OK, so it ain’t Rio. Everybody knows Carnival celebrations in the Marvellous City reach improbable heights of excess, and that wilder street parties can be found in the North East. But São Paulo isn’t fooling around either: those who opt for the visual extravaganza at the Sambódromo can expect the 14 escolas (samba schools) to be at the top of their game, each with a new theme, driving samba de enredo (themed sambas written by each school), and costumes glitzy enough to burn holes in your retinas.
Yet, in spite of the city’s mega-budget and year-long preparations, ask paulistanos about their Carnival plans and many won’t even consider staying to celebrate in their hometown. It’s their loss.
The main competition will be the highly anticipated 'Grupo Especial' – the top fourteen samba schools – beginning at 10pm on both 28 February and 1 March, with seven of the top schools parading on the first night and the remaining seven on the second, all competing for glory and a hefty cash prize.
Thirty thousand revellers are expected to pack into the stadium each night to watch the schools perform a programme that has been in the works since even before the echoes of last year’s sambas de enredo had faded from the Sambódromo. The number of dancers who will be spin-sprinting and singing each night is nearly as great: about 25,000 in the combined 14 'Grupo Especial' schools.
As the escolas perform, judges give scores in categories like song, costumes and organisation (just getting everyone paraded through the stadium in a timely, orderly fashion is in itself quite a feat). The winning school and top runners-up will be invited back to the Sambódromo for a victory lap on 7 March, though by then, everyone will already be dreaming of 2015.
Tickets in the stands for the 'Grupo Especial' run from R$90-$550. More expensive options are available, including private booths for up to 25 people that go for as much as R$65,000. If you have Brazilian ID numbers, or can snag a friend’s, the easiest way to order is online or by phone (3981 5188, ingressosligasp.com.br). Tickets can also be purchased in person at Anhembi Parque.
Note that it's forbidden to take umbrellas, bottles and cans into the sambadrome – be prepared, since it might well rain, and take a plastic poncho along or remember to buy one outside the Sambódromo.