Brazil has some of the most famous and wildest carnivals in the world. Each year, in February, they inflame the hearts and thrill the tens of millions of Brazilians who throw themselves into a week of “alegria” (joy) with no restraint.
However, three cities stand out for the quality and popularity of their carnivals. Each in its own way, represents an archetype of this celebration whose origins go back to the Middle Ages. Have a look at this thematic section to get to know which carnival is for you and let Brazil Selection guide you along the best carnival vacations in Brazil.
In Rio de Janeiro, the most internationally recognized Brazilian carnival, we find the most codified expression of joy with the parades of the great samba schools in the ” Sambodromo “. Officially called “Passarela Professor Darcy Ribeiro,” the avenue was specially designed by Oscar Niemeyer (the architect who designed the capital, Brasilia) for the event.
Although the party is in full swing throughout the city, with more than 400 blocos (groups), the sambodromo is the epicenter of the carnival with its succession of samba schools and impressive floats. This particular kind of Samba features lots of percussion and is often played at a fast pace.
In Salvador, you will encounter “paredões” and “trio electricos.” The former is an amplified stack of loudspeakers, and the latter is a truck mounted stage complete with singers, dancers, a band and a full sound system. It is probably the most intense carnival in the world, with its 2 million folies (participants) invading the streets of Pelourinho and Barra. Everyone is neck and neck to follow the various trucks that form the parade each day. The Axé music you will hear at this particular carnival is a mix of Samba and Reggae, very dear to the Bahian.
In Recife and its neighbour Olinda, find “maracatu” and its syncopated rhythms from Africa, also “frevo”, a local music, based on a mixture of percussion and brass. It is known as the richest and most diverse carnival of the country. The Galo da Madrugada is considered the biggest bloco in the world with no less than 23 trios electricos and 2,500,000 people who followed it in 2015!
We cannot recommend where to have the best carnival vacations in Brazil without mentioning the before and after parties! Here in Brazil, the preparation for Carnival itself can be as intense as you like, it can also be a relaxed time to check out the Samba school’s rehearsals for a discounted price. Also, the Carnival after party does not just go into the following morning but into the following weeks!
Finally, for the impatient, there are what are known as off-season carnivals. In July, when the cold and the rain enter the scene in the south of the country, Fortaleza and its eternal sun of the Nordeste, organizes the FORTAL. The largest “Micareta” of the winter season, it is an opportunity to enjoy the carnival atmosphere during a period often more conducive to a trip to Brazil. Sometimes the best carnival vacations in Brazil, are not during carnival at all!
An important point if you want to organize your trip during the carnival period: virtually all hotels in the country impose mandatory stays of several nights, usually between 3 and 5. You must consider staying in the same establishment Friday evening until Tuesday morning, unless you are willing to pay for nights without using them.
The best places to experience Carnival in Brazil!
The carnivals of Brazil, a time when the party takes over!
In Rio de Janeiro, the entire city comes to life during the five days preceding Mardi Gras. The parades of the samba schools and their sublime costumes follow the bands of batucadas and their furious Samba rhythms.
An inside tip : It is also interesting to come and enjoy the parade of winning schools the Saturday following the main carnival. The city is quieter and the prices less prohibitive, for those who just want to see the parade without necessarily participating in the main party.
The carnival of Salvador de Bahia is a more popular festival but also often, more extreme. The collective jubilation makes it sometimes impossible to move freely along the streets, sometimes you have to give in to the crowd and just follow it.
If you want to enjoy the event more quietly, two solutions are available to you: for the more adventurous, it will be necessary to acquire the “abada” (tank top) of one of the trios eletricos. This one gives you a “VIP” entrance, under the rope that surrounds a “quieter” space, reserved around the block and secured by professionals. For others, the best choice is to buy a place in one of the ” camarotes “, the large fully equipped lodges that run along the course of the blocos. You will find these offers on this specialized site .
In Recife, you will encounter a very mixed carnival, made up of the many influences of “Nordestine” music. The Maracatu parades with their beautiful costumes and their different categories of characters are interesting from both an aesthetic and historical point of view.
It is also the cradle of a contemporary style of music mixing Afro-descendant roots, Brazilian groove and electronic music. On the sidelines of the parades, the city offers multiple concerts and contemporary local and national music.
As for the city of Olinda, a jewel of colonial architecture, you will also come face to face with one of the best carnival vacations in Brazil. People walk through the main streets of the city with “bonecos gigantes“, huge papier mâché dolls typical of the region. In the narrow streets, one of the craziest carnivals in the world takes place where the most absurd costumes meet the most awesome and where anything can happen in an atmosphere of exuberance where the party has no limit.
Pre and post-carnival, every weekend the festival runs the cities
In these three cities, the pre-carnival period is particularly rich in nightlife.
Every weekend, carnival schools take to the streets for furious rehearsals, and each week the pre-carnival tension goes up a notch. During the two months(!) preceding the carnival, you will be able to live unique moments to the sounds of samba which resounds everywhere in the cities’ famous ” precarnaval blocos “. Do not hesitate to ask the hotel staff where to go on Friday and Saturday during the day. There is a good chance that one of the small neighborhood groups will play, usually in the late afternoon or early evening.
It will be an opportunity to spend a warm moment with locals, away from the usual tourist routes. A perfect time to discover the local customs and enjoy a “churasquinho”, (meat skewer sold in the street), accompanied by a “cerveja bem gelada” (cold beer) that flows freely.
