While some of you were scraping your windows off and bundling up, just south of the equator the heat was on thanks to the effortless fun that is Carnival. Carnival, is a spectacle that attracts a vast array of tourists from around the world to the colorful and lively country of Brazil where they can partake in the world’s most unparalleled fiesta! Much like the United States celebration of Mardi Gras, Carnival takes place over the weekend with events leading up through Fat Tuesday. The entire city undergoes a transformation to celebrate the blending of the classic Roman Catholic annual celebration with a heavy portion of a festival that celebrates the African Ancestry of Brazil and its people. With many islands and cities around the world using Carnival as a backdrop to party non-stop, what makes Rio De Janeiro, Brazil the Carnival capital of the world? Carnival in and of itself is very LGBT, from the brilliant colors, the spectacle of the block parties to the side events through Rio.
The classic idea of the Carnival in Rio is the Carnival Samba Parade that takes place at the Sambadrome Marques de Sapucaí. With its attraction being the steadfast sound of samba drums and Latin laced music, to the glorious costumes and lively performances, it’s an adventure that belongs at the forefront of your first Carnival experience. Getting tickets however, can be tricky but not impossible if you plan. There are many business options to purchase tickets ahead of your trip otherwise most hotels have access to sell tickets to their guest based on availability – but I wouldn’t solely bet on those options after your arrive. With Box Seats, Grandstand Seats, and Camarote Sections, which is more like a nightclub within the Sambadrome, there are tickets for almost every budget and will allow you to make your Parade experience what you want.
The events at the Sambadrome last 4 nights; on Friday and Saturday is the Access Group and Sunday and Monday is the Special Access Group. The best reference to understand what I mean by Access Group would be to think like a Minor League Baseball Team.The Samba School that scores the highest on Friday and Saturday night wins the opportunity to be promoted to the Major Leagues which take place on Sunday and Monday night.
The road to Carnival starts at the very end of each Carnival the year prior. Almost as soon as Carnival ends each Samba School sets off to select both a theme and a song which they will then build a performance around for the forthcoming Carnival. The preparation that goes into one weekend of performances includes the design of intricate costumes, floats that rise as high as the grandstand seats in the upper deck of the Sambadrome, as well as a distinct style of dance for each procession to symbolize and advance the story of the performance. Each school is judged based on 10 categories, by 4 judges per category. They are judged on the following: Most original and artistic presentation, most rhythmic dancers and best performance. The winner carries the sought after accolades of being crowned the Campeã do Carnaval 2018 (Champion of Carnival 2018)!
The Samba Parade is a serious part of Carnival in Rio, with up to 90,000 ticketed patrons per night in the Sambadrome watching and rooting on the samba school of their choice. However it is not the most important aspect of Carnival to the locals that is the Blocos or Block Parties that are hosted by groups throughout Rio de Janeiro.
While I visited I tried to hit as many Blocos as I could, which ended up being 6 different ones. All of my options were centered around a theme of Music, not necessarily Samba Music, but music definitely played a prominent part in the event itself. My favorites were Bloco Thriller Eletrico and Bloco Sargento Pimenta. Both names sound exactly like what they are, a Michael Jackson Block Party and a Beatles Themed Event. Other options that I attended included Bloco Marcha de Nerd, Bloco Afroreggae, Bloco do Favorita and Bloco de Ipanema. Some of these “Block Parties” welcome upwards of 1 million plus guests to join into the festivities. In the past, The Bloco do Cordao do Bola Preta saw an estimated 2.3 million during the 2011 version of the event as they brought the party all through the streets of Centro as it paraded its way to Cinelandia Square.
Bloco Thriller Eletrico, took place on Sunday Morning at Praca Barao de Drumond, which was a trek to get to, but the event made it well worth it. Michael Jackson, shot one of his music videos in the heart of Rio de Janeiro in the Dona Marta Favela, giving some of the poorer residents of Rio more access to Michael Jackson than most Americans have ever had. This is why the citizens of Brazil remain partial to him as well. The event showcased his music through live performances with Michael Jackson impersonators and dancers moving in a classic MJ Style as the vocalist behind them poured their hearts out with songs from the Jackson 5 such as the ‘I Want You Back,’ to his solo songs including ‘Beat it’ and ‘Off the Wall.’ One of the more interesting parts of the show, was when they performed ‘I’ll Be There,’ both in English and Portuguese; giving attendees a chance to hear the beautiful lyrics with a familiar tone.
