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An American’s Guide to Carnival: The Parade

by Sean Ogle | Last Updated: May 25, 2009

This is part 3 of 6 in Gringo-izing Brazil: An American’s Guide to Carnival.  In this post, we will talk about the Carnival parade itself.

One of the biggest draws of Carnival in Rio is obviously the parade.

There are two ways to go about experiencing this.

The first of which is to watch the parade. It occurs on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights of Carnival. Each night the parade begins at about 8 pm and goes to 6 the next morning.

That is A LOT of parade.

You really only need to plan on being here for one night, and chances are you won’t be there for the full ten hours. After a while, everything starts to blend in, and you can’t help but feel as though you are seeing the same thing over and over again.

How to watch the parade

If you read about Carnival, they will likely trick you with tales of the extraordinarily high prices to watch the parade.

While this may be true to some extent, there are ways around it.

The first of which is to go on Saturday night. This is when the “second-tier” schools perform.

Instead of 6 samba schools, there are 8 that perform. The winner of the Saturday parade actually gets to participate next year in the main parade.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with the Saturday parade. It still gives you all of the same atmosphere and excitement, although at a fraction of the price.

If you are wanting to watch the parade you can expect to pay about $80 on Sunday or Monday for the “tourist seats” at the end of the Sambadromo. While these aren’t the best seats, you still get to see everything, and chances are the people around you will actually speak your language as well, which believe me, is a bonus.

Tickets are much less if you go on Saturday night. Another feasible option is to just show up at the Sambadromo on any given night and buy tickets from scalpers on the street. I know plenty of people that were able to get tickets on both Sunday and Monday for $20.

It’s just a matter of being a little more of a risk-taker and waiting until the last minute. If you book your tickets before you leave, at the very least you know you will have a ticket, but it’s going to cost you a bit more.

You can also book tickets through a hostel or hotel as part of a package. This may be slightly cheaper than doing it yourself, but it definitely won’t be as cheap as scalping them.

Get in the parade

The other way to experience the Carnival parade is to dance IN the parade.

We danced in the parade on Saturday night, and for our “caveman warrior” costume we paid 150 real or about $60 at the time.

Side note: I don’t know who decided that these were caveman warrior costumes, but there was nothing “warrior” about this costume at all.  Think more George of the Jungle meets Diana Ross. This is a huge difference than if you paid for a costume on Sunday or Monday night.

Most of those were going for around $300. We were also able to purchase our costumes last minute through a sale in Rio de Janeiro.

You can find special sales where all the excess Carnival costumes are deeply discounted, as they are trying to get as many people to participate in the parade as possible. If you are interested in exactly where we found our sale (again, you can thank Mariana) leave a comment and I will let you know.

The Sambadromo

When you show up at the Sambadromo it is very overwhelming.

There are people and floats all over the place. Each school has 8 floats and dozens of different costume combinations.

Finding the correct school can be a little difficult if you don’t know where you are going (and you won’t) but if you just kind of point to your costume and look clueless, people should be able to point you in the right direction.

Once you find your school, they may do a quick overview of what to do/not to do, but pretty much you are on your own.

Once the parade starts expect a full 50-60 minutes of hardcore parading. Dancing, singing (to this day I will never forget the music that was piped through the loudspeakers on repeat from the very beginning to the very end of the Sambadromo), and more dancing can be expected.

700 yds is a lot longer than you think.

Seriously, halfway through the parade route, I was dying.  This thing is a test of wills and perseverance!

But at the same time, it is one of the most incredible experiences imaginable. There is nothing like it anywhere. The scope, the size, the passion.

Many people in Rio live for this event. And words can’t really describe what it is like to be apart of it.

Read more about Carnival in the other posts in the series: Before you leave and What to Expect When you Land.

In part 4 of An American’s Guide to Carnival, we will discuss everything else related to the holiday. While the parade is obviously the most well-known aspect of the experience, there is much more to the event than that.

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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