Brazil: Countdown to Carnival

There is a popular belief that in Brazil the year only starts after Carnival. Be this an exaggeration or not, there is not much else being talked about on the country's blogosphere: everyone is dusting off their costumes, getting into the mood and counting down the days for the biggest street party on Earth. If you don't believe this, just check the Technorati's stats for the Portuguese word carnaval.

The good news is that carnival starts earlier than usual this year, going on (officially) from 2 through 5 February. In other words everyone must be ready to party next weekend. Not that it makes any difference: in many places there have already been lots of pre-carnival events, warm up parties and rehearsals, while the year doesn't start properly until the close of carnival. Being such a huge and multicultural country, every state in Brazil has its own type of celebrations. Here's a round up of bloggers expectations in Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco, and the lesser known carnival in Minas Gerais.

Rio de Janeiro

Starting with the most famous worldwide, Rio de Janeiro Carnival, with its semi-naked bouncing girls and its colourful Samba Schools parades, is part of the popular imagination of Brazil. It is considered the largest open air spectacle on Earth, entertaining 65,000 people per night. Watch a video here. However, inflated prices to watch the sumptuous parades mean that it can mostly only be enjoyed by tourists, while the majority of the population is resigned to watching it on TV. What's worth knowing is, the best parties happen outside the Sambodrome, where blocos and street carnival are cheaper and fun.

Putsgrilo [pt], who has a collection of videos from this year's samba schools’ themes, explains what Carnival is like in the marvelous city:

No Rio de Janeiro é assim. O Carnaval começa antes, ainda em janeiro, e vai aquecendo, criando clima até o ápice da festa e da alegria na sapucaí. O Brasil inteiro entra em festa para comemorar esse que é o período mais animado do ano, o maior feriado, o carnaval. Quem pode, vai à sapucaí. Quem não pode, se sacode por aí. Para já ir entrando no clima, veja os sambas de enredo das escolas de samba do Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio de Janeiro it is like this. Carnival starts earlier, even in January, and warms up, creating an atmosphere until the apex of the celebration and joy in Sapucaí. The whole of Brazil parties hard to celebrate this time, which is the most lively period of the year, the biggest holiday, the carnival. The ones who can [afford to] go to Sapucaí. Those who can't enjoy it elsewhere. To get into the right frame of mind, check out the samba schools’ plots and songs in Rio de Janeiro.


Rio de Janeiro's Carnival by Video Vik and used under a Creative Commons License. See more in his South America Travel Gallery.


Differently from the spectator-oriented Carnival in Rio, in Salvador, capital of Bahia, the revelers are right in the thick of action, dancing day and night to the rhythms of energetic bands with a rich African influence – think of Olodum and Timbalada on a larger scale. It was in Salvador that the trio elétrico – a big float loaded with giant speakers – was invented. There are more than 2 million people spread along a 25 km circuit, watch a video. The Guinness Book of Records recognizes it as the biggest street party on the planet, but some also swear it is the wildest one on Earth. It too can be very expensive for those who want to be part of blocos and get very close to the best musicians’ trios, but people can still enjoy it from far and there are free trios and events to make up for it.

From Rome, Bahian journalist Carrozzo [pt], who will not be in Salvador for the first time in 11 years, publishes some pictures and laments on missing it this time:

Falem o que quiserem, mas nao tem jeito: carnaval eh foda. Vai chegando perto, Salvador vai ficando mais iluminada, os turistas chegam e dao novo ar à cidade. Eh uma festa injusta? Sim. Mas na semana de carnaval deixo de lado todo o discurso sociologico e me junto aos milhoes de baianos e turistas insandecidos. Quer dizer, deixava…

Say whatever you want, but it's got to be like this: carnival is fucking good. As it draws close, Salvador becomes more lively, tourists arrive and give a new air to the city. Is it an unfair party? Indeed, but in the week of carnival I leave the entire sociological discourse aside and get together with millions of maddened Bahians and tourists. I mean, I used to…

Carnival in Salvador

Timbalada parade at Salvador's Carnival by SteveMcN and used under a Creative Commons License. See more in his Carnival Gallery.


If Salvador has the largest street party, Pernambuco has, also according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest carnival parade in the world. Galo da Madrugada brings together around 1,500,000 costumed people on Saturday morning, to usher in the festivities in Recife. Watch a video here. In the nearby city of Olinda the party has a very similar flavour to traditional Portuguese carnivals, but with the addition of African influenced rhythms such as maracatu and frevo. It is definitely the funniest (think of humorous masquerades, giant puppets and brass bands up and down the hilly streets) and the most democratic carnival in Brazil – unlike Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, all events are free for all.

