Preparing for the Rio Carnival

The Rio Carnival is truly amazing! It’s worth every expensive Real and is an experience of a lifetime. The Carnival takes place over a period of a week, with street parades and a grand performance at the Sambadrome (like the Tafewa Balewa Square in Lagos). When I visited, twelve groups (called schools, but not academic in nature), competed over two days (six schools each on Saturday and Sunday). Then, the successful candidates from each day did a Champions Parade the weekend after. So, the best time to go to the Sambadrome is the Champions Parade.

You can buy tickets online, through your hotel or a licensed tour company. There are numbered seats or you can opt for cheaper seating in defined sectors. My hosts chose Sector 5 with a good view.

There were corporate box seats (with accompanying bars) for sponsors and their guests. As you can imagine, they were in prime position where you could see and be seen.

Getting in

The show began at 8.30pm. I arrived about 7pm, got a good seat and settled in. The entrance was quite organized and the officials were efficient. There was little rush. You simply looked for your sector entrance and handed over your ticket to be swiped. 

The performances

Schools had 80 minutes to perform, and performances included live music, grand costumed parades, drummers and very ELABORATE floats. One thing I noted, was that perhaps instead of singing one song from the beginning of each performance to the end, the schools could have varied things a bit. But I guess they rehearse and time their performance with such exactitude, that it helps to use a single tune.

Each school had about 8 groups in its routine and sometimes could have as many as 6,000 participants! They try to tell stories, so the performances are a blend of march past, dance and dance drama. Different cultures are expressed. I could readily identify African, Amazonian, Asian, Spanish, Japanese, Indian, Dutch, German, Islamic, Jewish and Oriental cultures.


The story about topless women at the Carnival is overrated. I did spy a boob or two but they were largely costumed and were in no way sensual or garish. They were more cultural and part of the overall themes being portrayed. Brazil is not a very sexual culture per se.

From what I saw, the daily skimpy dressing is because of the heat and the beach. Bum shorts and tank tops aren’t immodest, they’re essential, if you don’t want to die of heat stroke. It’s amazing that Brazilians walk their dogs (mostly cute little things) in the heat of the late morning or early afternoon.


After the Rio Carnival, I visited two beaches – Copacabana and Ipanema. Ipanema is smaller, more popular and hence crowded. I preferred Copacobana. You can get to either beach by tube or bus. If you can, avoid the tube. It’s filled with half naked bodies pressed together in a not-so-nice way. And anyway on the bus, you can take in the sights along the way. You can rent a folding chair and umbrella at the beach. But, on a hot day with many tourists, they are scarce.

Avoid carrying a camera or bag unless you’re in a group and someone will be watching your stuff at all times. All you really need is a bit of money stuck in a waterproof arm band/wallet. Everyone wears a bikini; you’ll rarely see a one-piece. No one goes topless – that’s for the French.

Rio is a ladies’ market. The men are gorgeous. You’ll see many ebony skinned brothers with incredible tattoos and dyed hair. Apparently, if you wish to see Giselle-type women, you have to go to another city in Brazil entirely. The sand at the beach is scorching hot! I couldn’t walk on it barefoot. But, the water was quite cold, almost freezing, in contrast to the sand.

The bus stop & metro are a block away from the beach. Simply follow the crowd till you see the water. If you choose a hotel by the beach, ask for a room on the upper floors facing the beach. The views are incredible. That’s one thing about Rio – the spectacular views. You can see The Christ statue or Sugarloaf Mountain from just about anywhere. Just look up.

When I got to the beach, I was struck by the wonder of being a black Nigerian executive, standing on a crowded beach in a foreign land. I was grateful for the privilege.


The RioSul is good for shopping, or try the Praie De Botafogo. Both have cinemas and there’s an additional cinema just down the road from the Praie De Botafogo, called the Arteplex. At the Arteplex, you’re guaranteed to find movies in English. Don’t forget the native language in Brazil is Portuguese.

Brazilian food is quite aromatic. I didn’t try many dishes because I couldn’t understand what was written in Portuguese. But, just like Nigerian food has a distinctive smell of Maggi, and Indian food, curry, Brazilian food has its own distinctive smell. Unfortunately I didn’t ask what the primary spice was.


Rio is set to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. I imagine that they will need an English language intervention, much like China required one just before the Beijing Olympics. The language barrier is really significant, unless you speak Portuguese or Spanish. This was confusing to me, as you cannot be a truly world class tourist location without making an accommodation for English speaking tourists. Malaysia and the UAE (Dubai) understand this. In Malaysia for instance, the street signs are in 3 languages: Malay, Hindi and ENGLISH. In Brazil, I couldn’t eat in some street-side cafes, because I couldn’t decipher the menus. In more upscale cafes or restaurants, you can ask for an English menu. Many of them have one.

If you happen to make friends with those for whom English is not a first language, remember to speak proper textbook English. Idiomatic expressions and slang go over their heads. Tourism is a significant business and there is money to be made in providing advice to non-native language tourists, who wish to travel to exotic locales. 

Making the most of your visit

If you’re visiting a country for the first time and you can afford to spend a while, visit two or more cities, to get a fuller sense of what the place has to offer. For example, were a tourist to visit Nigeria, I would advise that they visit during a major festival, say the Osun-Oshogbo Festival or the Kano Durbar. Their itinerary could begin in Lagos, where they can take in both the Mainland & Island. Then Osun for the festival if it’s the right season. If not, on to Abuja before proceeding to Kano for the Durbar. To experience the culture and joy of a city, a festival is a great (though expensive) time to visit.

All you really need to turn a city into a tourist destination is a very distinctive event that takes place at a definite time every year. But, the city must have four structures: security, an excellent tourist agency, good transportation and good hotels.

PS: You should read about the first part of my Brazil trip here.

The Rio Carnival is truly amazing! It’s worth every expensive penny and is an experience of a lifetime. Click To Tweet

3 Thoughts to “Rio Carnival – Brazil Trip Part 2”

  1. Great post! I took mental notes for whenever I do visit Brazil. I also liked your suggestions for a Nigeria visit, I’ve always wondered where else apart from Lagos, Takwa Bay, and Olumo Rock/Ikogosi water falls I could take my friends if they ever made it back home with me to visit.

    You’re brave to go on vacation to another country, all by yourself. Not to mention the language difference.

    Looking forward to post 3 🙂

  2. WOW!!!! This is so unfair, why come you go to the coolest places.Anyway thanks for the vivid graphic descriptions. I felt like i was at those places too. Thinking (and planning) to go for the World Cup. 🙂

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