Rio de Janeiro Carnival: Sin, Samba and Sunshine

We decided to throw ourselves into the Brazilian deep end when we switched continents last week (Asia for South America) and arrived at Rio just in time for Carnaval.

People from all over Brazil flock to the major cities to kick off lent by partaking in a week long celebration of absolute craziness! And it’s well known that the events in Rio are amongst the biggest and best throughout the whole week.
Things I’ve learnt this past week

1. Carnaval not carnival 

There’s a reason why Carnaval in Rio has the reputation that it has, parts of it go above and beyond the general carnival feeling and enter straight into the crazy zone.
Carnaval for us officially started on Friday and the streets were lined with glitter covered bodies with feathers in their hair and fancy dress costumes from the first morning until well after late Monday afternoon.

2. Events start early each day with bloca’s

Sometimes as early as 10am various roads across the city are closed off from all public transport to allow space for huge street parties.
Hundreds and thousands of people attend these each and every day of Carnaval following the music playing truck as it leads the crowds to join more blocas throughout the afternoon.

3. You’re never more than a few hundred meters away from alcohol 

To assist in getting everyone in the Carnaval spirit, street vendors are stationed every few hundred meters selling beer and soft drinks from cool boxes as people move through the streets. There are also food stalls dotted along the way (although these are in short supply and just sell sweets and a few snacks) but if you’re out all day it’s best to pop into one of the restaurants or sandwich bars you pass along the way for anything substantial to eat.

4. Caipirinha’s on the beach 

We fell in love with one of the local drinks whilst warming up for carnaval. On the first day that we arrived in the city we tried our first Caipirinha and were hooked from the first taste (although this could be from all the sugar!)
Caipirinha consists of cuchasa (similar to rum), lime, ice and about 1 and a half heaped tablespoons (not tea spoons!) of sugar per person per drink. On the beach of Copacabana the food and drinks stalls sell them at varying prices so it’s best to have a little wander along the beach to find the cheaper ones (they all taste the exact same). Leah and I found losts varying between 5-10 real.

5. Most people end up in Lapa 

After spending all day dancing and drinking at the bloca’s most people that we met seem to head to Lapa to round off their night- we ended up there every night bare one!
Why did we love Lapa?

Although we didn’t actually go in any of the bars in Lapa we had an absolutely amazing, fun filled four nights there. Standing in the streets talking to both locals and tourists alike, with caipirinhas in hand (bought from one of the numerous market stalls in the main square) and dancing to the music blasting out from one of the near by bars!
Everyone was in the happy carnval vibe and we were even taught how to samba by one girl who was going to be in the samba parade the following day at the sambadrome!

6. The samba parade at the sambadrome 
The samba parade at the sambadrome was one of my favourite experiences throughout Carnaval!

Thousands of people compete over three days to become the best samba school of the competition.
We went on Saturday evening with a few people from our hostel and arrived at the sambadrome by 10pm and struggled to find anywhere to stand.
By the time we bought our tickets (a few days before the event) there were only a few stands with available tickets in our price range so we ended up in stand 11. We actually ended up with really good seats because we could see the whole parade!

What started as small moving colourful dots in the distance beginning in zone 1, developed into thousands of people sambaring away for 80 minutes in beautiful costumes accompanied by incredibly intricately decorated floats by the time everyone reached zone 11.

Although all of the samba schools were good they seemed to get better and better as the night went on. Some of the highlights for me were a robotic horse on a float that was so well engineered that the ears, eyes and legs all moved separately and in what can only be described in an animalistic way.
Another highlight was a parade which was football themed and had a deflating and inflating giant football with a sambaring Pele on top!

I learned pretty quickly that the samba parade was like a party in itself!

7. Negatives of Carnaval 

Although we absolutely loved Carnaval, with all of the good points there are always a few bad ones which interlink…
I’m not sure if it was the alcohol or the amount of sweaty, scamperly dressed people in a compact space but quite a few of the guys got a little carried away and ended up putting a damper on the first night of Carnaval for us for a little while.
We attended our first bloca on Friday night and as a group of three girls we hated the experience. After soberly joining the crowds to dance we were immediately groped by lots of men and at one point a group of guys tried to separate us. Needless to say that this wasn’t a nice experience and actually made us all question what we had signed up for by coming to Rio for Carnaval. If every day and night was going to be like that we wouldn’t be staying long.

Luckily, after making a quick exit from that bloca we jumped on the metro to Lapa and ended up having a really good night!

8. Costs during carnval 

As can be expected when big events take hold of a city the prices of most things increase. Our accommodation was by far the highest that we’ve paid on all of our travels so far working out to be around £30 a night – which may not seem like a lot but coming from Asia that’s over a whole days budget (including food and accommodation!). Also unlike Asia there isn’t much street food available and as our hostel didn’t have a kitchen this meant that for lunch and dinner everyday we were in restaurants or cafes.