Bloco Sargento Pimenta, is just as it sounds when it is translated into English “The Sargent Pepper Block Party.” It is a tribute to the Beatles, with a live band that played their music alongside the water. Hundreds of Thousands of fans stood together and sang along to Help, Love Me Do and of course Hey Jude to name a few. The party was even equipped with vendors selling food and drinks while party goers danced all around you. The event lasted over 4 hours as the music of the Beatles transcended a language barrier in a country where few speak English, and many tourists don’t speak Portuguese.
For those of us who are members of the LGBT Community there are many options for us. My 1st stop during trip in Rio was The Week Rio. A megaclub that is in the Heart of Rio. During Carnival the dancefloor which reguarly has a capacity is over 2000; exceeds that as does the upper levels of the club as revelers come from all over the world to sway the night away to pop hits and salsa beats. During the weekend, events are produced by Papa through Eliad Cohen as well many other producers. Next was my trip to Carnabear, which just as it sounds was Bear Nation event held at the Baronezza Club. Lasting until 6am, many of Gay Bears and Chasers got together and danced the night away. Sunday, saw me visit TV Bar, which is a local neighborhood Gay Bar which draws a large crowd during Carnival. Much like many of the other nightclub experiences, they offer the “Bar Card” and you settle your bill at the end of the night; so remain sober enough to ensure that you don’t lose the card otherwise it can cost you an arm and leg to get out.
My favorite event was the Original Brazilian Pool Party, however the name itself is not accurate. Much more than a pool party during Carnival, the company rents out a Waterpark and puts on a show and spectacle in the midst of waterslides, wave pools and a lazy river. We danced from mid-afternoon to wee hours of the morning, with the staple of dress being the “Sunga”, a brazilian style swimsuit that leaves little to the imagination and makes for a lot of eye candy for the attendees of the event. With live music interspersed with the DJ, and drinks it remains a highlight of my trip and a great way to cool off from the temperatures of Rio in Summer. Bear Nation hosted a pool party as well, smaller in the number of guest, but big on the Bears and Bellies it was a lot of fun as well. Held at Casa Mosquito a Gay Guesthouse and Hotel in the Copacabana area, it was a hike to get to. But atmosphere and party vibe that was held in a much more intimate and inviting location than the obscene oversized event that is the Original Brazilian Pool Party it may be more liked and a better fit for those who want to be able to communicate with the other guests and bartenders on site.
If you’re looking to attend Carnival in Rio next year, here are a few tips to get you on the road to your own personal experience.
Tips for Carnival in Rio:
- Plan, Plan, PLAN! – I learned that last year there were over 500 Blocos to pick and choose from; as well 4 days of events at the Sambadrome and 6 sections to decide amongst. Understanding your budget and your interests in advance of your arrival will help you figure out what and where you should go.
- Safety Matters. As you know Rio de Janeiro and Brazil in general is not necessarily the safest destination to visit. So realizing where it is safe to go and safe to stay during your visit is important. I stayed in Botafogo and the Copacabana area. Both had plenty of taxis around and Buses and Metro to get you through the City
- Wear Sneakers! Yes, during Carnival it is summer and yes it may be almost 100°. But the sheer number of people who will be out on the streets dancing about to the Samba Rhythm or the Theme Song to your favorite Cartoon, means that in order to ensure that you make it back home with your piggies intact, sneakers are must. Not to mention the fact that I averaged 26,000 steps during the 4 days of Block Parties and Carnival, so arch support was a good thing.
- Pack Extra, Everything! I ended up being short a few pairs of shorts and socks, during my trip. I thought packing 4 extra pairs of things was sufficient. But when you return to your hotel in between Block Parties or Club Visit with a heavy sheen of sweat; a shower and a change of clothes are definitely on the plans. Which means things will run out quickly if you don’t account for the extras.
- Currency. Brazil using the Reals. The “R” is pronounced as an “H” and should be said as “Hey-ice” So be prepared to hear that more often while you are in Brazil. The same with Rua; it is said as Hua. When your cab driver ask you what “Hua” your hotel is at; that would mean the street your hotel is on.
- Sightseeing. Go see your elevated sights as soon as you have the opportunity. Do NOT wait and Do NOT plan in advance. Reason for this is sights like Cristo de Redentor and Sugar Loaf Mountain have issues with Fog dependent on the weather, and the sight lines may not be worth the trip and time consumed.
- Dress Weather and Rio Appropriate. Modesty in Rio is for no one. The level of undress especially during Carnival leaves nothing up to the imagination. Carnival for most of the revelers has turned into an event to see how little clothing that you can get away with wearing on the streets. Due to the level of Sun exposure and that fact the temperature may creep above 100 degrees, everyone dresses for the worst. So whether you have a Six Pack (Which you will see in copious quantities) or a beer gut that you’ve worked years to achieve be prepared to go shirtless or at the bare minimum in a tank-top for the duration of your stay.