By Simon Hall, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebrations only two weeks away, over one million tourists from around the world are about to descend on the city for a long weekend of revelry. These festivities first arrived in Rio when Catholic Portuguese settlers brought with them their pre-Lenten ceremonies comprised of a few simple balls and masquerade dances.
Over time, the gatherings grew more extravagant as they acquired ingredients from imported cultures, and now this festive season is the highlight on Brazil’s cultural calendar.
The international focus on Rio’s Carnival has much to do with the spectacular parades held in the purpose-built, Oscar Niemeyer designed, Sambódromo.
This ‘stadium of samba’ is a permanent parade route flanked by concrete grandstands and will, over four exuberant early February nights, transform into the world’s longest and most ostentatious runway. In total, 26 samba schools will grace the stage and dazzle the 80,000 capacity crowd with exquisitely choreographed routines, flamboyant dancing, and an astonishing cavalcade of floats.
The festivities begin at 9pm on Friday 5th when Acadêmicos da Rocinha opens proceedings in Serie A; the second tier samba school competition. For the first two nights, fourteen schools will compete for promotion to the illustrious top division.
These opening parades are themselves quite sensational, yet they are simply viewed as the prelude to the Grupo Especial extravaganza on Sunday and Monday – the benchmark against which all parades across the world are measured.
This ornate spectacle features the twelve best samba schools in the city, each fronted by a glamorous Carnival Queen and flanked by an array of dancers, drummers, and vocalists responding to a specific theme. The whole show is spellbinding, with many of the schools spending in excess of US$1 million on their processions.
Tickets for these evenings are naturally in high demand, and scouring the myriad of sectors to find the best spot to view the action can be a daunting task. Indeed, each of the thirteen sectors offers a different experience.
Those located towards the end of the runway are widely considered the finest for acoustics: the drumming battery of every school must stop and perform between sectors 9 and 11 which creates a particularly special atmosphere unrivaled throughout the rest of the arena.
Sector 9 is also a designated tourist zone and it remains the only place with numbered seats. In preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Sambódromo has undergone some significant renovations to enhance the audience experience – new sectors have been constructed, existing sectors have been somewhat modernized, visibility has been greatly improved, and the complex now has a renewed aesthetic and fresh identity – in reality, any seat is a great seat.
Carnival time in Rio is typically chaotic, and so arriving early to the Sambódromo on parade nights is strongly recommended. Getting there is easy enough as the stadium is conveniently located near to two subway stations: ticket holders sitting in an even numbered sector should use Praça Onze, while those with a seat in an odd numbered sector are recommended to use Central.
During Carnival, inside the Sambódromo is said to be the safest place in South America due to the high security presence, but spectators are advised to remain vigilant, leave any valuables at home, and carry only what they need.
The celebrations will come to a close in the wee hours of Tuesday, with locals and tourists alike retiring to the city’s beaches exhausted and exhilarated. While the parades are considered the highlight of Rio Carnival, there are also a host of street parties (known locally as blocos), open-air concerts, and lavish Carnival Balls to be enjoyed across the four days. Whatever the party, wherever the place, the one million visitors to Rio will be sure to enjoy an atmosphere incomparable to anything else.
This is a sponsored article written by Simon Hall, English Content Editor for Daytours4u.com.