An image of Carnaval at first might seem easy to conjure, but consider this: Over 3 million revelers are expected to attend this year's celebration in Brazil. Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro are the best known, but there are other cities in Brazil to visit that throw equally massive parties in equally gorgeous settings. If you're planning to attend the country's most exciting party, you should know about these 8 places to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil.
Salvador, the capital of Bahia, has an estimated 2 million festival attendees during Carnaval and has been cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest street party in the world. Bahia is considered the musical state of Brazil with a rich mixture of genres and rhythms like axe, pagode, and samba. People here sing and play Brazilian musical instruments like the berimbau, agogos, and atabaques, and the carnival is dominated by the “trio elétricos” – music-trucks with singers and dancers on top.
Its Carnaval kickoff includes an intricate masquerade ball called "Baile dos Mascarados" as well as the tradition when the mayor hands over the keys of the city to the designated "Carnaval King." This ceremony signifies that the city belongs to the revelers of Carnaval, after which the parades commence to celebrate the spirit of its people.
Visitors can get involved in local activities and celebrations by choosing a neighborhood block to join in marching the Carnaval parades. The only requirement to join a block is to buy a shirt to participate and follow the “trio elétricos” through the circuit around the city. If tourists prefer to take part as spectators of Carnaval, they can observe the parades by buying access to a “camarote” or “viewing box.” The viewing box is accompanied by live music, food, and drinks, not to mention that guests will have a great overall view of people dancing down the streets. Another alternative is to join in the independent blocks of the city where there is no cost to participate in Carnaval.
Carnaval in Diamantina, a colonial town in Minas Gerais, has the special distinction of taking place among narrow streets full of old mansions. Here the party seems to never stop with five days of non-stop festivities, day and night. By day, the street blocks get people dancing all over the streets, and at night, the Batucada groups and Bat Cave direct the batucada. The celebration all takes place in the Old Market Square, with more than 15,000 joining the fun people daily.
In Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, the party has varied rhythms of music, away from the hegemony of samba and axe. What stands out the most are maracatu groups and dances at Iracema Beach and Avenue Domingos Olimpio, the most prominent locations of Fortaleza’s Carnaval. It is also here that visitors can witness participants dressed in blackface, a tradition in the city's maracatu cearense to enact Afro-Brazilian characters. However, the use of blackface in this tradition has recently received some backlash.
Similar to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo has a competition between different samba schools. Carnaval in Sao Paulo starts on the Friday and Saturday of Carnaval week, a day before Rio de Janeiro, at the Anhembi Sambadrome.
Anhembi Sambadrome is the largest outdoors event venue in São Paulo designed by the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. It is here that the top samba schools congregate to compete for the grand honor of winning the Carnaval championship title. Some of the well-known and top samba schools competing include Nenê de Vila Matilde, Gaviões da Fiel, Vai-Vai, Camisa Verde Branco, and Peruche. Festival-goers can expect to see a lot of Afro-Brazil cultural influences and dances in São Paulo's Carnaval.
Carnaval in Olinda and Recife is a unique experience. Recife has its own distinctive Carnaval symbol: the “Galo da Madrugada” (Rooster of Dawn). Millions of revelers follow this festive and folkloric doll down Forte das Cinco Pontas to the harbor during the traditional Saturday morning parade, dancing to frevo, Recife’s regional Carnaval music.
For Brazilians, Recife is one of the top Carnavals to attend, and the city's population actually drastically increases to more than two million people in celebration of the festival. The Carnaval opening ceremony in Recife is kicked off with a commencement in the neighborhood of Rua da Moeda.
Recife’s neighbor, Olinda, also has carnival dancers jumping with umbrellas to frevo music. The five-day festival, beginning with the typical parade of giant puppets known as mamulengos.
Florianopolis, located in the very south of the country, is known for its seaside location and beach culture, and Carnaval in Florianópolis is known as one of the best in Brazil. Similar to Rio, the celebration here is cheerful and open to all. For example, during Carnaval, gays, lesbians, and gay rights supporters head to Magic Island to enjoy a lively street party. At the city center, the samba schools parade on the Nego Quirido catwalk.
Manaus is located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, and due to its location, it has a unique culture. Its Carnaval is just one example of the city's distinct culture. The creation of the "Carnaboi" party joins the celebration of Carnaval with the traditions of the local Boi Bumba festival, creating the most famous Carnaval in the Amazon. The Manaus Carnival keeps the tradition from the early 20th century, the great parade of traditional costumes, which takes place in the historic city center.
For many years, Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro has been notoriously known for its main samba parade, which will take place February 5-8th of this year. During this enormous parade, 6 of the 12 best samba schools march to the Sambodromo (Samba Stadium) each day for the opportunity to be selected this year’s champion. What many travelers might not know prior to planning their trip is that the fun doesn't end there--the festival has additional samba parades, Carnaval balls, children's parades, neighborhood block parties and other events that are just as entertaining.
For many attendees, Carnaval in Rio actually starts and ends with the "street blocks," or individual neighborhood street parties. During this time, Rio locals take to the street to dance and sing behind the “trio eletricos,” giant trucks with a sound system, of their favorite band. Full of creativity and humor, these blocos create an energy joy in the city, and best of all, it’s free and open for the public to attend.