The history of Carnival traces back to a celebration of the rites of spring by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets, and these traditions continue today, combined with elements from African and Amerindian cultures.
Carnival is celebrated in most cities and towns throughout Brazil, where tourists and citizens stop everything to dance and enjoy all that life offers. It is easy to find parties and music all day and night, and each region of Brazil provides a local flair to each of their celebrations. But, Rio de Janiero is known for the biggest and brightest
Parades and Samba
The famous parades of Carnival happen in the Sambadrome, an exhibition space designed especially for the Samba Schools in Brazil. Consisting of spectator viewing areas (sectors) surrounded by a long alley for the schools to parade down, it was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984. With a capacity of 90,000 spectators, it is a permanent parade ground with bleachers built on either side. The parade avenue is painted white each year prior to Carnival. Pricing for tickets varies depending on date, sector and elevation, and type of seating.
The breathtaking parades happen for four consecutive nights, during which the famous samba schools parade one after another, starting at 8pm and continuing until the morning hours. Each samba school has 90 minutes to parade from one end of the Sambadrome to the other, and show off their entire troupe, consisting of thousands of dancers, accompanied by their music and drum sections, and a number of floats. Visitors to Carnival can buy a costume and arrange for a spot as a dancer in one of the parade groups.
The parade is actually a competition, and judged by a jury. Each of the unique samba schools has their own traditions and qualities, but selects a different theme and music for each year. Each group tries to outdo their competition, so every year the displays are more grand and spectacular than ever before. The schools are divided into groups. The Special Group, organized under LIESA, the Independent Samba School League, is formed by the top samba schools in Rio de Janeiro. They perform on Sunday and Monday night - by far the biggest attraction of Carnival in Rio. The parades are televised nationally and are watched by large audiences. After judging, there is a Parade of Champions (the top five or six groups) held on the Saturday following Carnival, which may offer a less expensive option for those wanting to experience the event after most of the crowds
How to go
Accommodations should be booked in advance, as this is a highly attended event in Brazil. Room rates increase due to demand. There are also apartments and rooms for rent in the city. Many tour operators who specialize in South America are offering special Carnival packages. Contact Gadventures (www.gadventures.com) for their 6-day package, which includes tickets, hotels, and access to many festivities. Also offering Carnival specials are Tara Tours (www.taratours.com), Eco America Tours (www.ecoamericatours.com), and Solar Tours (www.solartours.com) is offering several customizable packages, which include the Carnival experience. Chanteclair Travel (www.chanteclairtravel.com) is presently offering special airfare deals to Brazil.
Important Travel Info
Brazil requires U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport and visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. Travelers must obtain a Brazilian visa in advance from the Brazilian Embassy or consulate nearest to their place of residence within the United States. There are no “airport visas” and immigration authorities will refuse entry into Brazil to anyone not possessing a valid visa. The U.S. government cannot assist you if you arrive in Brazil without proper documentation. Cost is approximately $160.
Finally, if you just cannot make it to Brazil for Carnival, consider a visit in June, for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Or, perhaps come back in 2016 for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, when the Sambadrome will host the archery and the athletics marathon events.
For more information, go to www.visitbrasil.com