The magic of Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Streets thumping, colorful costumes, the sounds of sweet samba.. ah, it’s time for Rio Carnival!

Arguably the most lively and exhilarating celebration in the world, the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is undoubtedly an incredibly good time filled with colorful memories. The Rio Carnival is by far the biggest and grandest carnival celebrated anywhere in the world drawing Brazilians from all over the country as well as foreign visitors numbering around 500,000 every year.

Although Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) is celebrated throughout Brazil and other countries, the Rio Carnival has long been regarded as THE Carnival to be.

Performers from the Uniao da Ilha do Governador school parade during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Performers from the Uniao da Ilha do Governador school parade during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Procession: Various samba schools each have around 3,500 to 4,000 performers. (c) Reuters

Procession: Various samba schools each have around 3,500 to 4,000 performers. (c) Reuters

Revelers from the Beija Flor samba school participate during the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome (c) mirror.co.uk

Revelers from the Beija Flor samba school participate during the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome (c) mirror.co.uk

 

The Rio Carnival not only provides entertainment but it also gives a chance to learn about Brazilian culture. Some say there is no greater exposure to Brazilian culture than attending the Rio Carnival. The Rio Carnival is known by many as the Greatest Show in the World. The four-day celebration begins on Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.  Over that time, the Carnival is an euphoric event filled with dancing, singing, partying and costumes you can’t even imagine.

Rio Carnival is the result of months of preparation. It begins with the crowning of the Fat King (King Momo), who is presented with a giant silver and gold key by the city’s mayor.

There’s something for everyone to revel in.. the parade and costumes will captivate the heart of all, young and old.

And for the fellas, can’t neglect to mention the abundance of beautiful women.

Drum Queen Camila Silva of the Mocidade Independente samba school dances on the first night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome. Copyright © 2013 euronews

Drum Queen Camila Silva of the Mocidade Independente samba school dances on the first night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome. Copyright © 2013 euronews

Annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome (c) mirror.co.uk

Annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome (c) mirror.co.uk

A reveller from the Vila Isabel samba school participates in the annual Carnival parade (c) mirror.co.uk

A reveller from the Vila Isabel samba school participates in the annual Carnival parade (c) mirror.co.uk

A reveller at the first night of the annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome

A reveller at the first night of the annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome

Rio Carnival Rio Carnival-1646577 Rio+Carnival

FYI: If nakedness and scantily clothed women is not something you can stomach, stay away from Rio Carnival.

 

Want to go?

If you haven’t yet been to Rio Carnival and would like to experience it in person, according to rio.com, the next 6 Carnival dates are as follows:

  • 2014 – February 28-March 5
  • 2015 – February 14-17
  • 2016 – February 6-9
  • 2017 – February 25-28
  • 2018 – February 10-13
  • 2019 – March 2-5

 

Entry requirements
A valid passport is required for all visitors except for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay who may enter Brazil with a valid ID card.

If you are American or Canadian, you will need a tourist visa to enter Brazil for a period of 90 days. The visa costs $160 and will be valid for a period of 10 years. You can obtain one here. Citizens of almost all other countries including countries in the EU do not need a visa to enter Brazil but may only stay for a period of up to 90 days as well.

 

How to get there
Almost all international flights land at Galeão – Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport (airport code: GIG). From the U.S, there are non-stop flights to GIG only from New York (American Airlines or TAM Airlines), Miami (American Airlines or TAM Airlines), Washington, D.C. (United Airlines), Houston (United Airlines), Charlotte (US Airways) and Atlanta (Delta Airlines). Travellers from elsewhere in the have to make a stop in the aforementioned U.S. cities or in São Paulo to get to GIG.

Average flying time is 10 hours from NY, 8.5 hours from Miami and from 9.5 hours from Charlotte. Average costs are between $800 and $1200 in economy class depending on where you fly from and the time of year you go. Naturally, if you plan to go for Carnival, you should start making plans very early as this would be a high demand season and flight prices will balloon the closer you get to Carnival dates.

