Seeing Carnival at the Sambódromo

By Amy Skalmusky, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For many the word Carnival is synonymous with Sambódromo, the location of the spectacular annual parade of Samba schools, with each year surpassing the last in extravagance. Once again Rio’s 2011 Carnival promises to dazzle the 70,000 spectators at the Sambódromo (Marquês da Sapucaí).

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, photo by Sergio Luiz/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, photo by Sergio Luiz/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Tickets and costumes to parade for the Special Group parade (considered “THE” parade) on March 5th and 6th are still available for those wanting to invest in an unforgettable experience.

“It’s amazing on so many levels. From a distance you can appreciate the harmony of the colors, costumes and floats and up close you see the incredible detail of each costume,” said Anna Marie Acra, a resident of Rio who has seen the parade twice.

Buying tickets directly through LIESA, the Liga das Escolas de Samba, is close to impossible. Thirty-two minutes after going on sale on January 10th, they sold out. Tickets remain available through travel and event agencies however, albeit at a higher price that tends to go up as the date gets closer.

Many agencies offer “pacotes”, or packages, that include the tickets, transportation to and from the Sambódromo and other amenities. Even if purchased in advance, authorities only issue ticket vouchers to avoid fraud. A week before Carnival, these vouchers must be exchanged for the actual magnetic tickets.

One of the Camarotes, or suites, photo courtesy of Franco Events.

Inside one of the Camarotes, or suites, photo courtesy of Franco Events.

To actually join in the parade, costumes can be purchased online by going to the website of any of the major Samba schools (under “fantasias”) as well as through travel agents. It is important to note that even those participating in the parade have to buy tickets if they want to watch the other Samba schools.

After deciding whether or not to buy tickets just to watch, the next consideration is where to sit. Many websites and travel guides claim that sections five, seven, and nine are the best, though this may be debatable.

“Each part of the Sambódromo has its advantages and disadvantages,” said Renato Pacheco of Franco Eventos, a company that specializes in Carnival in Rio. “Some people think that sector three isn’t good. But from there, you can watch the samba schools preparing enter the avenue during the intermissions. So the party doesn’t stop.”

The experience, and price, can vary a lot depending on the type of seating you choose. “Arquibancadas”, or concrete bleachers with no allocated seats within the sectors (with the exception of sector nine – which is reserved for travel agencies), cost from R$300 to R$1,000 (US$590).

“Frisas”, or front-boxes, have six numbered chairs and a small coffee table. They are set-up directly on the avenue and cost from R$1,600 to R$3,000 (appx. US$1,800) per seat. “Camarotes”, or suites, offer drinks, air-conditioning, are generally covered and cost around R$3,950 per person.

Sections of the Sambadrome, image courtesy of Franco Eventos.

Sections of the Sambódromo, image courtesy of Franco Eventos (click to expand).

Though ticket packages may include transportation, it is generally at fixed times and many people opt to take the subway or taxi. Since the Sambódromo is divided into even and odd sections, the best Metro stop for those seated in even-numbered section is “Centro”, and “Praça XI” for those seated in odd-numbered sections. Taxis are also an option, and are available near the Sambódromo all night.

The doors open at 5PM, but according to Pacheco, arriving after sunset is a reasonable idea, considering the heat and that the atmosphere starts to peak around 10 or 11 PM. Another factor is that the parade runs literally all night, until 6 or 7AM, so it is advised to bring water and plan on getting comfortable.