-breaking number of attractions and revelers each year. In 2019, there were 516 street blocks and 556 parades for about 14 million people between pre- and post-Carnival. In 2020, over 800 blocks are already scheduled for a total of 960 parades.

Luxury hotels in São Paulo (Hotel Unique, Fasano, Emiliano, and Palácio Tangará) provide exclusive experiences for their guests in this Carnival and give them all the support they need to watch the samba schools.

2.Rio de Janeiro: spectacular samba parades

Rio is taken over by a contagious energy that captivates both Cariocas and tourists from all over the world. Rio’s Carnival offers fun for all audiences: from traditional street blocks to glamorous balls (especially the Belmond Copacabana Palace ball), with the height of revelry taking place at the Sambadrome. Designed by renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Sambadrome, also known as Passarela do Samba, can accommodate over 72,500 spectators on each of the five parade nights.

Learn more about how to enjoy the revelry while staying at luxury hotels in Rio de Janeiro (Janeiro Hotel, Fasano Rio, Emiliano Rio, Fairmont Copacabana, and Belmond Copacabana Palace).

3.Recife and Olinda: party to the rhythm of frevo and maracatu

The largest carnival blocks can be found in Pernambuco, especially in Recife and Olinda. The largest and most famous one is ‘Galo da Madrugada’. Each year this block draws over 1 million people to parade through the central streets of Recife. But ‘Galo da Madrugada’ is only the first to kick off the carnival season. To add to the fun, different stages throughout the city play a variety of contagious rhythms, such as frevo, coco, maracatu, and caboclinhos. Olinda is famous for its giant figures that roam its steep streets along with a crowd, filling this colonial town with dance and colors. The very name of the town, meaning ‘Oh beautiful!’ in Portuguese, seems to describe all the beauty of this revelry. Everything here is planned with lots of creativity and joy for the Carnival days, but if you prefer to bask on the beach, you can enjoy the tranquility of the resorts in Porto de Galinhas. After so much revelry, nothing better than having a good time in Porto de Galinhas, at Nannai Resort, where fun is guaranteed with a good dip into the sea!

4.Salvador: behind the music truck

Six festival days in a row, at least officially. Carnival in Salvador attracts a crowd of revelers to the streets of the capital of Bahia. The main attraction here is to follow one of the trios elétricos (music trucks) as the entire city of Salvador stops to watch this great popular and cultural event. The celebration brings together a wide diversity of musical styles and cultural traditions. Trios elétricos are huge trucks equipped with lights and sound system, on top of which popular Brazilian performers sing and dance. Trios elétricos by Dodô & Osmar, Ivete Sangalo, and other artists parade through the city playing axé music, as well as afoxés and African Brazilian blocks such as Olodum, Timbalada, Filhos de Gandhy, and Ilê Aiyê. It’s impossible to resist the axé from Bahia. The word Axé (pronounced ah-SHAY) comes from a Yoruba term meaning ‘power, energy, or force present in every being or thing.’ In African Brazilian religions, the term represents the sacred energy of the orishas. To enjoy the Carnival in Bahia in an accommodation with complete facilities, stay at Fasano Salvador.

5.Paraty: fun in a colonial setting

Located in southern Rio de Janeiro state (near the border with São Paulo state) and far from the buzz of big cities, the bucolic and historic town of Paraty (recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its preserved colonial houses) is a fun alternative during Carnival. For four days, you can come across figures and costumed people playing in the cobblestone streets of the Historic Center, where the idea is to have spontaneous, relaxed fun. Seven organized street blocks attract hundreds of revelers throughout the season, but one of them has become the most popular: Bloco da Lama (mud block). It was created on a Carnival Saturday more than 20 years ago by a group of friends who were bathing in the medicinal mud of Jabaquara Beach and, when they found themselves unrecognizable with the mud, decided to hit the streets to play incognito. Ever since the block has attracted more and more people each year, who have fun muddy from head to toe and covered in rags.

Casa Turquesa and Pousada Literária, both in the historic center, offer the best accommodations for party-goers and the best rest for those who prefer to skip the party.

