Travel Story - Carnaval in Rio 

A Samba beat sets the rhythm for the party people of Brazil

"Come on. Let’s go. Let’s go to Carnaval. It’s time to sing and dance…"

Nestled among the mountains of a rainforest and flanked by the palm-fringed beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro is arguably the most beautiful city in the world. It also hosts one of the world’s biggest parties – the pre-Lent Carnaval. We were lucky enough to secure a hotel booking for the duration of the city’s festivities.

Our first order of business was to visit Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach. Throngs of thong-clad locals play futbol and paddleball, while bodysurfing tourists are slammed against the sand by the crashing waves. Vendors hawk everything from sunglasses to umbrellas, beach chairs, and cold drinks. This stretch of white sand is enormous, but even with its neighbour, Ipanema, makes up only a fraction of the city’s beaches.

The next day, Carnaval officially began, and it was instantly evident. Every shop was closed. But we didn’t have to go far to find a party. Every day, a different neighbourhood hosts a parade of music and revellers through its streets. Where we stayed, in Cinelandia, a large truck supported a multi-piece band, and was followed a few dozen metres back by another truck carrying a PA system. Attached together by a long cable suspended above the crowd, the two vehicles were engulfed by thousands of people that packed the streets and sidewalks. Young and old, everyone knew all the words to all the songs. It was apparent that this celebration transcended all generations and social classes.

After a few hours of being herded along by the procession, we hopped on the subway to Maracana Stadium where the state soccer final was to be played. Vasco de Gama was facing Flamengo. Long before the match even started, the fans had worked themselves into a good fervour. Massive banners covered large portions of the crowd. There was a lot of singing, chanting, and jumping up and down. The game finally got underway, and was entertaining and exciting. Towards the end, Flamengo was losing by a goal, but not for lack of trying. They hit two posts, and had two disallowed goals. Sitting in a pro-Flamengo section full of restless enthusiasts, we took our leave when various objects began hurtling through the air. Just as we left, the stadium erupted. Apparently, the game was now tied.

We returned to Cinelandia to find a stage set up in the main square. After a quick bite, we joined the audience and spent the next few hours dancing (or trying to dance) to all the Carnaval favourites performed by a variety of local celebrities. Those around us were greatly amused by our attempts at samba, and delighted in demonstrating it for us. We met many friends that night. Once we had met a new friend, we were also introduced to their friends, their mothers, and their mothers’ friends. Brazilian people are among the friendliest we have ever met. When we finally returned to our hotel room, we were exhausted.

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