|Finding the carnival in Rio|
|Written by Giselle W|
|Monday, 08 June 2009 19:37|
Finding the Carnival in Rio
There is a lot of carnival in Rio. It goes on from Friday night to Wednesday morning over carnival weekend. You can pay to watch the big samba schools parading in the sambodromo. Or you can participate in Rio's thriving steet carnival - which is free!
The most famous part of Rio's carnival is the parades of the big Samba Schools in the special group - the Grupo Especial. If you buy tickets in advance online it is these parades that you will be seeing.
But did you know that there are six different leagues of samba schools parading in two locations over the five days of carnival? And many of these parades can be watched for free.
And there is also a thriving street carnival scene, which has undergone a real revival in the last few years. In the weekends before carnival and all through carnival week you will find blocos (local carnival parades) parading throughout Rio.
The Samba Schools
The Rio samba schools' carnival works like the football league, with the highest scoring schools in each league being promoted each year and the lowest facing relegation. The higher the league, the more money is available for staging carnival. And in the top league, the Grupo Especial, there are added financial bonuses, because tourists pay to go to rehearsals, and the samba schools get a cut of the money earned from the sale of the samba song CD. There is also money coming in from ticket sales for the parades, and from television rights. So this is a very serious competition, with a lot more than pride resting on a samba school's performance.
The most famous Rio carnival parade is of the top samba schools, Grupo Especial, with 12 schools; they parade on Sunday and Monday of Carnaval in the avenida, or sambadrome. This is a purpose built stadium stretching for half a kilometer along the avenida Marques da Sapucaii, with stands and bleachers for ticket holderrs. Tickets are expensive - and take a cushion, because you'll probably be seated on concrete steps.
There are also samba schools in access groups A,B,C,D and E, with ten to twelve schools each. Grupos A and B also parade in the sambodrome, on Saturday and Tuesday, but the lower leagues parade way out of town. There are just too many leagues for them all to be able to parade in the sambadrome over the five days of carnival.
A Grupo Especial samba school will parade with around four thousand people, including a bateria of about 300 rhythmistas. Each school has many different costumes and around seven huge carnival floats. In group E there are about 80 in the bateria and a total turnout of a few hundred.
Getting Tickets - and free parades
Tickets for the sambódromo are hard to get hold of, especially if you do not have a tourist's budget to spend on them.
These days they sell out as soon as they become available, in about 20 minutes over the phone and net. So most of us foreigners will have to buy from ticket agencies, at a very inflated price. You can buy them from tourist offices up and down Copacabana and the Rio Branco. Beware of buying from touts - their tickets may well be clever forgeries. You can read an independent guide to buying Rio carnival sambodromo tickets here .
On Saturday of carnival the schools in Gruopo A parade. Tickets are cheaper.
On Tuesday of Carnival Grupo B parades in the sambodromo. There's much less money so their parades are less spectacular - but entrance is free.
The lower leagues parade way outside of central Rio in Intendente Margailhes. This is a real street carnival, and free, but its a long way from town and you will need to go by taxi, which will not be cheap. Its best to go there with a local, as this part of carnival is not set up for tourists.
Rio's Street Carnival
These days Rio pulsates with street parades throughout carnival. Each local parade is called a bloco, and bloco parades can involve from just a few people to hundreds of thousands.
You are very likely to meet up with blocos in Copacabana, Ipenema or Lapa, generally from late afternoon. In Lapa, in Central Rio, there is big music stage hosting many performances from famous bands, and many street stalls (mostly food and drink) as well as a constant flow of blocos and several busy nightclubs. This part of Rio's carnival is buzzing, crowded, informal and free. But infested with pickpockets, some quite blatant. Dont take anything valuable, and hide your cash in several places.
A new and very welcome innovation has been to use the Rio Branco, in the centre of downtown Rio, exclusively for the parades of big organised Blocos. These are street carnival groups, celebrating carnival in a much more informal way than the big samba schools. You can participate along with everyone else, instead of sitting on concrete stands watching an organised parade. In 2010 the biggest of these was Cordao da Bola Preta, with over half a million revellers - a bit crowded for me!. Many other successful blocos are revitalising the street carnival in the centre of Rio. Some of the biggest blocos parade elsewhere - see our list of blocos for more information.
Cinelandia, a square at the end of the Rio Branco, is set up during carnival as a street carnival centre with food, drink and souvenier stalls and a stage to keep you occupied in between the passing of the blocos. It is closed to motor traffic from Carnaval Friday to the following Wednesday.
There is also the Terrerao de Samba, an enormous enclosure off Avenida Presidente Vargas, just beside the sambodromo. Here you will find are bigger more salubrious food stalls and a huge stage featuring many of the most popula rbands and musicians in Brazil. This is open most nights for several weeks around carnival, and entrance is very cheap.
Also, scattered around Rio and its suburbs, you will find local squares and streets converted to carnival centres for the whole of carnival - From Friday night to the wee small hours of Wednesday morning.
If you are staying in a hotel in Copacabana or Ipenima there are plenty of local blocos parading throughout carnival (usually from 6pm as it's too hot, earlier). And the big samba schools sometimes parade down copacabana too although without the spectacular costumes. You can have a pretty full - on carnival experience without ever having to travel any further.