Daniel Nunes makes some CDs available for download and explains [pt] why Carnival in Pernambuco is labeled the most multicultural:

Pois bem, o Rio de janeiro pode ter suas glamurosas Escolas de Samba, Salvador pode ter os melhores blocos com trios elétricos do mundo, mas carnaval mesmo é aqui. Se você quer encontrar Escolas de Samba ou deseja sambar apenas, você encontra em Pernambuco. Se você quer correr atrás de um trio elétrico, aqui tem. O que você desejar curtir no carnaval, Pernambuco tem. Não recordo de estado nenhum do Brasil onde você dança frevo, se cansou? tem maracatu. Se cansou? tem caboclinho. Se cansou? tem coco, ciranda, cavalo marinho, afoxé e por ai vai. Não gosta de coisas tão cultural assim? tem rock, pop, instrumental, é só procurar que vai encontrar fácil. Gosta mesmo é de uma “fuzaka”? tem samba, pagode e axé, é só querer, Pernambuco é o lugar que você curti tudo de tudo.

Well, Rio de Janeiro may have its glamorous samba schools, Salvador may have the best trio elétrico blocos in the world, but real carnival is here. If you want to find samba schools, or just want to dance to samba, you'll find it in Pernambuco. If you want to go after trios elétricos, we have them here. Name what you want to enjoy, Pernambuco is the place. I don't recall any other Brazilian state where you can dance to frevo. Got tired? There is maracatu. Tired? Go for caboclinho. Tired? There are coco, ciranda, cavalo marinho, and there is afoxé. Don't you like such cultural things? There is rock, pop, instrumental, whatever you look for you find it easily. Do you really like “fuzaka“? There is samba, pagode and axé, you just need to wish, Pernambuco is the place for you to enjoy it all.”

Carnival in Olinda

Revelers in Alto da Sé, Olinda's Carnival by Luiza Leite and used under a Creative Commons License. See more in her 2007 Carnival set.

Minas Gerais

Lesser known than the above, the best carnival in Minas Gerais is in Ouro Preto, a baroque city which used to be very rich due to its gold mines. This is the place for those who want to have fun but are not prepared to face millions of other revelers. In a way, this is where carnival still belongs to the ordinary Brazilians, mostly students who hire out their student halls and promote free beer parties (and barbecues). Watch a video here. Besides carnival, the town, which was the first Brazilian city to be awarded Unesco's Cultural Heritage of Humanity title, is truly a beautiful gem.

Geraldo Félix [pt], who says that those who don't like carnival have ‘feet disease’, explains how it all started:

Já em Minas Gerais teve origem em Ouro Preto, quando os lacaios do Palácio dos Governadores da Província criaram o famoso “Zé Pereira” em 1867 (grupos de foliões de rua munidos de tambores e bumbos). Há também, os blocos caricatos. Com destaque para a “Banda Mole” em Belo Horizonte. O interior mineiro tem uma característica bem diferente, por ser uma manifestação do povo nas ruas.

In Minas Gerais [the carnival] started in Ouro Preto, when the lackeys from the province's Palace of the Governor created the famous “Zé Pereira” in 1867 (these are street groups of revelers fitted out with different types of drums). There are also the caricatured blocos, most noteworthy is “Banda Mole” in Belo Horizonte. In the provinces of Minas there is a very different characteristic to carnival, because here it is a manifestation of the people on the streets.

Carnival in Ouro Preto

Along Ouro Preto's streets by Andrea Fregnani and used under a Creative Commons License. See more in her Carnival tags.

Every good thing in life always comes to an end, and Ash Wednesday, aka ungrateful Wednesday, always comes too soon (at least that is the unanimous opinion of Brazilians), and after the hangover the year in Brazil slowly, finally starts – as does the countdown to next year's carnival.


  • […] few days before the official Carnival kicks off, Unidos do Viradouro samba school has had float banned from the parade, after Jewish groups took a […]

  • barbara

    oii…….gente….queria saber se alguem sabe como vai ser o carnaval em minas na cidades…

    delfim moreira e itajuba


    ate outro dia

    Translation by GVO

    Hello… folks… does anybody know what carnival is going to be like in
    delfim moreira and itajuba cities of Minas?
    See you later

  • Moro em uma cidade (Olinda) onde durante 4 dias (teoricamente) carrregamos energia para viver o resto do ano inteiro. Carnaval é alegria, é contágio, é explosão de emoções. Quem não gosta de Carnaval não ama Recife, Olinda ou qualquer outra cidade de Pernambuco.

  • O frevo, principal representante de Pernambuco, faz cem e um anos e é tombado [classificado como Património] pelo Iphan (Instituto do Património Histórico e Artístico Nacional) como património imaterial da cultura brasileira.
    O Frevo é uma combinação vibrante de canto, toque e dança, o frevo ganhou no último dia 09 de fevereiro em Recife (PE) uma reverência que reconhece seu valor musical para além do carnaval que lhe deu origem. Já se fazia frevo em Recife, mas a palavra só apareceu como caracterização do ritmo no dia 9 de Fevereiro de 1907 nas páginas do Jornal Pequeno do Recife. Para descrever a animação do povo nas ruas e clubes sob o som da marchinha acelerada, o jornalista Osvald de Almeida, que não queria se identificar e escrevia sob o pseudónimo de Paula Judeu, cravou o termo, que já andava na boca do povo.

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