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How to Experience Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Heading to Rio for Carnaval? Here are our top tips for visiting.

Hi, I'm Lydia!

Lydia Schrandt is a writer, editor, and award-winning photographer currently based in Houston. She’s a contributor for USA TODAY 10Best and serves as the first chair of the Editors Council of the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Draft, Time Out Beijing, Travel+, USA TODAY, San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

Visitors who are in Rio during Carnaval are treated to five days of flashy costumes, rhythmic samba, and round-the-clock parties. From samba lessons to the Sambadrome parade, here's what you need to know to make the most of the pre-Lenten festivities.

When to go

Carnaval dates and the best time to arrive.

Carnaval occurs each year in the days leading up to Lent (40 days before Easter), typically in February or early March. The big parades at the Sambadrome typically take place on Sunday and Monday evenings, though smaller parades are hosted on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday as well. Hotels and clubs around town also host grand balls, the most famous of which is Saturday's Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel on Copacabana Beach.

How to go

Top Carnaval experiences for all travelers.

Visitors to beachy Rio have many options for taking in the Carnaval festivities. Enjoy the Carnival parade hassle-free with pre-booked tickets and round-trip transportation; go behind the scenes during a rehearsal at a top samba school; or tour the Academicos do Grande Rio's warehouse, where the extravagant parade costumes and floats are stored. And while you're in town, don't miss the chance to see other key attractions, such as the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain, with early-access or skip-the-line tours.

People gather for a block party during Carnival in Rio.
Rio's Carnaval street parties are a must.Foto: Antonio Franco / Viator

Things to know

Top tips for attending Carnaval.

  • Rio's Carnaval falls during Brazilian summer, so pack for warm weather and afternoon showers. Expect an average high of 81°F (27°C) in February.

  • The city gets crowded during Carnaval, so save time by taking the metro instead of taxis or buses. To get to the Sambadrome, get off at Praça Onze and walk 15 minutes along the well-signposted route to the parade area.

  • If you don't have tickets to an official Carnaval ball, you can still take part in one of many blocos,  or Carnaval street parties, staged throughout the city.

  • Up to half a million visitors show up for the festivities, so it's a good idea to book well in advance.

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