Destination guide: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro or the “Marvelous City” is undoubtedly the tourist capital of Brazil and where you can see icons as emblematic as the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, as well being the home of the famous Rio Carnival.
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Rio de Janeiro- Things to do
Ipanema & Leblon Beaches
Although the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon are one long beach, the postos (posts) along them subdivide the beach into areas as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9, right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is Garota de Ipanema, which is where Rio’s most lithe and tanned bodies tend to migrate. The area is also known as the Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there.
In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo the beach is known as Bolsa de Valores or Crystal Palace (this is the gay section), while Posto 8 further up is mostly the domain of favela kids. Arpoador, between Ipanema and Copacabana, is Rio’s most popular surf spot. Leblon attracts a broad mix of single Cariocas, as well as families from the neighborhood. Posto 10 is for sport lovers, with ongoing volleyball, soccer and frescobal (played with wooden racquets and a rubber ball) games. There’s also Baixo Bebê, between posts 11 and 12, where affluent parents with children migrate.
Whatever spot you choose, you’ll enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. Keep in mind that if you go on Saturday or Sunday, the sands get crowded. Go early to stake out a spot. Incidentally, the word ipanema is an indigenous word for ‘bad, dangerous waters’ – not so far off given the strong undertow and often oversized waves crashing on the shore. Be careful, and swim only where the locals do.
Latitude: -22.9868418079121 / Longitude: -43.2154941558838
Address: Av Delfim Moreira & Av Vieira Souto.
Copacabana & Leme Beach
A magnificent confluence of land and sea, the long, scalloped beach of Copacabana and Leme runs for 4km, with a flurry of activity always stretching along its length: over-amped soccer players singing their team’s anthem, Cariocas and tourists lining up for caipirinhas at kiosks, favela kids showing off their soccer skills, beach vendors shouting out their wares among the beached and tanned bodies. As in Ipanema, each group stakes out their stretch of sand. Leme is a mix of older residents and favela kids, while the area between the Copacabana Palace Hotel and Rua Fernando Mendes is the gay and transvestite section, known as the Stock or Stock Market – easily recognized by the rainbow flag. Young soccer and futevôlei (soccer volleyball) players hold court near Rua Santa Clara.
Posts five and six are a mix of favela kids and Carioca retirees, while the beach next to the Forte de Copacabana is the fishermen’s community beach. In the morning, you can buy the fresh catch of the day. The beach is lit at night and police are in the area, but it’s still not wise to walk there after dark – stay on the hotel side of Av Atlântica if you take a stroll. Av NS de Copacabana (NS stands for Nossa Senhora, meaning Our Lady) is also dangerous – watch out at weekends, when the shops are closed and there are few locals around.
Latitude: -22.9707217321692 / Longitude: -43.1815910339356
Address: Av Atlântica.
Atop Corcovado (which means ‘hunchback’), Cristo Redentor gazes out over Rio, a placid expression on his well-crafted face. The mountain rises straight up from the city to 710m, and at night, the brightly lit, 38m-high statue is visible from nearly every part of the city – all 1145 tons of the open-armed redeemer.
Alternative Name: Christ the Redeemer
Latitude: -22.9519125510470 / Longitude: -43.2105535232788
Opening Hours: 8:30am-6:30pm.
Pricing: adult/child R$36/18.
Address: Rua Cosme Velho 513, Cosme Velho. Extras: cog station
The enormous Feira Nordestina is not to be missed. The fair (32,000 sq meters with 658 stalls) showcases the culture from the Northeast, with barracas (stalls) selling Bahian dishes as well as beer and cachaça (sugarcane spirit), which flows in great abundance. Bands perform forró (popular music of the Northeast), samba and Música Popular Brasileira (MPB). On Friday, the fair turns into a huge party that runs nonstop until Sunday.
Latitude: -22.8974262400000 / Longitude: -43.2204508800000
Telephone Number:+55 21 3860 9976.
Pricing: admission R$1.
Opening Hours: 10am-4pm Tue-Thu & 10am Fri to 10pm Sun.
Address: Campo de São Cristóvão, São Cristóvão.
Museu Histórico Nacional
Housed in the colonial arsenal, which dates from 1764, the impressive Museu Histórico Nacional contains over 250,000 historic relics relating to the history of Brazil from its founding to its early days as a republic. The museum is located near Praça Marechal Âncora and features many well-designed displays, from gilded imperial coaches and the throne of Dom Pedro II to massive oil paintings depicting the horrific combat in the war with Paraguay. There’s some attention paid to Brazil’s indigenous population and to curious relics such as the writing quill that Princess Isabel used to sign the document abolishing slavery in Brazil and a full-sized model of a colonial pharmacy.
