I am hot, sweaty and with aching feet but with a huge smile on my face from ear to ear that won’t go away. I’ve just taken part in the Sambadrome parade at Rio Carnival which can only be described as the best experience of my life! I have been lucky enough to attend Rio Carnival for the last 4 years and absolutely adore the city which in my opinion is the most beautiful in the world. Aside from carnival the city has so much to offer the visitor and its natural landscapes have recently been declared a World Heritage area by UNESCO. The views from the top of Corcovado Mountain or Sugar Loaf Mountain are simply sublime with the rolling hills mixing with forests, the city and beaches for as far as the eye can see. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are world renowned, on both of which you could spend a day just strolling along and people watching. Beach volleyball in Rio isn’t just an Olympic sport…it’s a way of life!
During Carnival the city changes dramatically with the arrival of an estimated extra 2 million visitors and the whole of Rio stops work to party with family and friends. In 2014 there were over 600 blocos (street parties) which take place over a 5 day period in various parts of the city. These are often localised community events through to the outlandish large blocos such as the Banda de Ipanema which attracts over a million revellers. Everyone is welcome though and neighbourhoods come alive and residents dress up in all manner of weird, wonderful and irreverent costumes with many men dressing up as women. Alcohol is abundant, the music is loud and the dancing is infectious!
Whilst Carnival is a celebration, it is also a competition. Rio’s top 12 samba schools battle it out on the Sunday and Monday night in the Sambadrome, a purpose built parade area which holds up to 80,000 spectators. The Sambadrome is a 700 metre long runway with stands either side along which the Samba schools parade in vast numbers. Each samba school has between 65 and 82 minutes to get roughly 5,000 dancers, drummers and enormous floats from the start to the finish line in a style, rhythm and harmony which will score the most points with the judges. Watching the Sambadrome parades is an incredible sight as the noise and colour is overwhelming. The parades begin at 9pm and finish anytime between 5am and 6am with most people doing their best to stay until the end. As each parade goes past the crowds get to their feet, singing, dancing and cheering on their favourite samba school!
Although watching the parades is a fabulous experience, dressing up and taking part in the parade is something else! That’s exactly what I had the chance to do a couple of years ago as an honorary member for the night of the União da Ilha Samba School… and it is a night I’ll never forget. Each year every samba school chooses a different theme for the parade and for União da Ilha it was Darwinism. This led to me being in a section of the parade with about 80 others, all dressed as peacocks, parading behind a 20 foot high tortoise! The costumes were delivered to my hotel and we headed for the Sambadrome. We travelled to central station via the metro which is an experience in itself but squeezing into crammed carriages in a large costume is a lot of fun when everyone is in a party mood. On arrival at the Sambadrome we were kept in a holding area and shown what to do which involved some simple samba moves and the importance of keeping in line with the dancers to your side and in front.
As we entered the arena my overriding memory was of a wall of light and a cacophony of sound from 80,000 people which increased the further along we went. All the crowds were singing, chanting and taking photos of us whilst the sweat was pouring off me as I focused on my footwork. As I crossed the finished line I had been dancing non-stop for 40 minutes and didn’t want to stop. Everyone was cheering and hugging each other in jubilation and the constant buzz continued as we headed to find a bar still wearing the costume which I got to keep. I have travelled all over the world but this, without doubt, was the best experience of my life!
Simon Williams is the founder of Bespoke Brazil, a UK based specialist tour operator which creates tailor-made holidays to Brazil and are Rio carnival specialists. They will be at the Fair in November on stand E23.
RIO CARNIVAL HOLIDAY
Bespoke Brazil has recently launched a luxury holiday to Rio Carnival. It offers you the chance to experience Rio Carnival in style featuring luxury ocean front accommodation at the iconic Copacabana Palace, private guided tours of Rio’s famous sights as well as experiencing the vast street parties. The trip includes fantastic front row seats at the Sambadrome parade plus the chance to actually take part in the parade itself, a real once in a lifetime bucket list experience. After the excitement of Rio de Janeiro you can fly to the awe inspiring Iguassu Falls where you will stay in luxury at the Hotel Das Cataratas, the only hotel located inside the Brazilian national park allowing 24 hour access to the falls and enjoy a day trip to the Argentinean side of the falls with an exhilarating ride on a speedboat for a close up view! End your stay in the stylish beach tranquility of Buzios at the stunning Insolito Boutique Resort, regularly voted as Brazil’s best beach hotel. If you only visit Brazil once in your lifetime, do it at carnival time! Rio Carnival takes place from 13th – 17th February 2015.