9. Food in Rio 

Unlike in Asia with all of the different curries, noodles and rice dishes, Brazil (from what we can deem from Rio) seems a little restricted.
Rice and beans
There is a large focus on meat, rice and beans but coming from a veggie perspective I can already assume that this is going to get pretty tiring. Although rice and beans are in large supply here it’s not actually that cheap. We did find a few restaurants that sold a rice, beans and salad meal for around 15 riel but a lot of the other restaurants were a lot higher! Subbing meat for more beans in most cases of meals is also a pretty easy thing to do, although you will most likely be charged for the meat…
After a few days of carbs and protein (plus alcohol and sugar) our bodies were in need of a little more nutrients so we bit the bullet and pay for a salad in Bibi’s. Bibi’s is a really nice and in most cases budget friendly chain restaurant where you can create your own salads, choosing between 5 and 15 ingredients from the list of over 40. After choosing your bowl size (we went for medium and it was definitely enough), your ingredients are then combined for you with a helping of sauce (you chose how much goes on). The amount of food you get and the variety of ingredients does actually warrant the price (26 riel), it was just a little more than our budget anticipated for.
Per kilo restaurants
Our favourite foodie find in Brazil so far has to be the per kilo restaurants where you pay for a buffet style meal per weight. We went to quite a few of these, loaded up on the salads, quinoa, lentils and vegetables and were pleasantly surprised at how cheap that usually worked out. Price per 100g ranges between 3 and 6 riel but the food is virtually the same in every place! Most of our meals came in between 15 and 25 riel for a huge plate of hand chosen food!

10. Fitness in Rio 

I’ve read lots about fitness being taken really seriously in Rio and I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we arrived people were out in the streets running and cycling in the early morning, mid day sun, and early evening, dodging beach and party goers.
The city has lots of cycle lanes running alongside the beach so it makes for a pretty uninterrupted run/ cycle. There are also lots of workout equipment stationed along the beaches where old and young people stop off at after a day at the beach to drop and do some squats or use the pull up bar!
My fitness was pretty lacking this past week with the late nights and alcohol making my early morning runs almost non existent. I’ll get back on it next week though!

11. Non Carnaval attractions 

Sugar loaf mountain at sunset

We took the cable cart up sugar loaf mountain to catch sunset and although it was really busy the views were beautiful. We got to see the sunset behind a mountain range with the christo Redemente statue in centre stage. Once the sun had set we stayed around a little while longer and watched the streets become illuminated as all the houses, cars and streets lights turned on a across the city.
Cost: 71 riel
Santa Theresa
We took the free cable cart to the top of Santa Theresa from centro.

 The cable cart ride still in its testing stages (that’s why it’s free for now) after a complete refurbishment began a few years ago after a mass fatally back in 2011.

The ride was a little delayed as the controllers tested out their timings but once it started the journey went smoothly and we were able to see some views and sites that we would have missed if we’d walked to the top.

Once at the top we jumped off the cable cart and walked back down the hill via the historic ruins on a signpost we passed. The ruins were nice to see but it was the view from the top floor that was really impressive. We visited here on out second day in Rio before sugar loaf mountain or christo Redemente but it was really nice of the city below!

We popped down to the famous steps in Lapa which were beautiful and were even better because we approached them from above and missed out the majority of the crowds!

Christo Redemente

Christo Redemente is one of the best known tourist attractions in the whole of Rio so we knew from the outset that we would have to pay it a visit.

We had a little trouble getting their (we waited at the wrong bus stop for 45 minutes and ended up in a taxi) but by 9am we were in the queue to buy our tickets. The site only opened at 8am but within one hour all the tours before 11.20am were fully booked! When we got to the front of the queue however we were told that there were two available spots on the 9.40am trip – which was amazing because we had a bus to catch at 4pm to our next destination!
After a short 20 minute cable cart ride we were at the top the mountain and joined the queue of tourists viang for a photo with the 700m high statue.

Relaxing and serene this place is not but the view of the city which christo gets to witness everyday is the best we’ve seen!
Cost: 68 riel
Favella tour – our thoughts on it
Although a few people from our hostel chose to go on a ‘guided tour through the favelas’ leah and I decided against it for a few reasons.
A). The idea of a tour through less advantaged people’s homes seemed of a bit of a sick fascination to us. I wouldn’t want to do that in the UK and not actually help the people so why would I do it here?

B). It sounded like it would be an experience similar to a zoo – I don’t go to many zoo’s because I don’t want to fund the mistreatment of animals if there is any and paying the people in charge of the favelas to have a look around is probably funding their maintenance and keeping some people there as the attraction

C). How safe actually is it?

I wouldn’t walk into a ‘dodgy’ part of London to take photos of the inhabitants and buildings so why would I do it here?

Final thoughts on Rio 

I loved Rio during Carnaval and can’t wait to return in July to see what it’s like in a different time of the year. The metro’s and buses are easy to use, the taxis are reasonable priced (especially in a big city) although they are difficult to flag down because they don’t use their lights properly! The beaches are beautiful and the people who live in the city are really friendly and inclusive!

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