Latitude: -22.9062321000000 / Longitude: -43.1691241300000
Address: off Av General Justo.
Telephone Numbers: +55 21 2550 9224.
Opening Hours: 10am-5:30pm Tue-Fri, 2-6pm Sat & Sun.
Pricing: adult/child R$6/3, free Sun.
Set in the Parque do Flamengo with a stunning view of Pão de Açúcar, Porcão Rio’s is consistently ranked by restaurant critics as the city’s best churrascaria. Whether you believe the hype – or simply come for the view – you’re in for an eating extravaganza. Arrive early, both to score a good table and to see the view before sunset.
Latitude: -22.9368060089118 / Longitude: -43.1694459915161
Telephone Number:+55 21 3389 8989
Opening Hours: 11:30am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 1am Fri & Sat.
Price Range: High.
Pricing: all-you-can-eat R$78.
Address: Av Infante Dom Henrique, Flamengo.
Serving some of Rio’s best Middle Eastern dishes, this enticing two-story restaurant near the beach offers consistently good plates of hummus, kaftas (savory meatballs), falafel and salads. Daytime crowds come for the buffet (R$33/45 on weekdays/weekends), while at night it’s à la carte.
Latitude: -22.9655060000000/ Longitude: -43.1766557700000
Sub-Type: Middle Eastern.
Telephone Number:+55 21 2275 5596.
Opening Hours: lunch & dinner.
Price Range: Moderate.
Pricing: mains R$28-45, all-you-can-eat R$33-45.
Address: Rua Ronald de Carvalho 55C, Copacabana.
Delírio Tropical serves 16 different varieties of salad along with soups and hot dishes (veggie burgers, grilled salmon). The open layout has a pleasant, casual vibe, with big windows overlooking the street.
Latitude: -22.9849157970943/ Longitude: -43.2090783119202
Telephone Number:+55 21 3201 2977.
Opening Hours: 9am-9pm.
Price Range: Low.
Pricing: salads R$12-16.
Address: Rua Garcia D'Ávila 48, Ipanema.
Devassa makes its own creamy brews, serving them up to chatty Cariocas at this bar and restaurant chain. The choices: loura (pilsner), sarará (wheat beer), ruiva (pale ale), negra (dark ale) and Índia (IPA).
Latitude: -22.9872566374166 / Longitude: -43.2279396057129
Telephone Number: +55 21 2556 0618
Opening Hours: noon-1am.
Address: Rua Senador Vergueiro 2.
Carioca da Gema
One of the first to bring samba back to Lapa, this small, colorful club hosts an excellent line-up of bands and a good mixed crowd that packs the dance floor most nights.
Latitude: -22.9134957543769 / Longitude: -43.1808453798294
Sub-Type: Live Music.
Telephone Number:+55 21 2221 0043.
Opening Hours: closed Sun.
Pricing: admission R$20-25.
Address: Av Mem de Sá 79, Lapa.
A neighborhood institution, Bip Bip has been hosting samba jams for more than 15 years. The ambience is simple: just a breadbox-sized storefront with tables spilling onto the sidewalk. Current schedule: samba on Thursday and Sunday at 8pm, Choro on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:30pm and Bossa Nova on Monday at 9pm.
Latitude: 34.0503126690213 / Longitude: -118.2569003105160
Telephone Number: +55 21 2267 9696
Address: Rua Almirante Gonçalves 50, Copacabana.
Opening Hours: 8pm-midnight.
Pricing: admission free.
Of late, parts of Chinatown have received an injection of hipness, no more so than at Central Plaza , conceived as an unabashedly kitschy walking mall. Outposts of contemporary cool like Munky King designer toys and the Mountain Bar mix it up with incense-scented import bazaars, an endearing wishing well and the kookily noir Hop Louie restaurant and bar in a five-tiered pagoda. Across Hill St, the galleries and studios along Chung King Rd bring out art students and aficionados in droves on opening nights.
Latitude: -22.9851627200000 / Longitude: -43.1978988600000
Opening Hours: 9am-5pm Sun.
Extras: Praça General Osório.
