Forecast: Sunny, Warm and Fun. It’s Carnaval!
Here's one thing you should add to the top of your bucket list: spend Carnaval in Brazil.
Vigorously celebrated since the last decades of the 1800s, when the country was still a Portuguese colony, Carnaval is uplifting, culturally rich and embraces an extraordinary heritage from Afro-Brazilian descents. Let's clarify it: this isn’t Mardi Gras; this isn’t Venetian Carnival. This is Carnaval, a spirit that spreads throughout this vast nation of 207 million party lovers.
Carnaval officially runs for the four days (Saturday to Tuesday) that lead to the Roman Catholic's Ash Wednesday; but unofficially it keeps people in the mood for the whole week. Unarguably, mundane life is put on hold allowing everyone to take part: schools are off, hotels are packed, airfares skyrocket. Weather forecast? Sunny, warm, very warm – high 80’s - with high chances of glitter showers and a hoarse voice after singing your heart out. (Click here to listen to some Carnaval beats!)
For first-timers, Rio de Janeiro holds the most spectacular show one can watch in the city (or hemisphere!) put together by "samba schools," communities that traditionally come together for the whole year to create a theme, sew their outfits and compose their songs. What follows is a fierce competition among them, which overflows with creativity, happiness, and jaw-dropping costumes: some glittery, some gigantic, some tiny. Very tiny. Transmitted live by the local TV, and well captured in the animated movie "Rio," the parades take place for three consecutive long evenings at Sambódromo, or "Samba's Hippodrome." The attendance is paid and can be costly.
This is Carnaval, a spirit that spreads throughout this vast nation of 207 million party lovers.
Rio is also known for its neighborhoods' "blocos" or groups of people that gather in the streets, holding beers and spreading smiles. "Blocos" are informal, free for all, loud, but somewhat organized: their leaders compose their song for the year, rehearsed religiously for a few weeks. They gather by location as well as by interest: you may choose kid-friendly or journalists groups or pick one just because its name is hilarious. Take "Happiness without Hangover" or "Christ's Armpit": this one meets under the view of the iconic Christ, the Redeemer statue's underarm up on the hill.
Blocos pop up throughout the city, weeks before Carnaval, blocking traffic and scaring away the few souls who would exchange anything for some hours of Beethoven. This year alone, Rio is expected to have 46 of them before Carnaval kicks in.
Taking over the streets is, in fact, the way Brazilians genuinely celebrate Carnaval, including picturesque colonial towns like Paraty, which borders the Ocean between Rio and São Paulo, and Ouro Preto, a gem in the state of Minas Gerais. Still, Salvador, Recife, and Olinda, three cities up north and kissed by the sea, take the art of partying to another level - and without Samba.
Olinda and Recife, in the beautiful state of Pernambuco, are home to "Frevo," a fast paced rhythm to which people dance holding small umbrellas, dressed in colorful costumes and athletically moving the legs up and down, left and right. It's exhausting but incredibly fun.
Wherever Carnaval may take you, take a wig, a bottle of water, some sunscreen, and your sense of humor. These are places where you're never fully dressed without a smile.