The Carnival in Rio De Janeiro is bigger than all of the carnivals around the world put together! I couldn’t fathom the scale of this statement until I experienced it for myself this February. While Carnival parties take place for 3 weeks across neighborhoods in Brazil, the grandest event is held at Rio Sambadrome on Carnival Sunday and Monday.
Never Ending Parade
The stadium is bustling with 75,000 spectators spread out over a little less than half-a mile. The parade begins at 10pm and ends at 6am. 6 samba-schools parade each night with a total of about twenty-four thousand participants. Each samba school has 45 minutes to make it across the stadium with their floats and dancers. Each samba school has to parade with a minimum of 2,000 members and a maximum of 4,500 merry makers.
Every samba school has at least 10 floats that tell a story and are elaborately decorated with lights, motion and dancers. Some of them are as high as 3 stories! The floats I saw had ice cream, super heroes, toys, farmer, turtle, and music themes.
The Brazilian women who dance samba in front of the floats are some of the most talented dancers in the country. Their scantily designed costumes are embodies with lots of feathers, as they shake their bodies to the rhythm across the stadium in high heels. Samba girls have to be in excellent shape. They diet, exercise and practice for at least two months leading up to the event.
Tickets and Logistics
There are five types of tickets available for the Samba Parade in Rio: Boxes, Dress Circle, Grandstands Seats, Back Stall Seats, and Specially Handicapped. Children under 5 do not require tickets. Tickets can be purchased in Sectors 1-11, sector 5 and 9 being the most central ones.
Sambodromo Grandstand ticket prices start are $115-400 USD. This area has uncovered stadium style seating, but offers panoramic views of the entire parade. Sambadrome Special Boxes carnival tickets costs at an average range of $600 – 2,200 which includes food, drinks and company of celebrity guests. Carnival tickets go on sale in December and the earlier you buy, the cheaper they will be.
I went to see the Access Group performance on Friday night which consisted of 7 of the best samba schools as part of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival Gold Group. The performances are pretty close to those in the Special Group that perform in the Grand Parade on Monday, and the winners are chosen to participate in next year’s Special Group. Tickets for the Access events are much cheaper. I bought my ticket in Section 5 Grandstand for $20 online. Note: tickets at travel agencies are generally much more expensive.
It is advisable to take a nap on the day of the event so you can stay up all night. The facility sells snack foods and beer, but I saw many people bring coolers full of snacks and to-go cocktail jars. It is ok to take photos and videos. Unlike other crowded places in Rio, it is actually quite safe at the Sambadrome so you can bring your expensive camera. Carry some cash for snacks and taxi back. Many roads are blocked during carnival so transportation can take longer and be a bit more expensive.
~ Photos by Amanda Villa-Lobos, a native of Rio de Janeiro and official Go Eat Give photographer.