Using native materials found in the Amazon, Maria Oiticica has created some lovely handcrafted jewelry inspired by indigenous art. Seeds, plant fibers and tree bark are just some of the ingredients used to make bracelets, necklaces and earrings, and her work helps support struggling local communities with craft-making traditions.
Latitude: -22.9812809941729 / Longitude: -43.2070934772491
Telephone Number: +55 21 3202 1011
Address: Rua Visconde de Pirajá 351
Extras: Forum de Ipanema.
Muggles love this magical store at 2717½, superbly designed to invoke visions of Diagon Alley, where Harry Potter and friends seem to be waiting just a portkey away. Flip through Hogwarts sweaters and capes at Haber & Dasher, find your wand at Phoenix Wands, or just poke around nooks overflowing with Harry Potter memorabilia and literature on piratology, dragons and wandmaking.
Latitude: -22.9028422556892 / Longitude: -43.1751966476440
Telephone Number: +55 21 2509 5333
Opening Hours: 9am-5pm Mon-Fri.
Address: Largo do Paço 38, Centro.
Rio’s Carnaval (February/March) is deservedly popular, but that’s not the end of the celebrating. Reveillon (New Year’s Eve) is another citywide celebration, when Cariocas (residents of Rio) and visitors pack Copa-cabana beach. Other festas (parties) occur throughout the year.
Month by Month
January & February
Dia de São Sebastião
The patron saint of Rio is commemorated with a procession that carries the image of São Sebastião from Igreja (church) de São Sebastião dos Capuchinos in Tijuca to the Catedral Metropolitana, where the image is blessed in a Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.
In February or March the city puts on its famous no-holds-barred party.
Verão do Morro, in Portuguese.
In February or March, the Verão do Morro (summer on the mountain) party kicks off, with a month of weekend concerts in a fabulous setting above Rio. Top Brazilian bands and DJs headline the all-night fest. The event usually kicks off a week after Carnaval. Tickets, available at the Pão de Açúcar cable-car station, among other locations, cost around R$90.
March & April
Dia da Fundação da Cidade
The city commemorates its founding in 1565 by Estácio de Sá with a Mass in the church of its patron saint, Igreja de São Sebastião dos Capuchinos.
Sexta-Feira da Paixão
In March or April (depending when Easter falls), Good Friday is celebrated throughout the city. The most important ceremony re-enacts the Stations of the Cross under the Arcos da Lapa, with more than 100 actors.
Festival Internacional De Documentários
Latin America’s most important documentary film festival takes place over 10 days in March or April when more than 100 films from Brazil and abroad are screened at theaters in Rio and São Paulo.
Dia do Índio
April 19 is recognized in Brazil as Indians’ day, with a week of special events held at the Museu do Índio. Exhibitions, dance and film presentations are staged daily.
Dia de São Jorge
On April 23 the city pays its respects to St George, an important figure in the Afro- Brazilian community. St George is the alter-ego of the god Ogum in the Candomblé religion (originating in Africa). There’s a Mass and procession, and food vendors abound.
May & June
Rio das Ostras Jazz e Blues festival
Located 170km east of Rio, on the way to Búzios, Rio das Ostras boasts lovely beaches and mangrove forests. In early June, it’s the setting for one of Brazil’s best jazz and blues fests, with five days of concerts on outdoor stages by international performers (John Hammond Quartet, Spyro Gyra, Coco Montoya and DJ Logic have played here in the past).
Spanning the month of June, the feast days of various saints mark some of the most important folkloric festivals in Brazil. In Rio, celebrations are held in various public squares, with lots of food stands, music, fireworks and the occasional bonfire or two. The big feast days are June 13 (Dia de Santo Antônio), June 24 (São João) and June 29 (São Pedro). See Riotur for details.
Set along the coast, with the ocean always at your side, this marathon course must be one of the most beautiful in the world. Rio hosts its annual 42km run in mid- to late June, when the weather is mild and the skies are clear and blue. There are also 6km and 21km runs.
July & August
Portas Abertas, in Portuguese
Artists in Santa Teresa open their studios for a week in July during this lively annual festival. Expect music, a diverse crowd and inventive installations that make good use of the atmospheric bohemian ’hood.
Festa da São Pedro do Mar
The fishing fraternity pays homage to its patron saint in a maritime procession as decorated boats leave from the fishing community of Caju and sail to the statue of São Pedro in Urca.
Festa Literária internacional de Parati
This important literary festival brings authors from around the world to Paraty for five days in July or August. Celebrated writers like JM Coetzee, Michael Ondaatje, Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo and Hanif Kureishi were among the featured guests in years past.
