There are parties, there are mega-parties and then there’s Rio Carnival. Imagine millions of sun-dazzled partiers dancing in the streets 24 hours a day, fueled by frozen caipirinhas; sequinned sambistas strutting their stuff aboard fabulously flashy floats; colourful costumes and near-naked dancers; then take this mental image and turn up the intensity to 11.
The flurry of feathers and sequins of the samba school parades are famous the world over, but they are just a small part of a city-wide celebration that sees one of the world’s most beautiful destinations consumed by a hedonistic party spirit.
And as if the world-renowned samba parades weren’t enough, Carnival also sees hundreds of free street parties everywhere from the beaches of the Copacabana and Ipanema to the sticky streets of Centro. The biggest of these blocos attract literally millions of revelers, who wind their way through the streets clad in themed fancy dress, following live bands that set the pace with their frenetic samba drumming.
Officially, Carnival lasts for the four days leading up to lent. On Ash Wednesday the keys of the city are ceremoniously handed over to a tall, rotund local chosen to play the role of ‘King Momo’ – the Lord of Misrule. For the following four days, the party gloves are off, and normal rules do not apply. If you want to drink strong cocktails at breakfast time, go for it. If you want to kiss as many people as you can in a short space of time, this is the time to try your luck. Dance for four days and four nights straight wearing nothing but swimwear and a novelty hat? Just load up on coffee and you’re good to go. On the other hand, if you just want to take it easy on the beach by day and take in a parade at night, you’ll find plenty of opportunity to relax away from the blocos.
Although Carnival lasts less than a week, the party spirit begins months earlier with pre-Carnival street parties springing up as soon as New Year is over, and continuing for several days after Lent begins with post-Carnival celebrations.
If you want to take time out from the party schedule, the beaches of Rio are the perfect place to recharge the batteries between parties and parades. Nothing refreshes the body and soul quite like a fresh coconut water sipped on the sands at Ipanema or Copacabana – and the city is surrounded by glorious beach resorts that are ideal for a bit of rest and recuperation once Carnival has finally wound to a close.