Carnival season offers party options morning, noon and night for almost a full week. There are hundreds of block parties and small parades all over the city, about a dozen major street parties and parades, open rehearsals for many of the samba schools that will be competing in the big events, plus thousands of smaller, impromptu celebrations. And this does not even include the big events–the four nights of elaborate, grand parades at the Sambadroma or the huge balls, such as the formal Black and White and wild and crazy Gay Costume Balls.
We arrived at Carnival with plans to go to:
• One of the two Special Parade nights (for those schools competing for the grand prize) at the Sambadroma;
• The biggest, wildest Ball of the season and the culmination of the Carnival celebrations–the Gay Costume Ball at Scala
• At least three of the season’s biggest parties (Merrymaking at Lapa, Cinelandia Square dances and the Bando de Ipanema parade); and
• A few of the smaller, less formal parades and block parties that are scheduled every day and night over Carnival week.
Although we certainly went to all of these, it is impossible to limit yourselves to so few parties during Carnival. Long before the first party on Friday night, Merrymaking at Lapa, began, we were leaving the downtown area to return to our hotel, before going to Lapa. We got caught up in a big party on the way to the subway. When we were at our hotel, we went onto our balcony to see where all the music and singing was coming from. There was a block party, and the beginning of a parade right below our room.
When walking from our hotel to the subway, we ran into another party a few blocks away and, when we exited the subway on our way to Lapa, we hit two others.
Many individual revelers go in costume: Some pretty basic, others quite elaborate and distinctive.
Others, go as part of groups, all dressed in the same costumes (or in the case of our favorite police force, lack of costumes) or different costumes around a common theme.
Highlight Block Parties
Overall, we went to dozens of block parties. Each had its own unique character. Many, for example, were located in a specific, fixed location. Many of these, like the one right outside our hotel, were small, local affairs with recorded music, a non-stop motivational announcer, food and beer stands and anywhere between a couple dozen to hundreds of attendees over the 6-12 hours these local parties often spanned. Others, particularly those scheduled for nighttime, such as that at Cinelandia Square, were big affairs, with big bandstands, live entertainers and perhaps a thousand people, all getting into the act. Then there is the Carnival staple at Lapa, with dozens of food and beer stands, large entertainment venues and thousands of participants.
Other block parties are essentially roving celebrations. Some, like the big Ipanema parade, begin as big, thousand-person block parties that, at the appropriate time, are energized by popular songs from big-name bands: in this case, Bando de Ipanema. When everybody is suitably engaged, singing, dancing and engaged in all other forms of merrymaking, the rolling bandstand begins to move along its several mile parade route, picking up new revelers and gaining momentum as it moves to its destination, where the party continues late into the night, or into the next morning. Among our favorite parties were:
- Merrymaking at Lapa. Lapa was indeed the highlight of the first evening. Nestled under the arches of an old aqueduct, were a kilometer-long string of food and drink stands, surrounded by a square and streets full of people. Although we stayed till about midnight, the party (which was scheduled to last till 5:00 AM) was just getting started. Thousands of people, some in costumes, some in street clothes, all eating, drinking, partying and simply having a great time.
- Cinelandia Square. On our way back to the Subway, we had to stop at another of our objectives, the dance at Cinelandia Square. Although not as large as Lapa, this party filled a very large square and spilled out into all the surrounding streets. And while Lapa relied on a series of parades ending at the party (during the two hours we were there, we saw three, each coming from different directions) for music, Cinelandia had its own. A band was playing and professionals were dancing on stage, surrounded by a 1,000 adoring revelers singing, dancing, drinking and otherwise, having a grand time.
- Bando de Ipanema is one of the most popular bands to play at Carnival. The festivities begin well before the band ever appears, with thousands of people, many in imaginative costumes, whipping themselves into a party mood. The band, especially when it begins playing songs that many of the locals know, stokes the attention, and then begins to move, starting a parade that continues for hours.
- Santa Teresa block party, where the parade snakes through the hilly, often narrow streets of the picturesque neighborhood.
The mood at many is so festive, and the crowds so tightly packed, that it is hard to tell even when someone puts their hands into your pocket, such as to steal my money (of which I wisely took very little) and even David’s pocket camera (which he had neglected to backup). In both cases, it was our own fault. We had plenty of warning and had been in similar situations at other festivals, such as Mardi Gras. But such are the risks of combat partying.
Copacabana’s Continual Party
Although many locations have there parties and then shutdown for a season, or at least a day to recover, about a dozen blocks along Copacabana’s beachfront Avenida Atlantica seems to be immune to the need for rest. The block party next to our hotel, for example, went on every day, from about 12:00 noon to 10:00 PM. This, however, was only one small spur of activity that spanned about a dozen blocks of the main beach boulevard, four lanes of which (in addition to the beachfront promenade and the mall in the center of the divided highway) were blocked off from traffic and devoted to organized, local bands and dance groups looking for audiences, buskers, art shows, craft markets, food stands and dozens of open-air bands and restaurants (each of which had their own overflowing crowds). And, just off these twelve blocks, we passed three other block parties on spur streets, off Atlantica, just like ours.
One think became apparent. If you come to Rio during Carnival, you better be prepared for a full week of wall-to-wall, morning through nighttime parties. And, since you can’t avoid them, it is best to just get into the spirit and get swept along with the enthusiasm, the friendliness and the fun of the crowd.
But enough is enough. By the end of the week we had had about enough of block parties and street parades. We even began avoiding some that we happened upon.