Festa de NS da Glória doOuteiro
A solemn Mass is held at the historic church overlooking Glória and the bay to mark the Feast of the Assumption. From the church (ablaze with decorated lights), a procession travels out into the streets of Glória. This festa includes music and colorful stalls set up set up in front of the Igreja de NS da Glória do Outeiro. Festivities start at 8am and continue all day.
Rio Jazz Festival
Although dates for this jazz festival vary (currently held in August), it’s an opportunity for Rio’s beautiful people to come together for three nights of great music. Local, national and international acts present a wide variety of music, playing jazz and its many relatives – samba-jazz, bossa nova, samba and Música Popular Brasileira (MPB).
September & October
Samba School rehearsals
In September (though some start as early as July or August), samba schools begin hosting open gatherings once a week (usually on Friday or Saturday night). In spite of the name, these are less a dress rehearsal than just an excuse to dance (to samba, of course), celebrate and pass on the good vibe before the big show come Carnaval time. Anyone can come, and it’s a mixed crowd of Cariocas and tourists, though it gets more and more crowded (and the admission prices rise) the closer it is to Carnaval.
Dia de Independênciado Brasil
Independence Day is celebrated with a large military parade down Av Presidente Vargas. It starts at 8am at Candelária and goes down just past Praça XI.
Festival do Rio
Rio’s international film festival is one of the biggest in Latin America. More than 200 films from all over the world are shown at some 35 theaters in Rio. Often the festival holds open-air screenings at locations around town. It runs from the last week of September through the first week of October.
Festa da Penha
One of the largest (and most popular) religious festivals in the city takes place every Sunday in October and on the first Sunday in November. The festa draws thousands of pilgrims who somberly ascend the 365 steps to the dramatically set church. In the plaza below, food and drink stalls and live music create a festive environment. The lively celebrations commence in the northern suburb of Penha at Igreja NS da Penha de França, Largo da Penha 19.
Gay Pride Rio
Although not as large as São Paulo’s massive parade, the Rio gay pride event gets bigger each year, with over a million people turning out in recent years. It usually takes place in October or November.
November & December
Festival Panorama de Dança
Spanning two weeks in November, the Festival Panorama showcases the work of dozens of contemporary dance groups from across the globe, bringing together a mix of experimental troupes as well as traditional performers.
Noites Cariocas, in Portuguese
The biggest summer concert series in Rio runs for two weeks in January or February, with all-night rock and MPB concerts held on weekend nights at Pier Mauá, just north of Centro. Previous years have seen performances by Brazil’s biggest stars –Jorge Ben Jor, Lulu Santos, Elza Soaresand others.
Lighting of the LagoaChristmas tree
From early December to the first week of January, the world’s largest floating Christmas tree (85m) glows brightly on Lagoa de Rodrigo de Freitas. To celebrate its lighting, the city throws a concert in Parque Brigadeiro Faria Lima, usually on the first Saturday in December.
Festa de Iemanjá
Dwarfed by secular New Year’s Eve celebrations, this Candomblé (a religion originating from Africa) festival celebrates the feast day of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea. Celebrants dress in white and place their petitions on small boats, sending them out to sea. If their petitions return, their prayers will not be answered. Along with the petitions, celebrants send candles, perfumes and talcum powder to appease the blue-cloaked orixá (spirits or deities). Until recently, devotees gathered in Copa-cabana, Ipanema and Leblon but, owing to the popularity of Reveillon, and its chaotic spillover, they are seeking more tranquil spots – Barra da Tijuca and Recreio dos Bandeirantes – to make their offerings.
Rio’s biggest holiday after its spectacular and rowdy Carnaval takes place on the famed Copacabana Beach, where some two million people pack the sands to welcome the new year. A spectacular fireworks display lights up the night sky as top bands perform on stages built on the sands. The hardiest of revelers keep things going all night long, then watch the sunrise the next morning.
If you haven’t heard by now, Rio throws one of the world’s best parties, with music and dancing filling the streets for days on end. Officially, Carnaval is just five days of revelry – from Friday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but Cariocas (residents of Rio) begin partying months in advance. The culmination of the big fest is the brilliantly colorful parade through the Sambódromo, with giant mechanized floats, pounding drummers and whirling dancers –but there’s lots of action in Rio’s many neighborhoods for those seeking more than just the stadium experience.
