As the third biggest carnival in Brazil, some two million people each year spill out onto the streets of Recife and Olinda to celebrate South America’s most wild event in exuberant style. And while other celebrations may indeed be more renowned, the street parties of these neighboring cities provide a unique slice of Brazilian carnival life away from the tourist crowds. Here’s what to see and do during the big event.
Check out a pre-party
Known locally as prévias, the people of Recife and Olinda begin carnival several months early with a series of boisterous street parades. Some even start the action as soon as Christmas!
Join a bloco
Essentially a small street parade, blocos are ubiquitous and the best way to get in on the action. Locals and tourists alike are invited to join in and dance the night away to the infectious beat.
Especially the Galo da Madrugada
Saturday is the best day to visit, mostly due to a crazy bloco called the Galo da Madrugada which features a giant rooster cockily strutting its stuff over the city’s main bridge. Some two million people attend the event which led to it being declared the biggest street party in the world by the Guinness Book of Records.
Dress to impress
Although the most outlandish costumes will have been reserved months in advance, there are usually still a few funky outfits up for grabs come show time. Ask locally where to hire some threads for a real carnival experience.
Watch from afar
Not that keen on dancing? No problem, because there are plenty of grandstands and balconies scattered around from where onlookers can enjoy the show from a safe distance.
Marvel at the multitude of cultures
Considered the most multicultural carnival in Brazil, Recife and Olinda’s affair sees dancers and musical genres from a staggering array of different indigenous ethnic groups.
Get familiar with frevo and maracatu
Forget about the samba beats of Rio’s carnival, because the ecstatic tunes of frevo and maracatu are where the real party is at. Coming from the Portuguese word “to boil,” frevo sends fans into a frenzy while the African inspired maracatu is equally as intense.
Photograph some giant floats
One of the highlights of the Recife/Olinda carnival is the magnitude of ginormous puppets plying their way through the streets. Midnight Man is the most photogenic of the lot, a local icon who dates back to 1932.
Cool off at the beach
The best way to wash away those hangover blues is with a quick dip in the ocean, so pay a trip to Boa Viagem in Recife to freshen up for the night ahead.
Save some serious cash
The Recife and Olinda carnival is known as being among the most democratic in the country, meaning virtually all floats, parades, and concerts are free to the public. Combined with cheaper hotel and travel costs, you’ll spend a pittance compared to celebrations of Rio.