With the Sambódromo opening for official rehearsals from the start of December, Carnival preparations are officially in full swing. The twelve samba schools that make up the Grupo Especial - Carnival's Premier League - range from the brave newcomers (Inocentes de Belford Roxo) to the title-defending old-timers (Unidos da Tijuca), but all take their hour in the samba spotlight as seriously as life itself.
To that end, the practice sessions, be they weekly at the samba school headquarters (gremio) or, as the main event draws closer, at the sambódromo itself (also known as Sapucaí or Avenida Marques de Sapucaí) are a serious affair. 'Serious' in Carnival speak, of course, means booming drums, lots of beer, and dancing until dawn, with everybody prepared to make the (sometimes lengthy) trek to the gremio more than welcome to join the throng, so we run down some of the best options to get in the Carnival spirit.
Unidos da Tijuca
The only samba school to openly appeal to the GLS crowd, Tijuca were champions last year with a homage to Luiz Gonzaga, and this year look to defend the title in their usual, unique style. The samba switches pace with the introduction of a DJ after 1am, and switches tone with regular performances from the show-stopping Suzy Brasil.
Clube dos Portuários, Avenida Francisco Bicalho 47, São Cristóvão. R$10 men, women free before midnight.
Wednesdays 8pm, Fridays 10pm
Things get jumping twice a week at the Portela HQ in Madureira in the heart of the Baixada Fluminense, school of choice in the past for a varied selection of famous names from Ronaldinho to Mayor Eduardo Paes. The famous blue and white colours and eagle mascot have been around since the '20s, making it one of the longest-running in Carnival history, so they know a thing or two about throwing a party, even if glory has evaded them since the '80s.
Rua Clara Nunes 81, Madureira.
One of the most popular among (and welcoming to) foreigners, Salgueiro's proximity to Zona Sul has always been a major draw for the inquisitive Carnival lover, a fact reflected in the high entry prices. The huge hall with its red and white ceiling and elevated drumming troupe is an impressive sight, and things get packed and sweaty from early on, so arrive early, grab a beer and snack on the street outside and beat the rush to the floor.
Rua Silva Teles 104, Tijuca. R$30.