Art and Culture Planning South America

Tips on Planning a Visit to Rio Carnival by Santa Rosa OLD SKOOL
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Tips on Planning a Visit to Rio Carnival

Kirstie Profile SmallThe World Cup may be over but Brazil is still a hot destination. And it gets even hotter as Rio starts preparing for Carnival. This long standing party in Brazil’s second city is one of the biggest and most vibrant spectacles on the planet. But how do you get there? Is it family friendly? And how do you become part such a vast and established celebration? Carnival isn’t till February but it takes a few months of planning if you want to attend. In collaboration with TAM Airlines; Brazil’s biggest airline, we’ve researched some facts and tips for those of you curious about Rio Carnival…

Carnival on my mind

Why is my mind on Rio? Well a recent visit to The Philippines coincided with the festival of Sandugo. Although nothing like as big as the Brazilian bash, the drums, dancers, costumes and floats gave us a taste of carnival atmosphere. I’ve always written off Rio as being just for adults, but a quick search online shows kids do join in too. And so I got to wondering how easy it would be for us to attend. If you’d like to let your hair down at the world’s greatest party then here’s what I found out about Rio Carnival..

Sandugo Festival in Tagbilaran Bohol 2014

Sandugo Festival in Tagbilaran Bohol 2014

About Rio Carnival and how to get there

This is probably the world’s biggest understatement, but carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a pretty popular event. By the end of the five day pre-lent bash it’s estimated between two and four million people let their hair down, including almost a million tourists. The bare fact is that Rio grows bigger each year and if you want to attend Carnival 2015, and make the most of your time there, you need to be planning it now.

In 2015 it will run from Friday February 13th to Wednesday February 18th. If you don’t want to go it alone there are plenty of companies that run tours to Brazil including a fully organised stay in Rio at carnival time. They can hire you a costume, and handle all the logistics. If you do want to do it yourself then TAM Airlines is Brazil’s largest airline, with flight to Rio from all over the world. And if you don’t want to go all that way for just one festival then it can help you with an onward flight as it goes to more destinations within Brazil than any other airline.

For those rare moments when you aren’t partying and want to get your head down, you’ll need accommodation. You can book a bed in anything from hostel to lavish hotel via one of the low cost online accommodation sites and the official carnival site can give you recommendations for the best area to stay in depending on what you want to do.  Be aware that accommodation doubles or trebles in price during carnival week and you may have to book for consecutive days to secure it. Check this post for more tips on saving on family accommodation while travelling. by Santa Rosa OLD SKOOL

I’m in a Carnival Mood. Image by Santa Rosa OLD SKOOL (via Flickr under CCL)

Where to party

I always thought Rio carnival, or ‘carnaval’ as it’s known in Brazil, was one parade on one day of the year. But in fact carnival goes on for days and the run up to the festival goes on for much longer. In this crazy neverland, colours clash under the moon in every neighbourhood of the city.

The main events of the carnival itself are the Samba Parades at the Sambadrome. The ‘Sambodromo,’ is a concrete structure constructed for carnival; an avenue with stands on either side. During the parades twelve preselected Samba Schools compete to be Champion of the Samba Parade in front of at least 80,000 people. Each school chooses a theme and creates an eighty minute performance. Everything is made from scratch including music, choreography and extraordinary costumes. Unsurprisingly one or two of last year’s themes involved football, with at least two of the schools honouring football stars. But you don’t have to follow a theme. Just put on an outrageous costume and dance the night(s) away.

How to party

The least expensive tickets for the Sambadrome are available from LIESA, the Independent Samba School League, but buying them that way is only an option if you live in Rio de Janeiro or know someone who does. Otherwise you can buy them online at and at

There are different price points and the more expensive include buffet and celebrity mingling. Sunday and Monday are the best parading nights. It is worth paying the maximum you can afford for this event as the experience/view/convenience is better the more you pay. Children under five are not allowed into these Sambadrome nights. Children over five are welcome, but there are no concession prices. For some frequently asked questions about Sambadrome tickets click here.

How to party outside the Sambadrome

If you are on a tight budget but still want to get to see the samba bands play you can buy cheaper tickets to watch the schools audition for next year’s carnival on the first couple of days of the celebration. Or alternatively you can watch the samba bands rehearse in their own neighbourhoods on various nights in the run up to carnival. Salgueiro and Mangueira are two of the larger samba schools, located close to tourist areas.

If you miss out on the Sambadrome then there are plenty of other great events and parties. Samba blocks (block parties) attract thousands of people and are great fun. There are also a variety of balls including a magic ball, a gay gala ball and six themed carnival balls. You may need to be well connected to swing a ticket to these!

Free Street Party in Rio Image by Ollie Harridge

Free Street Party in Rio. Image by Ollie Harridge (via Flickr CCL)

How does it all begin?

Carnival starts when King Momo decrees joy. Last year King Momo was a smiling 27 year old flanked by his carnival queen and princesses. You are unlikely to meet or be romanced by King Momo, unless you happen to bump into last year’s royal. But you might catch a glimpse.

How to prepare

You can practice your Samba song lyrics right now at and from November you can listen to the songs too. Or catch another carnival elsewhere in the world and pick up the vibe and moves. They are all over Brazil. And many in Europe. We caught carnival in Portugal at Easter. It was a poor man’s Rio, but it gave us an appetite for more.

Over to you

Have you been to Rio Carnival with your family? If you’ve got some tips or experience to share, please do leave a comment below.

Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you in collaboration with Brazilian Airline TAM. The research, views and opinions remain, as ever, entirely my own.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

1 Comment

  • This is really interesting to read and Carnival in Rio would be amazing to see. I’ve been in Italy and Spain during carnival season a few times and it’s always really fun even on a small scale.

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