By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The countdown for the biggest event in Rio has already started: in four days time, the city opens the Carnival season, which hopes to attract over 1.5 million tourists this year.
Although the party officially starts this Friday, February 9th, to next Tuesday, February 13th, Rio’s eventful “street Carnival” has been on since early January, and plans to take crowds to its diverse blocos until the end of this month.
Carnival was introduced in Rio de Janeiro by the end of the eighteenth century with the “entrudos”, public revelries surrounded by dance, music, alcohol and plenty of euphoria. In the beginning, Rio’s Carnival was marked by the French and Portuguese party traditions, one cannot mention the contemporary Carnival without acknowledging the key role of the Afro-Brazilian culture in Rio’s samba schools and blocos.
Rio’s street carnival is now celebrated considerably – probably as important for the local economy as the official samba schools’ parade -, the blocos’ phenomenon has only started emerging over the last ten years.
For many people, Rio’s carnival is unique especially because of the amazing diversity of the over 450 blocos that parade across the city. From Barra da Tijuca, in Zone Oeste, to the Paquetá Island, blocos for all music tastes, ages and vibes can be found in every corner of Rio, on every single Carnival day.
For the first-time Carnival participants who are struggling to find the best blocos, American entrepreneur Christine Cox believes Aterro do Flamengo, in Zona Sul, is the place to be:
“Sargento Pimenta is certainly the bloco one cannot miss. Everybody knows the Beatles songs, and it is so much fun with everybody dancing and singing these beloved classics with a samba twist! The colorful costumes make it even more delightful. What’s more, Aterro Do Flamengo is a space where you can walk around with ease and there are plenty of options for refreshments,” shares Cox, who has visited Rio for several times since 2013.
According to Russian expat Serge Larin, those into a more typically Brazilian bloco cannot miss Tambores de Olokun, which parades in Centro:
“Whilst all blocos in Rio are amazing and charged with positive energy, one of my favorite blocos is “Tambores de Olokun”, celebrating God of all bodies of water from the Candomble religion. The bloco starts with band playing tantalizing rhythms and women wearing white and blue dresses dancing perfectly choreographed dance, and later on stage band and dancers join in with everyone culminating in incredible group dance”, he explains.
Also parading on Centro’s streets is Amigos da Onça, one of the trendiest blocos among “cool” Cariocas. For Ian Walker, Australian expatriate and journalist, this is the right bloco to feel the outrageousness and fun of Carnival:
“Amigos da Onça is a guaranteed great time, with all their crazy animal costumes and stilt walkers you really feel like you’ve stepped into another world, and I think that’s what Carnival is all about, forgetting about day to day life and losing yourself in the music and the fun of it all. As a foreigner, this whole love for carnival has been really new and different to me because we don’t have anything similar in Australia,” says Walker.
By the way, spending Carnival in Rio means dressing up in style. No matter what bloco one plans on going to, colorful costumes are always a must. At the SAARA street market, in Centro (right next to the Uruguaiana subway station), one can find cheap and various options of Carnival clothing, from fancy costumes to simple accessories.
In order to make Carnival a truly pleasant experience, one must keep in mind a few safety recommendations. Since Carnival’s crowds easily attract pickpockets, those attending blocos should always keep valuable items at home, including documents, cellphones and cards. It is recommended to go to the blocos with only a small amount of cash (around R$50-R$100) in a discrete money belt.
In terms of transport, the best way to move around is via Metrô Rio, Rio’s subway. Even though all bus lines might operate normally, the journey may take more time due to the traffic caused by the several blocos parading on the streets. From Friday, February 9th, to Tuesday, February 13th, MetrôRio will be working 24 hours non-stop.
Finally, because Carnival happens during the highest summer season, one must be careful with dehydration and sunstroke. Make sure to bring sunscreen and drink lots of water.
Click here to view the complete agenda of blocos for Rio’s 2018 Carnival.