Olinda's Famous Giant Puppet Carnival

The giant dolls of Olinda's Carnival.
Ruy Barbosa Pinto / Getty Images

Carnival in Olinda is part of a unique Brazilian experience which is all the more complete when paired up with Carnival in Recife .

While Carnival in these sister cities, separated by less than five miles, may have a lot in common - such as a passion for frevo and the fact that both festivals take place in historic districts - there's a unique feel about Carnival in Olinda. For starters, Carnival in Olinda is best during the daytime, while Recife is also great at night.

Carnival in Olinda takes over the streets of the colonial district, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Some historic buildings are fenced by IPHAN (the Brazilian Institute for National Historic and Artistic Heritage) during the wild festivities.

You May Know Olinda's Giant Puppets

Giant puppets represent from traditional Carnival characters to current celebs, Brazilian and international. Artists create them in paper maché and fabric. The person carrying a 15-foot tall puppet endures temperatures in the 100s.

Giant puppets open and close the festivities. The Midnight Man comes out as soon as Sábado de Zé Pereira (Carnival Saturday) starts. The absolutely packed parade led by the Midnight Man has opened every Carnival since 1932 and it's mostly followed by locals.

There are a few stories to explain the origin of the Midnight Man. According to the president of the Midnight Man Club, one of the stories says the creator of the puppet was inspired by a man he used to see in the Olinda streets at night, jumping windows to be with local ladies. The man would usually dress in green, and so does the Midnight Man.

The Meeting of Giant Puppets, a very popular event featuring dozens of these colorful characters, takes place on Fat Tuesday.

Carnival in Olinda involves about 500 groups and nearly 200 events, which in 2014 took place in hubs (polos): Polo Fortim, Polo Bonsucesso, Polo Infantil (Kids' Hub, at Praça do Carmo), Polo Amaro Branco, Polo Maracatu (at Mercado Eufrásio Barbosa in Varadouro), Polo do Samba (Alto da Sé), Polo Guadalupe, Polo Salgadinho, Polo Rio Doce, Polo Afro Nação Xambá, and Polo Casa da Rabeca. Two stations for people with disabilities were available at Polo Fortim and Praça do Carmo; they received about 100 visitors a day.

When to Plan Your Olinda Carnival

Many people start making plans for Olinda Carnival one year in advance. But many hotels in Olinda won't have Carnival prices available on their websites before July or even as late as October.

Recife is always an option for travelers who want to spend Carnival in Olinda. There are transfers between the neighboring cities, which are less than five miles apart. But if you want to stay in a Olinda hotel, start looking at the available alternatives months in advance, as there are fewer hotels than in Recife.

Safety Issues

Carnival in Olinda has taken important strides in safety and preservation of the city's historic treasures. In Carnival 2014, no deaths were recorded at the city's ER units and no damage took place against the historic buildings.

The city set up a support network on Citizenship, Urban Control, Sanitation and Portable Restrooms, Health, Transit and Transportation and Tourism. Some of their attributions included the enforcement of a city ordinance prohibiting music and noise level at non-official Carnival celebrations above 70 decibels; control of forbidden glass containers in the Historic Center, with five glass-for-plastic exchange stations which collected 2,187 glass containers; six 24-hour emergency clinics and two stations with ambulances; health and safety teams whose tasks included the distribution of 160,000 condoms and informative campaigns on the prevention of drinking and driving.

Some Carnival 2014 Numbers

According to the city administration, Olinda Carnival 2014 had 2.7 M revelers, who pumped over R$150 M into the economy. Hotel occupation reached 98%.

The city carried out a survey among 556 visitors and found out 56% were men and 89% were Brazilian. Most Brazilian tourists came from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte; the 11% of international tourists were predominantly from France, Italy, England, Germany, and Argentina. Their average age was 26 to 35 and their stay in town ranged from 4 to 10 days.

A Few More Stats

  • 180 police officers on duty during the festivities
  • 600 street sweepers, seven street cleaning water trucks, 80,000 liters of water a day and 420 liters of eucalyptus essence a day employed
  • 282 portable restrooms, two of them accessible to people with disabilities
  • 3,837 people treated at the ER units
  • Lost people assisted: 82 seniors, 86 children, and 12 tourists
  • 460 tons of trash, 32,250 kilos of recyclable items collected
  • 126 reports of disorderly conduct; 28 arrests for lewd acts, 46 for urinating in the street
  • 22 traffic violations and two car accidents reported
  • 1,285 food sanitation inspections carried out;


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