Rio de Janeiro puts on one of the world’s biggest, liveliest parties every year for Carnival. This year’s Carnival weekend just happens to coincide with the long Presidents’ Day weekend, February 17-20, giving travelers even more reason to celebrate. Brazilians and international visitors will flock to the beach-side city to celebrate days and nights of parades and parties with all the characteristic Rio Carnival trappings: contagious samba music and dancing, ornate costumes and floats, and full-on revelry. Cariocas, or Rio natives, prepare for months for the celebrations, and while Carnival undoubtedly is the most expensive, crowded time to visit Rio, it also is the best time to experience the city’s spirited, provocative personality.
In addition the city’s signature attractions such as Corcovado and its classic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the city erects an entire Carnival infrastructure to accommodate the festivities. The famous samba parades, which are costumed parades with moving musicians and dancers, take place in the Sambadrome, a parade area in downtown Rio, which is about a half-mile long and runs along Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí between Avenida Presidente Vargas and Rua Frei Caneca. The events are ticketed, but tourists can trust they are seeing the real samba: samba schools practice year-round to compete in the parades at Rio’s Carnival. Neighborhoods also host additional street samba parties with live musicians and dancers, such as the nightly party under the arches of the Lapa neighborhood, called the Arcos de Lapa, which is in the heart of Rio nightlife. Evening balls also take place, and tickets—and, in some cases, elegant attire—also are necessary. With a couple million people out on the streets of Rio during Carnival, the celebration is everywhere.
For more information on events and to purchase tickets, visit the official Rio Carnival 2012 site.
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Where to Stay
Hotels fill quickly during Carnival weekend, and rooms skyrocket, often to four times the standard price. But rooms are still available at Caesar Park, one of Rio’s most upscale properties located along a prime slice of shorefront property. For those who want digs with a bit of a buffer from the sights and sounds of constant samba, the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort has its own beach and is located slightly outside the main swath of beach. The Atlantis Copacabana is a more affordable option and offers quality budget rooms, as does the Best Western Plus Sol Ipanema.
Where to Eat
Many of Rio’s most popular restaurants are buffet style with everything from sushi and classic Brazilian dishes, or rodízio places, the classic all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurants that specialize in skewered meats. Pay-by-the-kilo Frontera has a few locations in the city, and Restaurante Couve Flor, located in an upscale area near the Jardim Botânico, is another buffet option that can get diners back out on the streets and into the party shortly. Porcão Rio’s is perhaps the most beloved churrascarias, and is ideal for consuming a hearty, meaty meal. Grab a sandwich to munch on or savory salgados (Brazilian pastries) like cheese puffs, as well as a refreshing açai smoothie at Mega Matte. Food stands along the beach serve up numerous light options for vittles, too, such as crêpes, shrimp skewers, and corn on the cob.
The parades that take place in the Sambadrome are the classic Rio Carnival way to experience the dance, but ticket prices, which are scaled based on proximity to the route, can get quite expensive. Some savvy Carnival attendees forgo the Sambadrome festivities altogether and explore the neighborhood street parties and samba performances at bloco parades, which are like block parties, that occur throughout Rio de Janeiro.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
For the most up-to-date restaurant, hotel, and shopping reviews, visit our comprehensive Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide.
Photo credit: sfmission.com / flickr