Since you can search and book tickets up to 364 days out (1 day less than a year), I just priced tickets for the 2014 carnival dates from NYC, and already not only are the options limited, the prices are already high. The very cheapest direct flight is showing for $1,646 on TAM Airlines and $998 connecting through Bogota on Avianca Aerovias. In contrast, tickets just a month before that (Jan 31st – February 5th) have several options all within the $1000 price range. So as you can see, tickets to Carnival are a hot item and you should plan well ahead if you plan on attending.

 

Accomodations
Just like flights are high in demand, so are hotels and the risk of selling out is high. As with flights, plan to book hotels well in advance. If you are a member of hotel loyalty programs and are seriously contemplating going, but you aren’t sure yet, I’d recommend booking your hotel now just to be on the safe side and in most cases, payment will not be due until you check-in. Be absolutely sure to read the cancellation policies and ensure that if you do discover you aren’t able to go, you can cancel with no penalty. I do not recommend putting a hotel on hold just because, but only if you really do believe you would be going. When you hold a hotel room, the hotel can not make the room available to other customers, so holding one just because is essentially cheating real customers out of availability (while concurrently spiking up the price due to supply and demand).

As an example of how quickly hotels sell out for Carnival, the Sheraton Hotel and Resort is already sold out for all Carnival dates next year. However, there is availability at the JW Marriott in Copacabana from February 28th, 2014 to March 5th, 2014 starting at $618/night. This is right around the normal going rate for this hotel. The cancelation policy states canceling by February 27th will not incur a penalty.

JW Marriott Rio JW Marriott Rio
 

If you reserve a hotel that you find to be on the more expensive side, do continue to check various hotel booking websites for price updates or availability opening up in other locations. As this is still almost a year out, plans constantly change and people release previously held reservations. If you don’t mind sharing, I’d suggest perhaps even pooling people together to rent a house/villa for the time there! Might be a more economical option.

 

Parade Tickets
To attend the Samba/float parade competition at Sambadrome (the main event), you will need to purchase tickets. Tickets greatly vary in price depending on seat locations (e.g. grandstand tickets vs. luxury boxes). They can range from $75 to over $2000. Use this guide to help you get an idea of the ticket prices for various sections and seat locations.

 

Bottom-line costs
As you can see, attending the Rio Carnival is not cheap, but will truly be an experience of a lifetime. For the average consumer from NYC (not using frequent flyer miles or hotel points), attending the Rio Carnival can cost between $2235 to $4560 ($800-$1200 for flight, $160 for visa, $1200 for 4 nights in a $600/night hotel on the high end based on double occupancy, $75-$2000 for entry tickets and $500 spending money). Of course, if you were to find cheaper accommodations, that would reduce your bottom-line costs drastically. Also, if you are a member of airline or hotel loyalty programs, you may be able to offset a tiny portion of those costs, though it is unlikely. For instance, I just tried to search for American Airlines award availability from Miami during next year’s Carnival and those dates aren’t available yet. Normally, a round trip award ticket on that route costs 60,000 miles for Economy MileSAAver, 120,000 miles for Economy AAnytime and 200,000 miles for Business/First AAnytime. If you have that kind of mileage, you may just be lucky to have some availability if you plan ahead and check often. You may opt to use ExpertFlyer to set an alert for award availability on that route.

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Though I have been to Rio (in May 2010), I have never been to Carnival and this is definitely something I would love to experience. However, it is unlikely I will go next year as I do plan to attend the FIFA World Cup taking place in Rio from 12 June – 13 July. To go to Rio twice within a 3 to 4 month timeframe may not be the most feasible travel plan, so I suspect I won’t make it to Rio Carnival till 2015.

Also, since I tend to favor non-traditional honeymoon destinations, I could see Rio Carnival being something I’d love to experience for either a first or second honeymoon.

Either way, I am super excited to go! What an amazing sight to behold! :-D

A performer from the Renascer de Jacarepagua samba school dances at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

A performer from the Renascer de Jacarepagua samba school dances at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

Rio Carnival

(c) AFP/Getty Images

(c) AFP/Getty Images

 

Have you been to the Rio Carnival? How was your experience? Do you plan on going next year or in years to come? 

(Disclaimer: As I have not yet been to Rio Carnival at the time of this posting, this post is from research only and not from my personal experience. This post is for informational purposes only. Please note, experiences may vary.  Also, none of the pictures contained in this post belong to me. Picture credits are displayed as available).

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