Carnival in Brazil

LATIN Brazil

Exclusive interview with
Travel Expert,
Rosana Chermisqui

What is the celebration of Carnival all about?
Carnival is a festivity that comes from the Christian religion, a grand celebration just before Lent.  Because the dates of Lent, Ash Wednesday and Easter change each year, Carnival usually occurs between February and March. It is the biggest annual celebration in Brazil, featuring parades and costumes. People once wore masks to disguise their identity so rich and poor could enjoy the celebration without being noticed or known. Now, wearing a mask is a big part of the tradition. Carnival arrived in Brazil in the 13th century by the Portuguese who colonized Brazil. The first Samba Schools started in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s and spread to the northeast of the country by the 1980s.
In Salvador, Bahia Carnival is famous for the allegorical cars/floats, and people following them through the streets (Trio Eletrico). Each state of Brazil has different traditions for Carnival.
In Rio de Janeiro, most people enjoy the Samba School Parade for its richness, beauty and glamour.  People work all year towards the goal of their school winning the parade.
Carnival and Soccer are very important for the Brazilian people.  These events unite them, making them dream the same dream. It doesn’t matter how rich or how important they are, they all become the same behind the masks and the costumes. They all dance to the same music, and the same sounds unify them in the dream that they share of winning.

Are there special events on all the dates?
At Carnival in Rio, events happen every day (Friday through Tuesday). The Samba Schools’ parades happen from Saturday through Monday non-stop at the Sambodramo, built by famous Oscar Niemeyer. The very next Saturday, after the Carnival, another parade happens featuring the 6 best schools, called Parade of the Champions.
Some tourists like to see only the Parade of the Champions and combine their trip with visits to other destinations.
On the streets, there are block parades all the time, in every area. The most famous street block is “O Cordao do Bola Preta” which brings more than 2 million people to the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
The street blocks are formed by big groups of people who start together and go through the streets dancing to music they have composed or old songs that were created previously by other Samba schools. Percussion instruments accompany the dancers and musicians. Many street blocks wear the same colored clothing, and have a float or bus playing sound and music to accompany them.  In some cities in the Northeast of the country, such as Olinda, Pernambuco, they have giant dolls parading with them.

Can visitors participate?
Yes, anyone can participate in the parades. For the famous Samba Schools Parade, each year they have a different theme at each school. Participants need to purchase a costume matching that theme (which can be arranged by the tour company). If tourists just want to participate in a block street parade, no costume is necessary - no purchase is necessary, just enjoy the fun and dancing.

What is right area to stay in for the best of the festivities?
Most people prefer to stay at the south part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in areas such as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. These are the best areas for the best Carnival experience. However, Carnival happens all over Rio making it a popular event for all.
A less expensive area is Barra da Tijuca, which offers many options for tourists. Downtown Rio is where most Carnival blocks and parades happen and the where the famous Sambodramo (featuring the most famous parade) is located.

What are the must-see sights and attractions?
The best attractions and the main reason to go to Rio during Carnival is to see the most famous parade at the Sambodramo and the “smaller” street block parades. For tourists, this is a great opportunity to see more of Brazil, and visit one of the 7 Wonders of the World: Corcovado, the Christ the Redeemer monument and Sugar Loaf. Keep in mind that during this time it is highly recommended to purchase tickets for all visits in advance. Many streets are closed during Carnival, making the traffic even more difficult.

Do tour operators offer both accommodations and tickets?
Most definitely! They can also arrange a costume for the parade if the tourist wants to participate in a School Parade. It’s best to make all arrangements at once through the tour operator, rather than separately, and have problems later. This is high season, and people from all over the world will be there.

How far in advance should we book?
Again, Carnival occurs during high season, and in the southern hemisphere it will be summer time. It is a must to buy a tour package at least 2 to 3 months in advance. The sooner the client purchases the tour package, the more hotel options and parade site choices they will have.

Is it safe?
Safety is a number one priority for Brazilians. During the World Cup in Brazil, we all witnessed that there was NO crime at all. As when traveling to any place in the world, common sense is a must!

Can Carnival be combined with other sightseeing in the country?
Tourists can definitely combine Carnival in Rio with other destinations. The most common combinations are Rio de Janeiro and Buzios (a beautiful quaint beach town  - highly recommended, and about 3 hours by car from Rio). Or, choose Rio de Janeiro and Angra dos Reis  (also about a 3-hour drive to another beach destination). If the tourist wants to celebrate Carnival in Salvador, they can combine that with Praia do Forte (beach town). If they decide to celebrate in Recife, they can combine that with a visit to Porto de Galinhas.

Are there other events or traditions IN Brazil?
Brazil has a lot of culture, beautiful beaches and adventure to offer throughout the year.
    *    New Year’s in Brazil: summer, beautiful beaches and fireworks
    *    Afro Brazilian Heritage: Salvador Bahia (learning about Candomble and Religious Mysteries)
    *    The African Soul of Brazil
    *    Manaus: Meeting of the waters and Indian Village
    *    Festas Juninas: During the month of June, celebrated in many different states of Brazil and as popular as Carnival

Please Share Some insider tips about Brazil
Brazil has a big Afro influence that can be seen everywhere. During Carnival, tourists can see this very clearly and will notice that Brazilians are connected by the Samba and the rhythms of the instruments and music, not by skin color or money. It is a country where friendly smiles come from everywhere and everyone throughout the country, and not just in Rio de Janeiro
Rosana Chermisqui is a Brazilian born travel industry expert. She has a blog and social media sites offering her expertise and knowledge to travel agents, with the goal of assisting them with their businesses.
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