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The Ultimate Local's Guide to Rio Carnival

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 12 June 2017
The official Rio de Janeiro carnival goes from February 25 – March 1, 2017. During this festive week, the city will pulse with hundreds of street parties as the carnival spirit happily takes over. We round up our favourite best places to go in the city during Rio’s carnival.


The Sambódromo is the most important venue of carnival as it plays host to the famous carnival parades. On February 26 and 27, 12 of Rio’s best samba schools will band together with a year’s worth of preparation in an outrageous performance of extravagant costumes, jaw-dropping floats and spellbinding dancing. Each school strives to give their greatest performance in order to be crowned winner of Rio Carnival 2017. Considered the authentic carnival experience, the Sambódromo tends to be more popular with tourists than the locals who prefer to go to the blocos (street parties), yet it is one of the best spots to embrace the louder-than-life atmosphere and see what carnival is truly all about.

The Sambodromo |© Marco Antonio Cavalcanti|Riotur/Flickr

The Sambodromo |© Marco Antonio Cavalcanti – Riotur/Flickr


Rio’s city center (centro) is home to some of the biggest, oldest and most popular blocos in town. Head downtown to enjoy blocos such as Cordão do Boitatá that attracts families as well as party-goers and where costumes are highly encouraged. Pack your stamina and brace yourself for Cordão do Bola Preta, the official first bloco of carnival. It is undoubtedly the largest bloco with one million people expected to attend this year, yet that doesn’t even come close to the size of the crowd in 2011 which attracted a massive 2.3 million people. Be sure to dress up in black and white polka dots for this bloco; it’s the party’s trademark colour combo.

Santa Teresa

The bohemian vibe and artistic flair of Santa Teresa are its key appeals which are reflected in the blocos that slowly weave through the winding streets of this captivating neighbourhood. The blocos there hold a special place in many Cariocas‘ (residents of Rio) hearts and it attracts a fun-loving, friendly crowd. Check out the bloco Carmelitas which is based on the story of a nun that jumped over the convent’s walls to join in with the carnival mayhem, and has led to people using coloured veils during the party in honour of the escapee nun. One of the most popular is Ceu na Terra which uses brightly coloured costumes and large puppets to tell the bloco’s story.

Ceu na Terra, Santa Teresa |© Raphael Dias/Riotur/Flickr

Ceu na Terra, Santa Teresa |© Raphael Dias – Riotur/Flickr

Ipanema and Leblon

While these are two distinct neighbourhoods, during carnival the two often blend into one as blocos spill over from one area into the next. Banda de Ipanema stays within Ipanema, trailing the streets near the beach. It is one of the most liberal and open-minded blocos with a wide-ranging mix of party-goers from families to elaborately dressed drag queens. There are dozens of other blocos in these two neighbourhoods that will take place every single day. Two of the other biggest and most popular are Que Merda é Essa?! and Simpatia é Quase Amor but even the small, spontaneous blocos in Ipanema and Leblon are worth attending for their fun spirit and friendly crowd.

Jardim Botânico

For quieter blocos that still pack in a lively atmosphere but without the large crowds, head to the Jardim Botânico neighbourhood. The blocos course through the leafy streets of the area and tend to attract a younger, much smaller crowd that offers a welcome break from the boisterous and heaving crowds in other regions of the city. There are small ones that pop up every day and are easy to find; just listen out for the music or groups of people in fancy dress. One of the most popular in this neighbourhood is Suvaco do Cristo, a low-key street party that draws in a bohemian crowd.

Suvaco do Cristo |© Raphael Dias | Riotur/Flickr

Suvaco do Cristo |© Raphael Dias – Riotur/Flickr