Out-of-towners add to the mayhem, joining Cariocas in the street parties and costumed balls erupting throughout the city. There are free live concerts to be found (in Largo do Machado, Arcos da Lapa and Praça General Osório, among other places). Whatever you do, prepare yourself for sleepless nights, an ample dose of caipirinhas (cane-liquor cocktails) and samba, and mingling with the joyful crowds spilling out of the city.
Joining the bandas and blocos (street parties) is one of the best ways to have the Carioca experience. These marching parades consist of a procession of brass bands (in the case of bandas) or drummers and vocalists (in the case of blocos) followed by anyone who wants to dance through the streets. Some bandas suggest costumes (drag, Amazonian attire etc), while others simply expect people to show up and add to the good cheer.
Although the city is blazing with energy during Carnaval, don’t expect the party to come to you. To get more information on events during Carnaval, check Veja magazine’s Veja Rio insert (sold on Sunday at newsstands) or visit Riotur, the tourist organization in charge of Carnaval. Here's where you can also get some ideas on how to celebrate the return of King Momo, the lord of the Carnaval. For those unacquainted with Momo, he’s the modern embodiment of Momos, the Greek god of trickery; when the chosen Momo is announced, Cariocas expect a portly, jolly ruler who can dance a mean samba. The revelry officially begins when the mayor hands King Momo the keys to the city on the Friday before Carnaval. The afternoon event usually takes place in front of the Palácio da Cidade (Rua São Clemente 360) in Botafogo.
Although the exact origins of Carnaval are shrouded in mystery, some believe the fest originated as a pagan celebration of spring’s arrival sometime during the Middle Ages. The Portuguese brought the celebration to Brazil in the 1500s but it took on a decidedly local flavor by the adopting of Indian costumes and African rhythms. (The origin of the word itself probably derives from the Latin ‘carne vale’ –‘farewell, meat’ – whereby the Catholic population would give up meat and other fleshly temptations during the 40 days of Lent.)
The first festivals in Rio de Janeiro were called entrudo, with locals dancing through the streets in colorful costumes and throwing mud, flour and various suspect liquids at one another. In the 19th century Carnaval meant attending a lavish masked ball or participating in the orderly and rather vapid European-style parade. Rio’s poor citizens, bored by the finery but eager to participate in a celebration, began holding their own parades, dancing through the streets to African-based rhythms. Then, in the 1920s, the new sound of samba emerged in Rio. It was the music full of African flavors that was brought to the city by former slaves and their poor descendents – a sound that would forever more be associated with Carnaval.
Since those days, Carnaval has grown in leaps and bounds, with elaborate parades spreading from Rio de Janeiro to other parts of Brazil. It has also become a huge commercial enterprise, with the city spending in excess of R$100 million (US$56 million) to throw the party each year.
Sights & Activities
There are many ways to take part in Rio’s Carnaval, whether joining an informal banda, attending a masked ball or catching the parade up close at the Sambódromo. If you’d rather not be a spectator on the big night, you can don a costume and dance with a samba school – an experience that’s rated highly by those who’ve done it.
Carnaval balls are giant, sometimes costumed, parties with live music and dancing, and an ambience that runs the gamut from staid and formal to wild and a bit tawdry. The most famous and formal ball (you’ll need a tux) is held at the Copacabana Palace, where you’ll have the opportunity to celebrate with Rio’s glitterati as well as international stars. Tickets cost R$1100 to R$3200.
Popular but less pricey balls (around R$40) are held at Rio Scenarium and at Scala. The most extravagant gay balls are found at LeBoy. To help get in the mood, these are good places to don a costume.
Tickets go on sale about two weeks beforehand, and the balls are held nightly during Carnaval. The Veja Rio insert in Veja magazine has details.
The highlight of any Carnaval experience is attending (or participating in) a parade at the Sambódromo. There, before a crowd of some 90,000 (with millions more watching on TV), each of 12 samba schools has its 80 minutes to dance and sing through the open Oscar Niemeyer–designed stadium. The pageantry is not simply eye candy for the masses. Schools are competing for top honors in the parade, with winners announced (and a winner’s parade held) on the Saturday following Carnaval.
