8 Places to Celebrate Carnaval in Brazil

Over 3 million revelers are expected to attend Carnaval in Brazil this year, and while the celebrations in Rio de Janeiro are the most famous, you can find Carnaval being celebrated in cities all over Brazil.

The main festivities occur during the week that precedes Ash Wednesday, which in 2020 falls on February 26 and most cities start celebrating the Thursday before. Tuesday night, however, is always the biggest night, so make sure by then you're booked and ready to party in one of these Carnaval-loving cities.

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Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil: Carnaval in Salvado

Carnaval in Salvador kicks off with an intricate masquerade ball called Baile dos Mascarados and a ceremony where the mayor gives the keys of the city to the year's designated Carnaval King.

Bahia is Brazil's most musical state and home to a rich array of Brazilian music genres like axe, pagode, and samba. Carnaval celebrations in the city of Salvador traditionally include the ubiquitous use of Brazilian musical instruments like the berimbau musical bow and the atabque drums, which provide that distinct Brazilian sound.

Visitors can observe the parades by buying access to a camarote or viewing box along the parade route The viewing boxes are often accompanied by live music, food, and drinks as well as a great overhead view of people dancing down the streets. Another alternative is to join in the independent blocks of the city, where the street parties rage, and there is no cost to participate. Not sure where to go? Just follow the music!

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Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil
Glauco Umbelino

Carnaval in Diamantina, a small colonial town in the state of Minas Gerais, takes place among narrow streets full of old mansions, remnants of this small town's rich history.

Here the party seems to never end with five days of non-stop festivities. By day, the block parties get people dancing down on the cobblestones, and at night, traditional batucada drum groups take over the streets. Tuesday's main celebration will take place in the Old Market Square.

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Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil
Louis Vasconcelos

In Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, Carnaval has varied rhythms of music, which are slightly different from the dominant genres of samba and axe. The most prominent locations of Fortaleza's Carnaval are Iracema Beach and Avenue Domingos Olimpio, where you'll find the majority of music and dancing.

It is also here that visitors may witness participants dressed in blackface, a tradition of the city's maracatu cearense to enact Afro-Brazilian characters. However, the use of blackface in this tradition has recently received some backlash and has largely been discontinued.

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São Paulo

Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil
Sergio Savarese: CC license

Similar to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo has a competition between different samba schools during its Carnaval at the Anhembi Sambadrome, the largest outdoor event venue in São Paulo designed by the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. It is here that the top samba schools congregate to compete for the grand honor of winning the Carnaval championship title.

Festival-goers in the huge metropolis of São Paulo can expect to see a lot of Afro-Brazilian cultural influences and dances as part of the festivities as well as daily parades through the city streets.

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Olinda and Recife

Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil: Olinda and Recife Carnaval
Prefeitura de Olinda

A short twenty minute drive between each other, the cities of Olinda and Recife offer some of the most traditional and unique Carnaval experiences Brazil has to offer.

Recife has its own distinctive Carnaval symbol: the Galo da Madrugada, or Rooster of the Dawn, and millions of revelers follow this festive and folkloric doll from the city's historic fort to the harbor during the Saturday morning parade, while dancing frevo, Recife’s regional Carnaval music.

Recife’s neighbor, Olinda, also has carnival dancers jumping along with umbrellas to frevo beats. However, this five-day festival begins with a parade of giant puppets known as mamulengos and tends to be a smaller and more accessible celebration than the party in Recife.

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Where to celebrate Carnival in Brazil: Carnaval in Florianopolis
Francisco Anzola

Known for its seaside views and busy beach culture, Florianópolis holds one of the best Carnaval celebrations in Brazil.

As one of Brazil's more progressive cities, Florianapolis' celebrations are more welcoming to LGBT partiers, particularly on Magic Island, where there is a lively street party. In the city center, you'll find the samba schools parading on the Pasarelo do Samba. Locals and tourists of all ages are encouraged to join in!

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Where to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil

In the heart of the Amazon, Manaus' remote location lends itself as a contributing factor of one of Brazil's most unique Carnaval celebrations.

The creation of the "Carnaboi" party combines the celebration of Carnaval with the traditions of the indigenous peoples' Boi Bumba festival, creating the most famous Carnaval in the Amazon. The Manaus Carnaval keeps the customs of celebrations held in the early 20th century—the great parade of traditional costumes—and integrates indigenous costumes and dance customs from nearby communities.

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Rio de Janeiro

Where to celebrate Carnival in Brazil
Nicolas de Camaret

Host of the world's most famous Carnaval celebration, Rio de Janeiro captures hearts around the world every year with its enormous parade and passionate dancers. During the event, six of the 12 best samba schools in the city march into the Sambadrome competing to be selected as the year's champion school—but the fun doesn't stop, or start, there.

Carnaval in Rio actually begins and ends with the individual neighborhood street parties. During this time, cariocas, an affectionate nickname for Rio's residents, take to the street to dance and sing behind decorated trucks that roam through the city blasting music. Full of creativity and humor, these parties contribute to the city's joyful energy and are free and open for the public to attend.

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