They may try to organize it, glamorize it, televise it, even industrialize it, but Carnival is something that comes deep from the fun-loving Carioca soul. It does not depend on any authority or sponsor to happen. Carnival in the streets is a living proof of this love. It's free, spontaneous, and everybody's welcome to participate!
Each neighborhood in Rio has its favorite Bandas (bun-dush) or Blocos (blo-cush). Both consist of an orchestra marching along a pre-determined route, followed by hordes of enthusiastic samba dancers. They may come dressed in costumes, bathing suits, plain clothes, special T-shirts, or even in drag.
Once you learn all you need about Street Carnival, jump about the Bandas and Blocos you Cannot Miss and find your way around with our clickable map of Street Festivities
About Bandas and BlocosThe difference between a banda and a bloco is that in a banda the orchestra plays well-known Carnival hits, the marchinhas. These are songs that everybody can sing along, and some have been around since the Carmen Miranda days. Cordao da Bola Preta is a reference, around since 1918. Banda de Ipanema is the most traditional South Side banda in Rio.
In a bloco there is a special theme song that they choose every year. There may be meetings where songs are presented, just like in a Samba School. These rehearsals create a sort of camaraderie and, of course, a great excuse to party! Monobloco is the largest bloco today with Simpatia coming a close second..
Now the similarities: People first gather at some well known spot, such as a square or neighborhood bar. After a couple or more hours of concentration, the band starts marching its way down the streets. Or not. Concentra Mas Nao Sai never leaves its concentration...
Do not miss this delicious warm-up. At Banda de Ipanema there's the show performed by drag queens and children, stopping cars and buses trying in vain to make their way through the crowds. Drivers caught in a Banda gridlock have nothing to do but relax and enjoy the moment.
Latest trends - Carnival takes over the streets
Can there be too much of a good thing? Apparently yes. Street Carnival in Rio has regained popularity, and bandas and blocos are growing in number and size. The reason is simple. It’s a great chance to party for free, make new friends, mingle with locals, flirt... More than 400 bandas were authorized to party in 2012!
More traditional blocos like Cordao da Bola Preta grew to mammoth proportions attracting as many as one million revelers! Monobloco is another one that became so big that it had to be transferred from Ipanema to Copacabana Beach to accommodate everyone. In 2009 they moved again, now to the same route of Cordao Downtown, along Av. Rio Branco from Praca Maua to Cinelandia. The date is Sunday, after the Samba School Chamions'Parade!
In many cases the bands that play on these events are composed of organizers and volunteers, and they train very hard throughout the year. There are competitions to choose the theme, paid rehearsals at popular venues, and T-shirts for sale to help cover the costs. This develops true camaraderie among the regular members. When a banda or bloco becomes too popular, though, a part of this spirit can get lost.
To avoid overcrowding, they may change their schedule unexpectedly. Instead of parading at traditional hours they trade morning to afternoon or vice-versa. Even daily newspapers are sometimes fooled! Suvaco de Cristo in Jardim Botanico has been doing this for a while. Simpatia é Quase Amor caught everyone by surprise in 2008 by marching on Sunday morning instead of afternoon. Volta Alice in Laranjeiras changes from Monday afternoon to morning in 2009. Instead of the almost ten thousand partiers of 2008, it gathered around 1,000 friends that actually knew by heart the lyrics of the new theme.
This does not mean that you are going to be left out, though. There aren’t any cordons to isolate the audience from revelers, and you are more than welcome to upgrade from spectator to party animal at will. Keep a link to our Carnival Party Planner, where we pick out the cream of the crop. There’s even a map with must-sees. When you make friends with locals it’s even better. Do not hesitate to go if you are invited to some street band you have never heard of. There are over hundreds of them, and they all have their charms.
Street Carnival Etiquette
The first thing to keep in mind is that, whenever a crowd gathers in a big city, pickpockets may try to take advantage of the situation. This does not mean you have to be paranoid, but avoid wearing your diamond-studded watch, and do not keep a stack of $100 bills sticking out of your back pocket (duuuh!).
Do take some change for drinks - there will be plenty of vendors riding along with coolers on wheels. Just don't stay too close to them, or you could be run over when they start to move again. If you are wearing sensible shoes fine. In flip-flops? Look for shelter between the cars parked along Av. Vieira Souto if you sense your toes an in serious danger.
Use your good sense. When the band starts marching, stay a little ahead of the bulk of the crowd, or you will get stuck in the human mass. Marching right in front of floats or cars is not a good idea either. This is where the loudspeakers are. And stay close to the band in the back only if you have earplugs or you will go deaf...
Seniors and children of all ages participate at Street Carnival, so this is the ideal time for the whole family to have a good time together! Many South-Side bands go out in the afternoon. The gathering usually starts around 4 p.m., making this the quintessential aprés-beach experience. Most Bandas also have official T-shirts for sale on the spot for about $10, to help with the costs. They make great souvenirs, as they are sold only during Carnival days.
When you gotta go... go Dutch!
Street Carnival in Rio is going through a revival, and these days literally hundreds of bandas and blocos take over the streets. 400 of them in 2009! The City is doing a serious effort to try and organize these events, so that they do not become a major nuisance to residents, who have to deal with the thousands of revelers right out their doors.
Now bandas and blocos need to register with the City when events will happen, so that authorities can try to organize traffic, and provide an adequate security support. Some streets are closed to cars; bus routes are diverted to alternative lanes. Many stressed out drivers are learning that public transportation may be their best choice on Carnival days and nights.
Despite the inevitable presence of pickpockets that sometimes try to take advantage of the situation, a more ostensive presence of police officers and municipal guards is having a positive effect on security. Take the usual precautions you would on a crowd, and you shouldn’t run into trouble. But it’s not all roses.
Rio is very hot in the summer. People gathered together dancing on a sunny day get even hotter. To quench their thirst and keep spirits high, the drink of choice is usually beer. And when people drink beer, eventually they have to recycle it. The City and party organizers have been increasing the number of chemical toilets along the routes of major bandas and blocos. Yet it’s simply not enough.
Trees, gardens, walls, corners, car wheels, bushes, even beach sand are some alternatives used by men (and women) that have to go number one. Peeing in public spaces, other than being a criminal offence (indecent exposure) is completely unacceptable behavior. Period. Instead of only criticizing, we have a simple suggestion that is successfully used in cities that receive a lot of beer-drinking visitors. Amsterdam comes to mind.
Dutch beer is delicious, and very popular with locals and visitors. But recycled beer is not only offensive to the nose but also extremely corrosive. On summer weekends, and at special parties such as Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), dozens of portable urinals pop up at strategic corners of main streets. Each one can accommodate 4 guys at a time. Even girls can use them, with the help of an ingenious adapter that allows them to “do it” standing.
We do not know who designed these portable pissoirs to give them our kudos, let alone to beg them to introduce this product here in Brazil. Rio, Salvador, Olinda, and all other cities and towns that celebrate Carnival festivities are sure to become clients - and both residents and partiers will be forever thankful. To better illustrate the concept of peeing in public without offending anyone we have an inspirational short clip shot in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day. Enjoy!