Here’s what to expect: each school enters the Sambódromo with amped energy levels, and dancers take things up a notch as they dance through the stadium. Announcers introduce the school, the group’s theme colors and the number of alas (literally, wings – subgroups within a school, each playing a different role). Far away the lone voice of the puxador (interpreter) starts the samba. Thousands more voices join him (each school has 3000 to 5000 members), and then the drummers kick in, 200 to 400 per school. The pounding drums drive the parade. Next come the main wings of the school, the big allegorical floats, the children’s wing, the drummers, the celebrities and the bell-shaped baianas (women dressed as Bahian aunts) twirling in elegant hoopskirts. The baianas honor the history of the parade itself, which was brought to Rio from Salvador da Bahia in 1877.
Costumes are fabulously lavish, with 1.5m feathered headdresses; long, flowing capes that sparkle with sequins; and rhinestone-studded G-strings.
The whole procession is also an elaborate competition. A handpicked set of judges chooses the best school on the basis of many components, including percussion, the samba do enredo (theme song), harmony between percussion, song and dance, choreography, costumes, story line, floats and decorations. The dance championship is hotly contested, with the winner becoming the pride not just of Rio but all of Brazil.
The Sambódromo parades start with the mirins (young samba-school members) on the evening of Carnaval Friday, and continue on through Saturday night when the Group A samba schools strut their stuff. Sunday and Monday are the big nights, when the 12 best samba schools in Rio (the Grupo Especial) parade: six of them on Sunday night and into the morning, and six more on Monday night. The following Saturday, the six top schools strut their stuff again in the Parade of Champions – which generally has more affordable tickets than on the big nights. Each event starts at 9pm and runs until 4am.
Most visitors stay for three or four schools, and come to see their favorite in action (every self-respecting Carioca has a school they support, just as they have a favorite football team). If you’re really gung-ho, wear your school’s colors and learn the theme song (the words are found on each of the school’s websites) so you can sing along when it marches through the Sambódromo.
Getting tickets for the parades at legitimate prices can be tough. LIESA (liesa.globo.com), the official samba school league, begins selling tickets in December or January. Check with Riotur about where you can get them, as the official outlet can vary from year to year. At face value, tickets run from R$110 to R$300, though you’ll probably have to pay about twice that (or more) if you buy just before Carnaval. The best seating areas, in order of preference, are sectors 9, 7, 11, 5 and 3. The first two (9 and 7) have great views and are in the center, which is the liveliest place to be.
By Carnaval weekend, most tickets will have sold out. And if you can’t make it during Carnaval proper, there’s always the cheaper Parade of Champions the following Saturday.
Getting to the Sambódromo
Don’t take a bus to or from the Sambódromo.It’s much safer to take a taxi or the metro (the Sambódromo is near Praça Onze metro station), which runs round the clock during Carnaval, from Saturday morning until Tuesday evening. This is also a great opportunity to check out the paraders commuting in costume.
Make sure you indicate to your taxi driver which side of the stadium your seats are on. If you take the metro, the stop at which you get off depends on the location of your seats. For sectors 2, 4 and 6, exit at Praça Onze. Once outside the station, turn to the right, take another right and then walk straight ahead (on Rua Júlio Carmo) to Sector 2. For sectors 4 and 6, turn right at Rua Carmo Neto and proceed to Av Salvador de Sá. You’ll soon see the Sambódromo and hear the roar of the crowd. Look for signs showing the entrance to the sectors. If you are going to sectors on the other side (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13), exit at the metro stop Central. You’ll then walk about 700m along Av Presidente Vargas until you see the Sambódromo.
Lapa becomes one of the major focal points during Carnaval. In front of the cinematic Arcos da Lapa, the Praça Cardeal Câmara transforms into an open-air stage, with concerts running through Carnaval. About half a dozen different bands play each night (samba of course). The music starts at 10pm and runs past 2am, though revelers pack Lapa until well past sunrise.
Samba City & Samba Land
Another festive space for concerts is the Terreirão do Samba (Samba Land), an open-air courtyard next to the Sambódromo’s sector 1, where bands play to large crowds throughout Carnaval (beginning the weekend before). There are also dozens of food and drink vendors, and a wide variety of bands playing. The action starts around 8pm and continues until 5:30am. Admission is R$10.
One of the biggest developments in Rio’s Carnaval world is Cidade do Samba, which opened in 2006. Located north of Centro near the port, the ‘city’ is actually made up of 14 large buildings in which the top schools assemble the Carnaval floats.
Visitors can take a tour through the area (R$5) or attend a live show (R$190), which features costumed dancers, live music and audience participation, plus free drinks and appetizers. It’s touristy and pricey, but some visitors enjoy the Carnaval-style show nonetheless. It’s currently held every other Thursday, beginning at 8pm; confirm times with Cidade do Samba or check with Riotur.