Simone Scorsato is Executive Director of Brazilian Luxury Travel Association. BLTA’s main objective is to promote and strengthen Brazil as a travel destination to the global luxury market.

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Comments (15)

  1. Beth says:

    Love the idea of carnival in Paraty and Bloco de Lama. It’s really partying with a modern take, sort of inevitable with the revellers covering themselves in medicinal mud. So contemporary that well-being becomes part of the festival.

    • SIMONE MARIA SCORSATO says:

      Hi beth,

      It looks like a skin treatment! It looks like a skin treatment! undoubtedly unusual, fun and very beneficial for health. lol

  2. Elizabeth Knowling says:

    The short history of the spirit of carnival shows how humans have always felt the need to come together to make music, to dance, to show off with extravagant costumes and simply to celebrate the joy of being alive.

    Having just watched the first programme in Stewart Copeland’s Adventures in Music television series there is a strong link between his ideas and carnival. The drummer from The Police has many interesting and controversial ideas on the role of music throughout history.

    Copeland gently argues that it was music that helped pull Homo sapiens together to share ideas and create communities which gave them a significant advantage over other species.

    Though Copeland gives a Harvard Professor the opportunity to put forward a contrary view who comes up with a line something like, “Music is just cheesecake for the ears, very pleasant but not particularly significant in the development of mankind.”

    From my limited perspective, I think Copeland has a point, carnival is still bringing communities together.

    • SIMONE SCORSATO says:

      HI Elizabeth,

      I fully agree, listening to the rhythm of the drums of a samba school or an Afro block in Salvador is like a mantra that takes us to another dimension. Thanks for the tip of the documentary, I’ll see for sure.

    • SIMONE SCORSATO says:

      HI Elizabeth,

      I fully agree, listening to the rhythm of the drums of a samba school or an Afro block in Salvador is like a mantra that takes us to another dimension. Thanks for the tip of the documentary, I’ll see for sure. my best

  3. Dick says:

    Carnival and Samba is brilliant but you can have too much of a good thing. Thanks for the recommendations for some luxury hotels in Rio for a peaceful escape!

  4. Francesca Andrews says:

    I love how colourful the Rio carnival always seem to be. Never seen anything quite so vibrant and energetic. I can just imagine how electric the atmosphere would be if you were actually in the middle of it all. I think I’ve only really known about the main parts of the carnival though, not so much about other areas and events away from that, if that makes sense. Love the huge figures in the Olinda parade, so so cool!

    I thought the parade I saw in the States a couple of years ago was good but this would knock the socks off it. It’s good there are options like Paraty (which I thought was some kind of joke around ‘party’, but it’s a real place name, oops!) Because not everyone will necessarily want the hugely busy main drag of Rio when it’s in full bloom.

    • Simone Maria says:

      Hi Francesca,

      Yes, there are many options, destinations, blocks … the country becomes carnival!

  5. Graham says:

    I like the line about the festival taking place “Six festival days in a row, at least officially.” Those words leave me with the impression that partying can break out at any moment and once the people start dancing and enjoying themselves it’s likely that the party will never stop!

    • SIMONE SCORSATO says:

      Hi Granham,

      yes, we can say that the carnival has already started in Rio and São Paulo, the blocks already take over the streets on weekends.

  6. hossam says:

    I have visited Brazil twice I love it .thanks for sharing this post with amazing photos

  7. Tim says:

    I recently was traveling in Vietnam over the Tet Holiday and I thought THEIR celebration was a big thing. Each of these spots sounds pretty unreal. I’m from Philly and when the city has a parade, the streets get shut down in some sections. But nothing even remotely compared to this. 800 blocks and 960 parades? Wow!

  8. S. Hudson says:

    Sad to say, I’ve only been to a carnival in Las Vegas. While it was fun and colorful, I would bet that nothing beats the real thing. I love all those gigantic floats. Makes all the difference to an ordinary parade, which I’ve seen a lot of. I wonder if they also throw out all those colorful necklaces to the public.

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