If you’re the sort of person who’s averse to sharing a Metro carriage with a group of men dressed as silver ladybugs from another planet, you probably won’t enjoy the Rio Carnival experience.
If, however, that sounds like just the sort of party you’ve been dying to attend (or just the average Saturday night in your world) then hop aboard the fiesta train. But take it from someone who’s just attended the Rio Carnival 2013… you might need a few survival tips.
What is the Rio Carnival?
You mean apart from partying 24 hours a day for days on end? Well, the main purpose of the Rio Carnival is for the world to watch competing samba schools battling it out to be the best dancers with the best floats in the Sambadrome parade.
Each school chooses a theme and builds their act around it, complete with a song and special lyrics. If you don’t speak Portuguese, all this will of course go over your head, but trust me, the noise of it all, plus the rock-solid backsides of samba-toned guys and girls shaking themselves silly in semi-naked fashion will keep you entertained for days.
Book your accommodation ahead of time
Carnival is the busiest time of the year in Rio, with the exception of the anticipated World Cup in 2014, for which this year’s Carnival was a test. The city expects over one million extra people every year to flock to the city during Carnival (you’ll feel as though they’re all staying on your block), so booking a place to stay ahead of time is essential.
I had friends who found last-minute deals, but those were few and far between. Some hostels in the city can bump up their prices to over 10 times their normal rate for Carnival, and it’s not unheard of for a bed in a dorm room to cost $100 per night.
Stay in a safe, central area
The best idea is to go online and book an apartment for you and your group of friends, which will lower the cost. Remember to look in a central area to allow the best access to the Sambadrome and ‘blockos’, as the last thing you need is to be spending hours on a bus every day, missing all the parties, which is what some friends of mine ended up doing – they were not impressed.
The best areas to stay during the Rio Carnival are Ipanema and Copacabana, which are both on the beach and attract huge crowds for lively, fun street parties. And of course, you’ll be primed for beach time when your head’s pounding after one too many caipirinhas! Avoid Lapa during carnival as I met a fair few people who got mugged in that area. It’s very dark at night and is not considered a safe area in general.
Don’t get mugged
Speaking of being mugged, pickpockets are rife during Carnival time in Rio. I had one friend this year who walked through a busy ‘blocko’ (street party) with a wad of R$50 bills and two credit cards in his back pocket, carrying an expensive camera. Most unwise. Someone helped themselves to the wad of cash while he was distracted taking photos.
Always keep valuables like jewelry and mobile phones at home locked up, and take minimum cash with you in a front pocket. Girls, stuffing some money in your bra seems to be the done thing.
If you carry a bag, keep your hand on it all times and watch out for the blanket trick, whereby a pick pocket will cover your bag with a small towel to hide it while they reach inside and take what they can. Avoid the favelas. You’ll hear rumours of amazing parties, but they’re definitely no place for tourists.
The Rio Carnival is an incredible experience and one you’ll remember forever. Have a meeting point and a 30-minute waiting rule for your lost friends. Any longer than that spent hanging around will mean you miss out on all the fun. And whatever you do, don’t miss the Sambadrome. You’ll need more fingers than you have to count those men dressed as ladybugs…