The following are the Carnaval dates (Friday to Shrove Tuesday) in coming years:
2011 March 4–8
2012 February 17–21
2013 February 8–12
2014 February 28 – March 4
Carnaval Party Planner Marcos Silviano Do Prado
Cariocas start partying long before the big Sambódromo parades take place, but the city is at its wildest from Friday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. To make the most of your time, check out the long-standing festas (parties) listed. You can dance through the streets in a banda, party like a rock star at one of many dance clubs scattered throughout town or find your groove at a samba school rehearsal. Those looking for free, open-air, neighborhood-wide celebrations shouldn’t miss Rio Folia, in front of Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches) in Lapa.
- Gay balls at Le Boy and The Week
- Monobloco, Ave Rio Branco in Centro, Sunday from 8am
Carnaval on the Streets
Rio’s street parties – the bandas and blocos – have exploded in recent years. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of these events happening around town. In 2010 there were over 400 street parties, filling every neighborhood in town with the sound of pounding drums and old-fashioned Carnaval songs – not to mention thousands of merrymakers. For many Cariocas, this is the highlight of Carnaval. You can don a costume (or not), learn a few songs and join in; all you have to do is show up – and for Zona Sul fests, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit afterwards, for a dip in the ocean.
For complete listings, pick up a free Carnaval de Rua guide from Riotur. The following are some of the better known street parties, each attracting anywhere from 1000 to several hundred thousand (in the case of Cordão do Bola Preta). Although the dates usually stay the same, the times sometimes change, so it’s wise to confirm before heading out.
- Banda de Ipanema This long-standing banda attracts a wild crowd, complete with drag queens and others in costume. Don’t miss it.
- Banda de Sá Ferreira This popular Copacabana banda marches along the ocean from Posto 1 to Posto 6.
- Banda Simpatia é Quase Amor Another Ipanema favorite, with a 50-piece percussion band.
- Barbas One of the oldest bandas of the Zona Sul parades through the streets with a 60-piece percussion band. A water truck follows along to spray the crowd of some 2500, all decked out in red and white.
- Bloco do Bip Bip Meets in front of the old samba haunt Bip Bip.
- Carmelitas (some dressed as Carmelite nuns) Crazy mixed crowd parades through Santa Teresa’s streets.
- Céu na Terra Follows along the bonde (tram) on a memorable celebration through Santa Teresa en route to Largo das Neves.
- Cordão do Bola Preta The oldest and biggest banda still in action. Costumes are always welcome, especially those with black-and-white spots.
- Dois Pra Lá, Dois Pra Cá This fairly long march begins at the dance school and ends at the Copacabana Palace.
- Monobloco (or perhaps still inebriated) Rise and shine! This huge bloco attracts upwards of 400,000 revelers who, nursing hangovers, gather in Centro for a final farewell to the Carnaval mayhem.
- Rola Preguiçosa Marches behind a giant phallus.
- Suvaco de Cristo Very popular bloco (which means ‘Christ’s armpit’ – in reference to open-armed Redeemer looming overhead), it also meets on Carnaval Saturday, but doesn’t announce the time (to avoid overcrowding), so ask around.
- Vem Ni Mim Que Eu Sou Facinha A banda that stays put.
Joining a Samba School
Those who have done it say no other part of Carnaval quite compares to donning a costume and dancing through the Sambódromo before roaring crowds. Anyone with the desire and a little extra money to spare can march in the parade. Most samba schools are happy to have foreigners join one of the wings. To get the ball rolling, you’ll need to contact your chosen school in advance; it will tell you the rehearsal times and when you need to be in the city (usually a week or so before Carnaval). Ideally, you should memorize the theme song as well, but it’s not essential (you can always lip sync). The biggest investment, aside from the airfare to Rio, is buying a fantasia (costume), which will cost upwards of R$600.
If you speak some Portuguese, you can contact a school directly; many Rio travel agencies can also arrange this. One recommended outfit (this author paraded with them in 2010) is Rio Charm (www.riocharm.com.br), which brings a group of travelers together to parade with a Grupo A school (which some say is less formal and more fun). Costumes are around R$400.
Those seeking an insider’s perspective on samba schools should read Alma Guillermoprieto’s excellent book, Samba.
