By Ana Gabriela Ribeiro, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The world’s most famous Carnival, the annual parade of samba is taking place in a renovated Sambódromo (Marquês da Sapucaí) this year. Originally designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984, the venue hosts the spectacular annual Group Especial (Special Group) samba school parade competition along the 700 meter stretch of the Marquês de Sapucaí for an increased 90,000 capacity crowd.

Beija-Flor de Nilópolis samba school performing in the 2011 Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Beija-Flor de Nilópolis samba school performing in the 2011 Carnival, photo by Nelson Perez/Riotur.

With a reported 12,500 more seats in 2012, the renewed Sambódromo will have more grandstands (bleachers or arquibancadas), and also new assigned seats (called cadeiras) at the very end of the parading avenue in Sectors 12 and 13.

More upscale open boxes along the front row (called frisas) are also available, as well as the luxury, private boxes (the camarotes) with balcony with the capacity of twelve and thirty spectators depending on size and location.

The renovated Sambódromo will also have more access points to the public, an elevator on the reformed sectors 2, 4, 6, 8 and additional handicap entry. The intention of all the modifications is to allow more participation and interaction from the public audience.

A result of the increased capacity and design it that with more spectators on both sides of the paraders, it will require more singing effort of the samba schools, says Mauro Touguinho, press attaché of RioTur,

This year’s official Carnival starts on the February 18th, with the Access Group samba schools, (schools that are ranked below the Special Group Parades), followed by the Special Group parades on the 19th and 20th of February.

According LIESA, the Liga das Escolas de Samba, the prices to see Special Group Parade of a concrete bleacher are between R$10 to R$550, and individual chairs between R$120, Frisas booths from R$475 to R$6,600 depending on the sector of choice. The best option recommended for a tourist is to buy “packages,” that includes a ticket and transportation.

All the luxury Camarotes suites (including the special ones with ranging prices of R$20,000 to R$114,000) and balconies have been purchased already, after going on sale November 9th, typically selling out in a matter of hours.

Map of the renovated Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Map of the renovated Sambódromo (click to enlarge), image provided by Riotur.

Good news is with the reform of the new sector 10 (old 4) has a much clearer view of the start of parade, sector 9 and 11 offers a chance to stay closer to the “Bateria” (the Samba school drums) and 8 and 10 a closer view.

For Corinne Damas, a 31 years old anthropologist and filmmaker, coming to parade for her second time this year, Carnival at the Sambódromo is an experience that has given her, “the sensation of human magic, energy and joy of being part of this great event and emotions that shows what Brazilians are about.”

Now, is a run against the clock for organizers, since there has been a overall delay with the works on Sambódromo, which also has affected some pre-Carnival attractions and technical rehearsals of samba schools. However, The secretary of Tourism Antonio Pedro Figueira Mello, predicts that everything will be ready on February 12th.

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 arriving after sunset is a reasonable idea, considering the heat and that the atmosphere starts to peak around 10 or 11PM. 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.

For those unable to get to the Sambódromo, another huge part of Carnival in Rio is the blocos (block parties), which are very popular, last for weeks, and are free.


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