Carnival in Rio de Janeiro – Stop 3 of the Dream Carnival

Rio de Janeiro is also known as the ‘cidade maravilhosa’ (the ‘marvelous city’) and is one of the most mystical cities in the world.
Mention the city’s name and the images of the Christ the Redeemer statue, scantly-clad samba queens’ gyrating bodies, volleyball on Ipanema Beach and the insane caldron atmosphere of the Maracaná soccer stadium all spring to mind.
Rio de Janeiro has a population of 6.5 million with a combined metropolitan area population of 12 million people (including Niterói which sits across the Guanabara Bay from Rio).
Carnival is special time of year in Brazil and especially for Cariocas (as the inhabitants of Rio are called).
sun Leblon beach rio de janeiro
Leblon beach, Rio de Janeiro
The Rio carnival features two main elements: the samba parades which take place in the sambadrome and the “bloco” street parties which run on a continuous cycle around the city.
My carnival concluded on the Tuesday afternoon with a tour of the various “bloco” parties which are local musical street events providing a more informal atmosphere. Many blocos are popular with single Cariocas and many are aimed at the city’s thriving gay community.
Blocos normally consist of a truck with singers and musicians on top playing samba or marchinhas (similar to polka music).
bloco rio de janeiro carnival
Final bloco party of carnival 2016 near the Ipanema/Leblon beaches, Rio de Janeiro
The bloco parties last for several hours before the participants disperse to continue elsewhere. I found the downloading the official Rio carnival app was really useful as it allows you to keep abreast of all the various blocos that are ongoing and spread out across Rio.
My final bloco party was in Ipanema/Leblon (the most exclusive beach area in Rio). As the sun set on Carnaval 2016, it was time to enormity of the world’s 3 greatest carnivals in 6 nights. It felt like a few weeks had gone by since I arrived in Salvador de Bahia for the beginning of carnival.
The samba parade in Rio de Janeiro is the most widely recognized element of the Brazilian carnival. For the 2016 extravaganza I participated in the Mangueira samba school on the Monday night of carnival. Mangueira is my favorite school although Beija-Flor comes a close second.
mangueira rio de janeiro
Calm before the carnival storm – behind the scenes before Mangueira enter the Sambadrome
Mangueira is one of the most famous samba schools of Rio and is based close to the Maracanã area of the city (which is also home to the famous Maracanã football stadium).
The samba schools compete in the sambadrome (“sambódromo”) with each school’s performance lasting for just over an hour on the Sunday and Monday nights of carnival (in reality Tuesday morning for most schools). The schools are judged on an array of criteria including, their costumes, music, choreography and drumming. Winning the competition is huge honor for the neighborhoods from which the schools hail.
selfie rio de janeiro carnival
Me in my costume having just exited the Sambadrome with Mangueira
Dancing in the Rio carnival is an exhilarating experience. The 70-odd minutes of dancing in the sambadrome are an unforgettable experience.
The theme for the Mangueira 2016 was ‘Maria Bethânia: The girl with Oyá’s eyes’ (‘Maria Bethânia: A Menina dos Olhos de Oyá’). The performance was a homage to the legnardary Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia.
In order to dance with a samba school as a non-member, the samba schools offer paid places in particular sections as a way to finance the production costs of the samba parade. I secured a place in the sixth sector of Mangueira.
Mangueira was the last school to perform at this year’s parade. That meant entering the sambadrome after 4am on the Tuesday morning. The tension starts to build from about 2 hours before the entry into the stadium as the participants encroach closer and closer to it.
The sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro has a 700 meter runway and is packed with around 90,000 spectators. The cacophony of singing gave me an incredible buzz as my sector entered the stadium. The colors and elation of the cheering crowds is a stunning sight. Watching the moving lips of the thousands of people as they sung the Mangueira carnival song was a magical experience to be at the center of.
Once at the other end of the sambadrome, the emotion was one of exhaustion and satisfaction. Dancing for over an hour in 35C heat is physically draining albeit with an emotional high. The next stage is the waiting game and seeing where Mangueira would be placed in the classification.
selfie rio de janeiro carnival
What I looked like the morning after 6 nights of the world’s top 3 carnivals!
The judging takes several hours on the Wednesday afternoon and carried live on TV screens across the city. At the end of the votes being announced for each criterion a winner emerges and the winner is …
For the first time since 2002, Mangueira are crowned samba champions at the Rio carnival. This means that we get to parade for a second time at the Parade of Champions (‘Desfile das Campeãs’) the following weekend.
shoes rio de janeiro carnival
Maintaining my traditional of leaving my shoes behind after carnival – definitely no longer wearable!
Paraty is a beautiful fisherman’s village about 5 hours drive from Rio de Janeiro. It’s a superb town to come to and recuperate from the excesses of carnival. It was only here, in the absence of the carnival adrenaline, that I was able to take in the enormity of my carnivalesque adventure.
cyclist Paraty
The beautiful colonial fisherman’s village of Paraty – 5 hour’s drive from Rio
3 cities during the 6 nights of the Brazilian carnival is extremely high paced and I’m not sure that I could recommend this itinerary to everyone. I needed a series of daily 20-minutes power naps to get going.
All 3 carnivals were phenomenal experiences. Salvador de Bahia, Recife and Rio de Janeiro’s carnivals all had unique elements to them – all 3 were amazing! 🙂 Dancing in the winning samba school at Rio’s carnival is not something that I am likely to ever replicate again.

My dream carnival: Salvador de Bahia, Recife/Olinda & Rio de Janeiro (+ dancing in the winning samba school) – Check!

Interested in moving to Brazil for 3-12 months per year? Please write me a message at and I will see how to help you best. 😁🇧🇷

Olinda carnival
Click above to read about Leg 1 of my Dream Carnival: Salvador de Bahia!
Olinda carnival
Click above to read about Leg 2 of my Dream Carnival: Recife/Olinda!
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