Samba Glossary for Parade-Goers
- Alas (theme song) – literally the ‘wings.’ These are groups of samba-school members responsible for a specific part of the central samba do enredo. Special alas include the baianas (women dressed as Bahian ‘aunts’ in full skirts and turbans). The abre ala of each school is the opening wing or float.
- Bateria– the drum section is the driving beat behind the school’s samba and is the ‘soul’ of the school.
- Carnavalesco– the artistic director of each school, responsible for the overall layout and design of the school’s theme.
- Carros alegóricos – the dazzling floats, usually decorated with near-naked women. The floats are pushed along by the school’s maintenance crew.
- Desfile (parade) – the parade. The most important samba schools desfilar on the Sunday and Monday night of Carnaval. Each school’s desfile is judged on its samba, drum section, master of ceremonies and flag bearer, floats, leading commission, costumes, dance coordination and overall harmony.
- Destaques– the richest and most elaborate costumes. The heaviest ones usually get a spot on one of the floats.
- Diretores de harmonia– the school organizers, who usually wear white or the school colors; they run around yelling and ‘pumping up’ the wings, making sure there aren’t any gaps in the parade.
- Enredo– the central theme of each school. The samba do enredo is the samba that goes with it. Radio stations and dance halls prime Cariocas with classic enredos on the weeks leading up to Carnaval.
- Passistas– the best samba dancers of a school. They roam the parade in groups or alone, stopping to show off some fancy footwork along the way. The women are usually dressed in short, revealing skirts, and the men usually hold tambourines.
- Puxador (a puxador is invariably male) – the interpreter of the theme song. He works as a guiding voice, leading the school’s singers at rehearsals and in the parade.
When it comes to the pursuit of sport, Cariocas (residents of Rio) seem to be ruled by the sun, spilling out of doors on lovely days for pick-up games of football (soccer), volleyball and futevôlei (volleyball played without using the hands). Runners, cyclists and power-walkers take to the streets, as hikers and rockclimbers head for the hills and surfers make for the beach.
Those who’d rather sit than spin can head to the stadium (or the pub) for the big game. Like other Brazilians, Cariocas are addicted to football, with every man, woman and child expected to profess their undying devotion to one team or another by about the age of five. Futebol games are an intense spectacle – as much because of the crazed fans as the teams out on the field. The rivalries are particularly intense when Rio’s club teams – Botafogo (black-and-white-striped jerseys), Flamengo (red jerseys with black hoops), Fluminense (red, green and white stripes) and Vasco da Gama (white with a black sash) – play each other. An excellent book on Brazil’s great sport, and its relationship to culture, religion and politics, is Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (2002) by Alex Bellos. For results, schedules and league tables visit Samba Foot (http://en.sambafoot.com/).
On the national level, Brazilians have proven that they are among the world’s best footballers, having produced scores of brilliants players and winning the World Cup five times.
While the nation has a fairly one-track mind when it comes to professional sports, Brazilians have distinguished themselves in other arenas. They dominate in auto racing, for instance. Brazilian drivers have won more Formula One world championships than any other nationality, a fact that probably won’t surprise anyone who rents a car for the weekend. The greatest racer, three-time world champion Ayrton Senna, was almost canonized after his death.
Tennis also has its following, helped along by Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten who was once ranked number one in the world and won the French Open three times between 1997 and 2001. He retired in 2008. Before him came Hall-of-Famer Maria Esther Bueno, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles in the 1950s and ’60s.
Basketball (with three Brazilian players in the NBA), volleyball (both men’s and women’s teams were ranked number one in 2010 according to the Federation Internationale de Volley-ball’s world ranking) and even professional bull riding have their Brazilian stars.
Amid such a sporting nation, there are plenty of ways to join the fray. Rio’s lush mountains and glimmering coastline cry out for action, and you can hone your game – whether it be volleyball, soccer or frescobal (played with wooden racquets and a rubber ball) – without ever leaving that sparkling shoreline. Nearby, palm-lined paths set the stage for jogging, hiking, walking and cycling. While the mountain backdrops are fine to gaze at, they are also the setting for some of the city’s unique adventures: you can climb up them, hangglide down from them or go hiking in the forests that surround them. For something a little different, sign up for a dance class, learn some capoeira (martial art) or Brazilian jiujutsu, go scuba diving off the islands near Rio, book a surfing lesson or stretch those sunburned gams at a yoga class. And for those who’d rather take their sport sitting down, there’s always Maracanã, the world’s largest football stadium.