The Sambódromo | Samba schools – the rehearsals |
Street Carnival – the blocos | Carnivals out of town
Is it because paulistanos are so driven that the rest of the country thinks we don’t know how to party? Is it because some of us suffer from a chronic grass-is-greener syndrome, and are too caught up in what the Joneses are doing that we ignore what we’ve got in our own backyard? Whatever it is, there's no point beating about the bush: São Paulo’s Carnival celebrations are far less known, hyped-up, talked about or even attended by as many people as those in other parts of the country – but it’s not for lack of effort or talent.
For over a century, São Paulo’s pre-Lenten bash has grown exponentially, mirroring the growth of the city itself. Migrants from the rest of Brazil and immigrants from abroad have done the classic Brazilian thing, adding their own flavours to the pot and to the surprisingly rich history at the heart of the city's Carnival celebrations.
There’s a varied array of roving street parties – blocos – which require minimal preparation for maximum delight. There are ostentatious costume balls, where the chic meet to outdo one another in over-the-top revelry. And we’ve built our own mammoth monument for watching the award-winning, painstakingly organised samba schools (escolas de samba) elaborate whimsically on themes of life and happiness: that’s the Sambódromo, and this year will host the official parades on 8-10 February.
Over the course of seven days, Brazil’s indefatigable hard workers let their hair down, get dolled up, and party as hard as they work – those that haven't left the city for more hyped-up Carnivals, that is. So you might not have heard much about our little annual fête, but you’re about to find out exactly how we do it.
The Sambódromo – official samba parade
At the Sambódromo Anhembi – São Paulo’s Carnival stadium – fourteen samba schools (escolas de samba) will compete in the highly anticipated Grupo Especial on 8 and 9 February, beginning at 8pm, when seven of the schools strut their stuff the first night and the remainder on the second.
Thirty thousand revellers are expected to pack into the stadium each night to watch the 25,000-odd performers present a show that has been in the works since before last year's Carnival. As the escolas perform, judges give scores in categories like song, costumes and organisation, the winners basking in nationwide fame and glory.
Read more about the Sambódromo and how to get tickets
|The samba school Vai-Vai in the Sambódromo
Samba schools – the rehearsals
It takes blood, sweat and tears – plus lots of fun, partying and high spirits – to create the amazing spectacle that is Carnival at the Sambódromo. Even better than the main event, for many, are the lively street parties that comprise the samba school rehearsals, which take place all over the city in the weeks and months leading up to Carnival.
They're a chance for the participants to learn the song (samba de enredo) for that year's parade, for the drummers to get in step, for the dancers to crank up the heat, and for the neighbourhood in general to start celebrating. Top tip: Vai-Vai, easily accessible in Bixiga, close to Avenida 9 de Julho, is an excellent choice for the undecided and curious.
Read full details of the city's 14 samba school rehearsals and how to attend
Street Carnival – the blocos
Roving bands or sound systems, followed by boisterous bunches of merrymakers in fancy dress banging drums and pots and pans are the blocos and the precursors to the giant samba schools as we know them, and continue to pull in partiers not attracted to the flash-and-glam of the escolas or the pretension of the upscale Carnival balls held at private clubs and hotels. In fact, unlike the more officially organised escolas, anyone can turn up to one of the blocos coursing throughout the city even after it’s started and add a bit of their own, personalised Carnival flair.
Read more about the blocos that roam the city during Carnival
If you want to take advantage of the extra-long weekend to get outta Dodge, but don’t want to miss out on all the Carnival fun, there are plenty of options in the nether regions and along the coast of São Paulo state: Batatais, Campinas, Santos and Ilhabela, just to name a scant few. They jam just as hard as folks in the big city.
Read more about small-town Carnival options in São Paulo state
Her name is … Rio
Yeah – we know. Carnival in São Paulo might be great (it is); but Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is it – it's the unmissable Brazilian Carnival par excellence, and ever more so, as events at the world-famous Sambódromo are augmented year on year by better and better street fun – Rio's magnificent blocos.
Hit Time Out Rio for all you need to know about Carnival in the Marvellous City
|The bloco Simpatia É Quase Amor, Rio de Janeiro