If you are traveling between the end of year festivities and the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, it is worthwhile to inquire about the rehearsals of the samba schools and to watch the show in their huge sheds. In Salvador de Bahia, in high season (July) and if you are lucky enough to be there on a Thursday night, inquire at the hotel. Normally, Olodum , the famous founding group of the modern batucada , performs in the streets of Pelourinho, the historic district. An extraordinary spectacle, not to be missed!
Fortal, the off-season fiesta in Fortaleza
The Fortal is an off-season carnival, called a micareta , which takes place in July in the city of Fortaleza, capital of Ceará in the Northeast.
It brings together thousands of people for a unique moment of celebration.
If you plan to visit Brazil in July and want to live the carnival atmosphere in a totally unrestrained way, stop in Fortaleza and shake to the music of Brazil! You can easily continue this wild adventure, on the amazing beaches of the region like Jericoacoara, for a perfect fiesta and relaxing stay.
To make the most of this event, we suggest you integrate it in a request with a Canoa Quebrada package. After several days dancing in the frenzy of the Fortal Arena, a few days in this small fishing village will be a welcome rest. The ideal ingredients to live the best carnival vacation in Brazil!
Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, a dazzling show of colours and glitter
The Rio Carnival owes much of its international reputation to the impressive samba school parades.
Running over several days, each school parades with its floats according to an annually revised classification. They represent the heart of the “carioca” spirit (people from Rio).
As part of our package stay in Rio de Janeiro , you will be able to combine discovery of the “Marvellous City” and participate in this event, one of the most famous holidays in the world, and certainly one of best carnival vacations in Brazil!
Each year, the parades, which last 5 nights between 9 pm and 6 am, begin with the children’s groups on Friday nights. On Saturday, the parades in Group A take their turn. Sunday and Monday are reserved for the special groups which bring together the best samba schools for the pinnacle of the show. This is the most sought after time and tickets to attend the show must be purchased well in advance.
On Tuesday the parade ends with group B. Finally, the following Saturday, a special parade of highest ranking 6 schools is held to close the show.
The main schools have about 3000 people and each parade lasts more than an hour. Each school defines a general theme in advance, known as the “Enredo,” which can be a geographical region as well as a concept or an object.
The perfectly synchronized parades between dance groups, musicians and floats form an impressive show, a festival of colorful feathers and glitter. Find more information on the Rio Carnival page in our information section.
Apart from these highly institutionalized parades, there are others taking place all over the city, starting almost 3 weeks before. During the 5 days of the carnivals, the streets of the city are invaded by the costumes and the joy of happy human beings. Do not hesitate to take a walk in the day, explore and live one of the best carnival vacations in Brazil. Don’t forget your costume!
2 nights to discover the “Marvelous city”
Experience one of Brazil’s greatest folk festivals with the Salvador de Bahia carnival
Carnival is a mandatory custom in Rio, in Salvador, it is practically a religion.
This is where the party lasts the longest and many of the locals take two weeks off, to enjoy the full before and after Carnival.
As part of a stay in Salvador de Bahia come and participate in this African influenced carnival, a totally exuberant event and definitely one of the best carnival vacations in Brazil. The entire population gathers behind the “trios eletricos“, the famous trucks lined with speakers. There is only one thing now to do, and that is dance until exhaustion! Follow the sound of the axé or more traditional percussion orchestras. If the trucks travel along the wide avenues along the coast, the percussion blocos are found in the narrow streets of the center and Pelourinho.
You can also discover the standards of traditional carnival music, drummed and sung from the heart and you can also wiggle to the sounds of more modern amplified music. If you wish to live a moment of pure carnival madness then, there is no doubt, it is in Salvador that you will have to go! Find more information on the page devoted to the Carnival of Salvador de Bahia in our information section.
2 nights to discover the Afro-Brazilian culture
Recife and Olinda, the most diverse carnival in Brazil.
If you want to spend the carnival in the state of Pernambuco, you can live two carnival moods.
Since the 1980s, the prefecture has embarked on a process of revitalizing the historic center of old Recife ( Recife antigo ) and organizing the Multicultural Carnival. The days are filled with concerts of very diverse music owing to the fact that the city is the cradle of many varied styles. In particular there is frevo, the carnival music of the region. It is traditionally danced with a small colorful umbrella, in memory of the umbrellas used in the past in fights between blocos!
Between the different places where the concerts are held, we find the small blocos that parade through the streets with their processions formed by jubilant crowds. At night, there is a place for giant parades with the famous sound and decorated floats of the Galo da Madrugada (the night rooster), a Guinness world record, in terms of size and participation.
In Olinda, the “city of seven hills” the twin of Recife, the decor is exceptional. You will walk down small, steep, cobbled streets lined with the quaint colonial houses of the historic city. It is in this friendly atmosphere of variegated facades that you can attend traditional parades and neighborhood blocos. Do not miss the parades of paper mache puppets, including the most famous, O Homen da Meia Noite (Midnight Man).
One of things that makes this one of the best carnival vacations in Brazil, comes from the important offer of free concerts which allows you to discover the local musical talent. By choosing our Recife & Olinda package at the right time of the year (usually the month of February, contact us) you will have the opportunity to share one of the key moments of Brazilian culture. For more information visit the page dedicated to the Carnival of Recife and Olinda from in our general information section.
2 nights to explore the unique colonial towns