Street Carnaval in Rio
They may try to organize it, glamorize it, televise it, even industrialize it, yet Carnaval is part of the city culture. It is deeply ingrained in the fun-loving Carioca soul. Street festivities are open and spontaneous. Everybody's welcome to participate! The dates of the best Blocos are at our Carnaval Party Planner and Pre-Carnaval in Rio.
While in France the confetti battles were epic, in Rio most of the fun originally involved throwing liquids at other people. If you were fancy, you stocked up on limões de cheiro (water limes). They were made of wax, and filled with a pleasant-smelling citrussy liquid. Those who could not afford the investment improvised, and allegedly may have added other ‘spices’ to the mix (more in History of Carnaval in Rio).
Bandas & Blocos
Street festivities were gradually exposed to a healthy dose of Brazilian colors and flavors. Our Street Carnaval parties are typically Carioca. The concept of a Bloco includes a percussion band marching along a pre-determined route, followed by hordes of enthusiastic revelers. They may come dressed in costumes, plain clothes, special T-shirts, bathing suits, or even in drag.
There are around 500 Blocos in Rio, in all formats and sizes. Some prefer to remain smaller and moved their dates to the pre-Carnaval period. Each Bloco must request permission from the city government to parade in a particular area during a specified day and hour. They try to put together this jigsaw puzzle, and typically only publish the official list a few weeks ahead.
While the city offers security and helps with the infrastructure and chemical restrooms, Blocos are not financed by the government. They may find private sponsors to help cover the costs, promote events in clubs where there’s an admittance charge, and even sell T-shirts. Although there’s not a clear line to differentiate, there are themed, neighborhood, and mega Blocos to choose from. Mix and match.
Megablocos by definition are huge. They happen in Centro, usually at Rua Primeiro de Março. Some attract as many as a million people. Cordão da Bola Preta is the first one that comes to mind. They have been around for over 100 years! Monobloco, which is scheduled for Sunday after the Champions’ Parade, is another giant.
Another favorite area for larger Blocos is the gorgeous Flamengo Reclaim Park. It sprawls over a large open area along Guanabara Bay close to Centro, with a view to the Sugarloaf and the Corcovado. The park was designed by modernist Affonso Reidy while the gardens are signed by landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, another world reference.
Moving on to neighborhood Blocos, these are typically created by a group of friends who love their ‘bairro’ and Carnaval. They may remain stationary or follow a pre-determined route. These events welcome revelers from all over town, and the typical soundtrack is composed of songs that everyone can sing along to. Carnaval classics, marchinhas, and memorable sambas are performed by the percussion band.
Larger Blocos, such as Simpatia é Quase Amor in Ipanema, attract as many as 200k revelers! They even have a theme song that everyone is supposed to learn and sing. Later they play the traditional repertoire. Vocalists stay on top of a sound truck followed by the percussion band with thousands upon thousands of people dancing ahead and behind.
Banda de Ipanema, one of the most celebrated ones, does not have interpreters. It’s the percussion band and the people only. When they pass by Igreja Nossa Senhora da Paz they stop for a moment of silence and then play the song Carinhoso. It’s a tribute to Pixinguinha, who died there. In Gávea there’s ‘A Rocha’, in Jardim Botânico ‘Suvaco de Cristo’, and around Lagoa, there’s ‘’Spanta Neném’. If you plan wisely, you can party all over town!
Now let’s look into themed Blocos. Again, they come in all shapes and sizes and this may influence the songs that they play. Sargento Pimenta, for instance, only plays songs by The Beatles, adapted to the Carnaval beat. Cordão do Boitatá is a specialist in Northeastern beats and songs. Rio Maracatu includes a lovely performance of traditional African-Brazilian music and dance.
Carmelitas, in Santa Teresa, crosses borders. It is both a neighborhood and a themed bloco. Lots of people party wearing clerical clothes in a tribute to the historic Convent in the area. The legend is that once a nun joined the fun, everyone is there to ‘give her cover’. Bloco ‘Fogo & Paixão’ is specialized in vintage ‘brega’ music – a style of Brazilian pop that intellectuals frown upon.
As we mentioned in the beginning, the choices are virtually endless. What we do, based on decades of experience with Carnaval in Rio, is reduce this list to a manageable format. We pick out Blocos that are always a sure bet in each category and list them day by day. Together with parties, balls, and the samba parade.
We know that a lot of people feel silly wearing a mask or a costume. Here is a perfect chance for a breakthrough! If you’re from out of town your friends will never see – until you publish your photos, and you will. Unless there’s a theme, there’s no theme. Gladiators, fairies, gnomes, M&M’s, there are no boundaries.
The festive atmosphere is not particularly dominated by Halloween creatures, but if you can pull an Elvira or a credible Dracula you will be noticed. Friends who come in groups often wear coordinated costumes or accessories. Some even practice a choreography or a funny stunt. Masks, wigs, crowns, wings, hats, and eyeglasses, visit any of our photo albums for inspiration.
Casa Turuna, on Rua Uruguaiana in Centro, is a historic shop where you will find everything related to costumes in one place. Other shops in the same area known as SAARA are also worth visiting if you have time on your hands. Otherwise, order online, I’ll never tell. Just keep in mind you will be facing the summer heat in a tropical city.
Another factor you may consider is that in case you look fabulous everyone will ask you for a selfie. It’s a fact of life. People are in a festive mode, and they talk to strangers, interact, and may put their arms around your shoulders or waist for a photo. This is not considered disrespectful in any way, but it can be a sweaty experience. Having said that, chances are you will sweat anyway. Keep hydrated.
Safety & Etiquette
The first thing to consider is the safety of your feet. Choose sensible shoes that offer some protection. You’re not going up and down a cobblestone street in Santa Teresa wearing high heels or flip-flops. You don’t want to keep looking down all the time to avoid a puddle or even broken glass.
Several street vendors are authorized by the city to follow each Bloco. They offer sodas, water, beer, power drinks, mints, and whatever. The sale of alcoholic beverages in the street is allowed, yet the number of chemical toilets is always somewhat limited. Do the math, we are not here to patrol you.
Do not wear valuable jewelry or expensive watches – whenever there’s a gathering of people pickpockets may try to take advantage. We understand that many people have an umbilical connection to their smartphones. The best way to go is by wearing one of those money belts or pouches that go inside your clothes. Be street smart.
As to where you should stay in a Bloco it’s up to you. While some people are in the middle of the street dancing, others just stand on the sidewalk and watch, or take photos. If you’re marching with a Bloco, usually it’s more fun to stay ahead of the percussion band. Just avoid getting stuck in the middle of a crowd.
While it’s OK and quite common to ask people in costumes to stop for a photo, they may say no. Don’t take it personally. Cariocas are a friendly breed and you’re in a party, but we are in the XXI century. Be respectful and do not take liberties with people you do not know. Other than that, enjoy!