By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Drums, pulsating hips and buckets of alegria (joy), after a month of Carnival warm-up blocos (or street parties), Rio’s party-goers are chomping at the bit for the main event – Carnival weekend – which begins on Friday. With just days remaining, those in the know get their bloco itinerary mapped well before setting out.
Inês Andrade is a Carioca who has gone to Carnival every year since before she could walk, let alone dance samba; “You’ve got to know where you’re going and when to make the most of the street Carnival. Some of the best blocos are tucked away off the usual tourist beat or start really early in the morning, so you’ve got to have your plan,” she advises.
It is all about being in the right place at the right time, and with approximately 425 blocos happening this year, a little help picking out some sure-things may come in handy.
Kick off the week on Friday with one of Carnival’s most traditional blocos in Rio’s bohemian quarter, Santa Teresa. Bloco Carmelitas (Friday 17th, 3-7PM Santa Teresa) celebrates the legend of a naughty nun who jumped the walls of the Carmelite Convent to join in a Carnival parade.
A giant puppet representing the rebellious runaway leads the way at this irreverent parade, followed by a procession of dancing naughty nuns. It is one of the bigger blocos tucked into some narrow streets so don’t expect much elbow room.
From the old to the new, skip straight over to Bloco Virtual (Friday 17th, 6-10PM, Leme) for a truly 21st century experience. Started in 2000, this is a relatively new kid on the block, but with everything from its theme to its music chosen by its online community, this nothing if not inclusive.
Saturday, February 18th, offers up a titan of the bloco world: the Cordao da Bola Preta (9:30 AM, Centro). Rio’s oldest bloco, dating back to 1918, draws massive crowds with an estimated 1.8 million turning up last year.
Wear white with black spots and prepare for a musical education, as this bloco features only the most traditional Samba anthems dating from the 1920s. The sheer scale of it makes for an all day event.
As the sun sets, timetable in your history lesson with Banda da Ipanema (5:30PM, Ipanema), which started out as a rebellion against the military dictatorship and has since been recognized by the government as an official slice of Brazil’s cultural heritage.
Next, pucker up for Simpatia é Quase Amor on Sunday (February 19th, 4PM, Ipanema). The name translates to “Kindness and Almost Love” and the crowd takes the theme passionately to heart, and kissing is almost mandatory.
The assuming you made it home early after a full day, wake up and get to Volta, Alice! in Laranjeiras (Monday February 20th) which is for the strictly dedicated. It starts at an eye-watering 9AM but it boasts some of Carnival’s most outlandish costumes and is known as one of Rio’s most friendly blocos.
Tuesday may mark the last official day of Carnival, but the following weekend there is still fun to be had. On Sunday, February 26th, shake it off, shine up your dance shoes and head down to the perennial favorite, Monobloco (Centro, 9AM), for a great way to round off the season. Described by band member Pedro Luís as “a very danceable repertoire,” underselling their unique sound which mashes up diverse Brazilian music styles to a samba beat, to hip-wigglingly fine effect.