By Martin Kocandrle, Contributing Reporter
As the countdown to Carnival begins the hype and anticipation in the streets is palpable. This year the ‘main event’ officially takes place between Saturday, February 13th and Tuesday, February 16th, and with so many activities taking place all over the city, planning a great Carnival adventure can be a little overwhelming. As such here is a five day itinerary that might just help you navigate your way to a memorable week of celebrating.
Day 1: Friday, February 12th
Even though Carnival doesn’t officially start until after midnight, a fine way to get into the swing of things are the numerous Friday blocos (street parties) of Centro and Lapa. No fewer than six will take place in Downtown alone on Friday afternoon, notably including Praça Floriana in Cinelândia, just outside the metro-stop, one of the largest and best-organized of the bunch. The party starts at 5PM and ends at 3AM, or you can just stroll around Centro and take in the atmosphere as the city’s offices shut down for a few days of celebration.
If a more chaotic and uptempo atmosphere is what you crave take a stroll down to the white arches of Lapa where, besides the numerous bars and clubs, you can join the crowds spilling into the streets as night falls, soaking up the rhythm of spontaneous live performances and dancing.
Day 2: Saturday, February 13th
Things really get rolling on Saturday, when throughout the day from as early as 6AM the streets are filled with over 90 blocos from Recreio to Zona Norte and everywhere in between. Banda Da Ipanema, Ceu Na Terra in Santa Teresa and the Cordao da Bola Preta in Cinelandia (at 7AM!) are among the most well known, but neighborhoods like Tijuca, Botafogo and Arpoador all throng with their own individual style and often its a case of the smaller the better.
It wouldn’t be Carnival if you weren’t attending one of Rio’s famous Carnival Gala Balls, and on Saturday evening you can check out one of the best – the Mangueria samba school baile at Rio Scala in Leblon. Regular entry is R$100 or R$700 for a table for four. For a full list of gala balls and prices do consult the official site of Carnival.
Day 3: Sunday, February 14th
Without a doubt the most spectacular performances of Carnival are reserved for the parades in the Sambodromo, where all the hard work of the top Samba Schools is flaunted with due grandeur and glamor.
It is always best to buy tickets in advance and they sell out quickly, but if you are crafty you might be able to get your hands on some though outside the venue, but remember scalpers can be ruthless and especially on day two, when tickets for the previous day are often passed on to unwitting tourists. Prices start at around R$500. The different divisions parade throughout the weekend, but the best schools from the top division parade on Sunday and Monday from 9PM until as late as 7AM.
Day 4: Monday, February 15th
The excessive partying may eventually take a toll on your body and you will undoubtedly feel the call of the beach to take a bit of rest. Be sure to check out the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, grab an umbrella, chair and a beverage and soak up the sun and good spirits of the Carnival festivities from the sand.
To maintain the change of pace the Baile Infantil for kids is always an excellent option for those looking to give their children a flavor of the blocos, and it takes place in Ipanema from 3PM at Praca General Osorio.
Day 5: Tuesday, February 16th
Finally, if you still have enough energy to hold it together and party away the last night of Carnival, you can join the rest of the survivors at “Terreirão do Samba” (Samba Land) at Praça Onze in Centro. This is an open air space with lots of food and drink, the ubiquitous live music and a celebratory atmosphere is guaranteed. Admission is R$5.
If you still need help (and have the money) there is always the option to enlist the help of an agency to take care of the legwork for you. Grupo Pacifica has been in the Carnival business for 25 years and has an impressive list of services on offer.
Included in their packages are pick up and drop off from home/hotel, private and VIP boxes at the Sambodromo, multilingual guides, a photographer, reveler’s kit and the option to arrange accommodation. It costs for this assistance though – packages with Grupo Pacifica start at R$2,800 a per person per night.
For more information on the various events happening throughout the city checkout the official Rio de Janeiro Carnival tourism board. Here you will find a comprehensive schedule and list of all the events.