By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Widely considered to be the largest (and best) annual party in the world, Rio Carnival draws around a million visitors to the city in a celebration that is the bench mark for pre-Lent celebrations around the world. At the center of this colorful spectacle is the vibrant samba parade in the Marquês da Sapucaí, or Sambódromo.
The recently renovated Sambódromo now houses 90,000 people and along with additional seating has greatly improved acoustics.
Despite this impressive size however, demand for tickets is high and they quickly sell out. The best way to obtain them as the event draws near is through travel and event agencies that arrange packages for visitors.
Samba school aficionados will have a choice of events to attend, with less expensive tickets available for the Access Group show held on Saturday, February 9th. The most prominent samba schools however compete on the Sunday and Monday in what is called the Grupo Especial (Special Group) parade competition.
“In this spectacular show you can see the mixture of popular culture and glamor. You can feel and admire the effort of the [samba] schools in their quest to become champion, but beyond that the there is also the love for a cultural celebration that delights everyone,” Rio resident and samba enthusiast Camila Rodrigues de Souza told The Rio Times.
Before buying tickets, it is important to decide whether or not to partake in the parade. Those wishing to do so can buy outfits (called fantasias) from the main samba school’s websites, or from travel agencies. However “If you want to participate the parade is very important to know the school song and remember that you need a lot of energy,” de Souza added.
Those wishing only to spectate have a number of seating options available. The Sambódromo is divided up into thirteen numbered sections, each with their own positives and negatives. The very best seats are the brewery sponsored VIP booths or ‘camarotes’. These catered, air conditioned booths have a great view of the proceedings and hold up to twelve people, with each seat costing around R$4,000.
Underneath the camarotes, open boxes or ‘frisas’ at the very floor level give a great close-up view of the festivities. These seats are immediately adjacent to the runway and contain seating for six people and a small coffee table. They can be found in front of every section and cost between R$1,000 and R$1,800.
Those looking to spend less than that can choose from seating in one of the grandstands or in the various sections. Generally the lower the number, the closer spectators will be to the start of the parade. Sections two and three have good views of the fireworks that announce the start of each parade.
Once the parade reaches sectors four through seven, located towards the center of the Sambódromo, spectators can enjoy a great panoramic view of the celebrations.
Sector nine is reserved for tourists and has numbered seats, as opposed to the other sectors where people are free to sit or stand where they like. This can be a lottery as it is possible to be left with seats that are pretty high up and far from the proceedings.
Sector eleven looks over the ‘Recuo da Bateria’, where the band waits when the schools pass by. Lovers of percussion should head for this loud and (somewhat raucous) section. Tickets for the grandstands cost between R$300 and R$400.
The best way to get to the Sambódromo is to head to “Centro” or “Praça XI” metro stops for even and odd numbered sections respectively, once at the correct station there are plenty of signposts to the Sambódromo. There are also numerous taxi companies that have fixed rates to the parade, though as the Sambódromo has numerous entrances, it is best to tell the driver where you are seated.
This year the main parade starts at 9PM and keeps going until the early morning. Those without numbered seats would do well to arrive a couple of hours in advance to secure a good spot with a good view, and prepare to get comfortable for a long night.