What to Know About Carnival in Ouro Preto, Brazil

Costumes are a big part of Brazil's Carnival
Costumes are a big part of Brazil's Carnival | © Marcello Nicolato / Flickr
Rio de Janeiro and Salvador may be the two most famous Carnival cities in Brazil, yet there are other places in the country that are well-worth checking out. Take Ouro Preto, for example. The small colonial city comes to life during Carnival with an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere. Here’s everything you need to know about Carnival in Ouro Preto, Brazil.

Getting to Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto lies about 100 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, Mina Gerais’ capital city. To get there from Belo Horizonte, you can take a bus or drive, which will take about one and a half hours. We think it’s better to take a bus as finding a place to leave your car in Ouro Preto can be difficult. Flights are available daily from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte – Ouro Preto doesn’t have an airport – so you can fly from all major cities and then take the bus. Taking a bus from the major cities is possible too; from Rio de Janeiro it will take about six hours and from Sao Paulo, it takes about nine hours.

The cobbled streets of the historical town, Ouro Preto in Brazil © Aires Almeida / Flickr

How Carnival works in Ouro Preto

You can stay in hotels in Ouro Preto and, like all of the big cities in Brazil during Carnival, you will need to book in advance before everything is sold out. Booking in advance doesn’t make much difference with the price – expect to pay anything between double to quadruple the regular rates – as the Carnival period is considered peak season in Brazil. If you stay in a hotel, you can get all your drinks, food, and ice from the local supermarkets during the Carnival and take drinks with you to the street parties (known as ‘blocos‘) in cool boxes. The free street parties tend to be quite family-friendly and are different to the paid street parties.

The street parties - known as 'blocos' - take place all throughout the city © Marcello Nicolato / Flickr

The paid street parties have to be booked in advance, so select the ones you want to go to and pay for them before you head to Ouro Preto. The most common way is to buy a package that includes accommodation at student halls (known as a ‘Republica‘) which are rented out especially for Carnival, all your drinks including alcohol and soft drinks, and all your food. This also includes the street parties, which are just for paying attendees and include free drinks and a live show. Thousands of people gather from all the different Republicas and this is one of the best parts of the Ouro Preto Carnival.

The street parties in Ouro Preto include live shows © Marcello Nicolato / Flickr

The Republicas also have their own parties at the student halls, which again, include all the drinks and also have typical Brazilian music from samba to pop. The parties at the Republicas are held every day and each has a theme such a foam party or ‘superheroes’ – everyone gets dressed up in the appropriate fancy dress. Whereas the paid street parties finish early in the evening, the parties at the Republicas can last until sunrise.

If you pay for a package at a Republica, you’ll receive a t-shirt and bracelet specific to that venue enabling you to come and go as you please. Be careful with the bracelet and t-shirt as these act as your entrance ticket – if you lose them, you will have great difficulties getting back in.

Costumes are a big part of Brazil's Carnival © Marcello Nicolato / Flickr

What are the Republicas like?

There are several rooms that can hold large groups of people. Few Republicas have proper beds and usually leave air mattresses on the floor, so you’ll need to bring your own bed sheets and pillows. The rooms can be rented as a whole so just you and your friends stay there, or you can rent a space in a room with other people you don’t know, rather like a dorm at a hostel. The bathrooms are shared but divided between female and male. If you’re looking for comfort and a good night’s sleep, you won’t find it at a Republica! However, if you just want a place to catch a few hours sleep before going back out to party, then they are the perfect place.

All the doors have locks so you can keep your belongings safe. It’s a good idea to take a padlock with you to lock your bag though. Ouro Preto, in general, has a lower crime rate than the larger cities in Brazil and it’s rare for something to happen at any of the parties but be sensible.

The parties at Ouro Preto may be smaller than Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, but they offer a totally different, authentic Brazilian experience with very few tourists.