By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The famous blocos (street parties) may seem like an enigma to travelers new to Rio’s Carnival festivities, but with over 450 of these events officially licensed this year, they are both irresistible and unavoidable.
In general, the blocos emerged in Rio as open, free and democratic celebrations in contrast to the pricey and professional pageantry of the Sambódromo.
The blocos range in size and tone, from 5,000 participating in a family-focused morning parade to a 100,000 drunk teenagers mashing against each other.
The two constants are fantasy dress (costumes) and a bloco band, sometimes walking and sometimes loaded on the back of large trucks. Blocos will typically have a planned route, and the crowd follows the music and the dancing as it circulates the city’s streets.
Many locals and enthusiasts will start as early as 7AM and try to attend 3-4 blocos in a single day. No matter how many hours one plans to revel in the Carnival festivities, certain things should be considered – the first of which being what blocos to attend.
Rodrigo Braz Vieira, director of travel outfit Bravietour shares, “It is hard to choose and find the right ones to attend. For the international traveler and expat living in Rio I’d recommend to avoid the mega blocos like Bola Preta in the city center and Empolga [at posto 9] in Ipanema, for being way too crowded.”
Beyond the hassle-factor and security in large crowds of hundreds of thousands, Vieira recommends that travelers should, “Choose one that is smaller, it has strong ties with the neighborhood and more traditional. Neighborhoods for example like Laranjeiras, Botafogo, Leme have good and fun blocos.”
The next key decision is what to wear, for this Vieira shares, “If you have the chance, go to Casas Turunas at SAARA [discount shopping zone] in the city center to buy cool adornments or costumes to create a cool outfit for the five days of parties.”
However he also adds, “Take in mind to wear comfortable and light clothes, forget the flip flops always wear tennis shoes [sneakers], since you’ll be walking a lot and there’s always broken glass on the streets for example.”
The next issue is security, and with Brazil’s economic crisis and high unemployment, petty crime is on the rise. The police have threatened a strike again but the local government has already lined up national security forces, and most trouble can be easily avoided with some street smarts.
Vieira explained, “In terms of safety, the blocos are mostly full and are favorite places for the pickpockets. Here are some tips: if you have a money belt, use it! Don’t bring wallets or valuables; don’t bring fancy cameras, use your mobile to take pictures, but take good care of it and look around before taking photos and put it back on your money belt.”
Adding, “Bring cash, and make sure you have changed money to facilitate buying drinks and snacks. Load your Metro card with at least R$50, since the best way to move around the city is by metro and you’ll avoid the lines at the machines and cashier to put credit.”
Carnival memoirs are full of heartbroken revelers who had their phones snatched from their hands, losing photos and foggy memories forever. When an entire city decides to drop everything and party like there is no tomorrow for five days, keeping a clear head and drinking responsibly will help make sure you have the best time.
As a last thought, Vieira shares, “Bring sunscreen, it’s high summer and the sun is really strong. Also drink loads of water, although beer and caipirinha are great, with this heat and partying you get quickly dehydrated.”