Overview of Olinda’s Carnival
Unlike Salvador, Carnival in Olinda is mostly free (unless you pay to go to the private parties) and is made up of open-air parties that play frevo, a typical genre from Brazil’s northeast that is fast-paced and animated. Olinda’s Carnival is centered on folk traditions so, rather than the large samba parades, huge figurines are paraded throughout the town representing saints and spirits, known as mamulengos. One of the most famous of these huge dolls is the 10-foot tall Homem da Meia Noite (Midnight Man) who is carried through the streets at midnight to symbolize the beginning of Carnival.
Although Carnival starts the Friday before Ash Wednesday (usually in February), the Carnival spirit is too tempting to resist which is why there are several previas throughout the city – smaller, warm-up Carnival parties that are just as much fun as the real deal. It is also the time to start finding a costume and many market stalls will start stocking up on fancy dress pieces from pirate hats and cat’s ears to police officer outfits and Snow White dresses.
What goes on during Olinda’s Carnival?
Olinda is all about the street parties which take place across the city. The street parties (known as blocos) are large crowds of people that follow a slow-moving truck that meanders through the streets blasting out music. The first official Carnival street party is Sábado de Zé Pereira which starts on Saturday and begins with a huge parade of street puppets and live music, and is represented by a large rooster figurine on the city’s bridge. It attracts a crowd of about two million people so it can get packed but don’t worry if large crowds aren’t your thing – there are plenty of smaller parties constantly going on throughout the next few days that are less intense, in terms of crowd numbers.
The most beloved and popular parties in Olinda are the street parties which are free, friendly, and full of people drinking, singing and mingling. There are also private parties known as camarotes which often have an open-bar and food, but tickets need to be bought in advance and they can be quite expensive. Most of Olinda’s parties take place during the day so if you are looking for night-time entertainment, then take a bus to Recife and enjoy the all-night live concerts held throughout the city.
Tips for Carnival in Olinda
Pace yourself – most people spend all days at the blocos drinking so try to space your drinks throughout the day. Also, Carnival takes place in the middle of Brazil’s summer so the days are hot and the sun is fierce; make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. There are some traditional drinks sold at the parties, such as Axe de fala, Pau do Indio, and jurubebe, which are a mix of cachaça – Brazil’s national spirit – and various herbs. It’s worth trying – after all, it’s all part of the Carnival spirit – but be warned that these are highly potent drinks!
Wear costumes if you like – typical costumes include police, Wonder Woman, pirate, and Indians to name a few – but remember the days are hot so make sure your clothes are made from a light, comfortable material. It’s best to avoid using flip-flops as the floor sometimes has broken glass and the crowds mean exposed toes are likely to get trodden on. Instead, use comfortable, flat shoes with a closed-toe, like trainers.
Look after your money by leaving it in a bum-bag and tuck it into your shorts or skirt. There are market stalls in Olinda that sell bum bags in an ultra-thin material so it’s easy to keep tucked away. Also, take an old phone with you as pick-pocketing can happen. And take some tissue with you as the toilets on the side of the street are pretty horrendous after a day of partying!
Meeting friends in the street parties is not always easy, so it’s best to have a designated meeting point where you all meet before. Also, make sure you eat well before you go out – you will need that energy for following the street parties.