Traveler's Guide to the Rio Carnival

Carnival is one of the biggest parties on the planet. Here's how to navigate the scene, where to go, how to get tickets—and even how you can become part of the performance.

Dubbed the world’s biggest party, the Rio Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) is a sensual riot of color and music of Afro-Brazilian influences, with dozens of floats, costumed performers and fireworks, and a hedonistic, high-octane competition of top samba groups. Follow this travel guide to make it easier to navigate—whether you’re going to watch, or even take part.


Colourful costumes mark the Rio Carnival (©Carnival enters the Sambadromo stadium (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board))
Colourful costumes mark the Rio Carnival (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)

The Main Venue

The main focus of the parade is at the Sambadromo stadium. The parades here start at 7 pm and last about 12 hours. Taxis to the Sambadromo are negotiable and the driver will find your gate. The nearest metrô is Praça Onze and this can be an enjoyable ride in the company of costumed samba school members. You can follow the participants to the concentração, the assembly and formation on Av Presidente Vargas, and mingle with them while they queue to enter the Sambódromo. Ask if you can take photos.

A riot of colour at Rio Carnival
A riot of colour at Rio Carnival (©John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock)


Where To Stand?

There are cadeiras (seats) at ground level, arquibancadas (terraces) and camarotes (boxes). The best boxes are reserved for tourists and VIPs and are very expensive or by invitation only. Seats are closest to the parade, but you may have to fight your way to the front. Sectors 4, 7 and 11 are the best spots (they house the judging points); 6 and 13 are least favoured (being at the end when dancers might be tired) but have more space. The terraces, while uncomfortable, house the most fervent fans and are tightly packed; this is the best place to soak up the atmosphere but it’s too crowded to take pictures.

Tickets start at US$100 for arquibancadas and are sold at travel agencies as well as the Maracanã Stadium box office. Travel agency: Carnaval Turismo, Av Nossa Senhora de Copacabana 583, T021-2548 4232, Tickets should be bought as far as possible in advance; they are usually sold out before Carnaval weekend but outside can often sell you tickets at inflated prices.


Carnival enters the Sambadromo stadium (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)
Carnival enters the Sambadromo stadium (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)

Finding Accommodation

Be sure to reserve a place to stay well in advance. Virtually all hotels raise their prices during Carnival, although it is usually possible to find a reasonably priced room. Your property should be safe inside the Sambódromo, but the crowds outside can attract pickpockets. As ever, don’t brandish your camera, and only take the money you need for fares and refreshments. It gets hot, so keep it simple and wear shorts and a T-shirt.


Taking Part

If you want to take part, most samba schools will accept a number of foreigners and you will be charged from US$175 up to US$435 for your costume depending on which school of samba you choose. This money helps to fund poorer members of the school. You should be in Rio for at least two weeks before Carnival. It is essential to attend fittings and rehearsals on time, to show respect 
for your section leaders and to enter into the competitive spirit of the event. For those with the energy and the dedication, it will be an unforgettable experience. Rehearsals are held at the schools from October onwards.


Colourful costumes mark the Rio Carnival (©Carnival enters the Sambadromo stadium (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)
Perhaps you too could be part of the Carnival? (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)

Enjoy The Parties

The following samba schools hold parties throughout the year, especially on the weekends. They're all well worth visiting.



Samba schools have an allocation of tickets which members sometimes sell, if you are offered one of these check the date. Tickets for the champions’ parade on the Saturday following Carnival are much cheaper. Many tour companies offer Rio trips including Carnival, but tickets are at inflated prices. Carnival week comprises an enormous range of official and unofficial contests and events, which reach a peak on the Tuesday. Check the entertainment sections of newspapers and magazines such as O Globo, Jornal do Brasil, Manchete and Veja Rio.


Carnival on Copacaba beach (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)
The Carnival party continues well into the night on Copacabana beach (©Embratur-Brazilian Tourist Board)