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Carnival in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Salvador or Recife?

Carnival is usually associated with Rio de Janeiro, but in reality, Carnaval is celebrated throughout Brazil. Salvador (Bahia), Rio, or Recife. Which one is for you?

Traveling in Brazil during carnival time (February/March) is certainly an experience. Carnaval in Brazil is the biggest one in the world. I’ve been to Brazil many times and got to experience 3 different carnival celebrations: In Salvador, Rio and Recife.

Each of these places is completely different and I would say it’s worth experiencing all three but that’s a bit difficult so, for now, I will let you with this review so you can choose which carnival is best for you.

The time of carnival celebrations is different. the origin from Christianity and carnival comes before the lent period before Pascua.

Carnival 2020 Dates:

21/2/2019- 26/2/2020

In reality, Carnaval is in the air a couple of months before. For me, it almost felt like after New Years everything was about the carnival. Some people would say the weeks before carnival is better than the actual carnival time.

Related vocabulary:

Desfile– parade

Bloco– the group playing in the parade

Camarote– the party group within the bigger carnival. You can buy a shirt (abadá) of your bloco and be part of their camarote.

Carnival in Salvador: the craziest

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My first carnival was in Salvador, and boy that was a way to start. I will say it here. In my mind, that’s the best carnival but it’s not for everyone. Not even for me at my current age (29)

Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia. Bahia was a main port in the slave rout and now has a majority of Afro-Brazilian. more Salvador.

Carnival in Salvador is a crazy party that includes a huge Desfile (line of trucks) that starts at the afternoon till 6am the day after. The parade starts at the Farol- the lighthouse. You would want to stay in the area so wouldn’t have to walk a lot (not recommended for security reasons).

The “Desfile” includes a line of huge tracks on top of which there will be famous singers performing all night. They’ll have great Brazilian stars like Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo but also David Guetta and other international artists.

The tracks are surrounded by ropes that are held by young workers. Inside the ropes are only people that pay to be part of this bloco= group. they have their own shirts (Camarote) that cost anywhere from 100R$-400R$.

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But what’s special about this carnival is that it’s actually free, it’s for the people. Everybody can celebrate and dance in the street and enjoy the performances. This is an amazing experience but not for the faint of heart. it super crowded and you can get grabbed by people that pass by so you have to be extra careful.

The only time there is some space is when the police pass through in an organized line of 6 people. Even if they come from the back you all of a sudden start filling the gap created to allow them to pass.

So while this is the best time to visit Salvador it’s also the most dangerous one. people are drinking at all hours of the day, the city is filled with tourists, the ideal time for pickpocketers or robbers.

Carnival in Salvador is probably the most dangerous out of the three cities and you might see some fights and drunk people getting arrested. The police have zero tolerance during this time.

for this reason, we rarely left with our phones (even during the day) and always carried 20R$ to give in case we got assaulted. even coming back from the carnival at 5 am was dangerous especially since I traveled with a beautiful Swedish girl that smiled to every person in the street including homeless people or suspicious characters.

Guys shouldn’t walk alone as well. We were normally in groups of 4 and didn’t go far- from our house to the beach or the carnival.

Bottom line: Salvador is definitely for those who love to party till sunrise, want to experience the carnival with the locals and are not scared areas considered a bit dangerous. 

Rio- traditional or street?

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Celebrating carnival is Railways always my dream. Since the moment I knew such a thing existed I wanted to go there.

In Rio, there are actual 2 carnivals: the one taking place in the streets and the one in the Sambadrome.

The traditional Desfile takes place in Sambadrome- the samba stadium, where you will see all the great samba schools that have prepared their spectacle for the entire year. But let’s be honest you will need a vernacular to see them. Tickets are extremely expensive so they might sit very far. Still, the ambiance is incredible.

The carnival in Rio is shorter in the sense that you have about 4 days of the competition of the samba schools and then a few days after there the captions’ show.

As I said before and many of my friends agree, the best time to experience carnival is actually in the days before. As you can imagine the samba schools rehearse quite a lot for the main event. And that’s the loophole!

You can actually go to their rehearsals and pay about 30R to see them rehearse in their neighborhoods. These events are mainly a big party in which the people from the neighborhood and others can watch their school since they won’t be attending Sambadrome.

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But what if you want to see the samba schools without paying so much for a ticket?

As you can imagine, the different samba schools practice a lot before the carnival and a during the month before carnival you can actually go to the different neighborhoods of the samba schools and be present in the party in which they rehearse. a ticket costs about 30 R$.

Wait! here’s another tip- if you got to Rio a few days before carnival has started you can actually go to the Sambadrome itself and watch the most famous smba schools rehearse!! yes, without paying the expensive price ticket that the rest of the tourists will pay a few days later on. Of course, it won’t be the same but I think it’s even better. You get to see them up close.

Another way to the experience carnival is what I did, in the streets of Rio.

As you can imagine since the prices are hight, the Brazilian people celebrate in the streets! There are different “blocks” with famous singers all over. The LGBTQ bloco is probably the biggest desfile in the streets and it passes along the Copacabana beach. I would highly recommend you attend this one.

But everywhere you will go there will be parties. just remember- Carnival takes place during the day but we also went out at night. Here’s everything you need to know about Rio’s nightlife.

The same warnings I had about Salvador are relevant here. I had a cheap phone (robbers phone in Portuguese) that I took with me when I left the house mainly in case I needed an uber. We had no bags on us but money in our bras or money belts. I know you want to document memories but you will have to do it with a phone you don’t mind losing.

Don’t put anything in your pockets, trust me no matter how safe you think your belongings are, they will get them. I can’t stress this enough- be aware of your surroundings… at least try because you will be drinking all day.

Another side effect of the carnival- Arrastão- this basically describes an assault by young kids and teens that run towards a crowd and just starts robbing everyone. There is a lot of confusion and fear and panic and you’re just forced to give everything you have.

Bottom line- putting this aside, Rio’s carnival is definitely more adequate for those who want to see the fancy carnival in Sambadrome or those who still want to party at the street without having to dance along the crowded trucks like in Salvador. 

For more information go to

Recife- free and local

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Recife is considered by some as the best city to experience carnival since it’s completely free and therefore considered to be the carnival of the people. Another reason is the special musical style and dance common in Recife.

Recife is found in the northeast of Brazil and you would probably visit there only if you go to carnaval.

The week before carnival there are great parties in Olinda, Recife’s neighbor.

During Carnival in the center of Recife, there will be huge stages with performances of Brazilian artist. So it’s most likely you won’t know them. There are a lot of families there but don’t let it confuse you. Recife is as dangerous as Rio or Salvador in terms of pickpocketing so be careful!.

Bottom line- Recife festival is more for Brazilians. Yes, of course, if you’re familiar with the culture you can enjoy it as well. If you decide to go there make sure to get there a few days before so you can enjoy the festivities in Olinda.

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