Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


How to participate in the Brazilian Carnival

Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Carnival is still one of the first words that pops-up in foreigners’ minds whenever they are asked about Brazil. Learn in this article what exactly is celebrated in Carnival, how to participate and other aspects of this party that has become so typically Brazilian.

The Brazilian Carnival is known worldwide as the best Carnival. Carnival days are full of colors, music, dance and parties, and that's what attracts tourists from every corner of the world. Cities like Olinda, Salvador, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are very popular destinations for foreigners and are visited during this period of the year.

History of the Brazilian Carnival

The major popular celebration in the country, Carnival is not exclusively Brazilian. The celebration was actually born in Greece, between the years 600 and 520 B.C. and was a cult the Greek people used to pay to their gods as a way to thank them for the fertility of the soil and for the harvest.

Carnival was adopted by the Catholic church as a Christian celebration in 590 A.C and refers to festivities ruled by the lunar year. During Carnival there was a concentration of popular festivities and each city would celebrate it according to its own traditions.

Carnival as we know it today is a product of the Victorian society of the 19th century, with Paris as the major exporter of the festivity. The Brazilian Carnival is a reinterpretation of the Parisian festivity, with the addition of “escolas de samba” – samba schools –, which are huge groups of people who work together to represent a neighborhood or community through samba, an African-Brazilian dance.

The Brazilian Carnival is a moveable feast and lasts four days. It precedes the beginning of Lent, which is the forty-day period that precedes one of the major Christian festivities, Easter, in which Jesus Christ resurrection is celebrated.To that extent, Carnival would be one last opportunity to celebrate before “Quarta-feira de Cinzas”, or “Ash Wednesday”.

After this days, Lent begins and is the time for Christians (mostly Catholics in Brazil) to pray, meditate and pay penances, such as fasting. In 2014, Brazil will be full of tourists during February 28th until March 4th, the days in which Carnival will take place.

The Parade

The parade is the core of the Brazilian Carnival we know today. There are two major types of parades in Brazil: the more traditional ones, organized by samba schools; and “Carnaval de Rua” (street carnival), which are more informal parties in which people gather on the streets to the sound of “trios elétricos”, which are trucks fitted with sound devices for the presentation of live music.

Samba schools’ Parades

In Brazil, mainly in Rio and in São Paulo, the samba schools parade became the largest attractions during Carnival. On the days of celebration, samba schools compete with one another and by the end of the Carnival two schools – one in Rio and another in São Paulo – are elected as the best ones of the year.

The samba schools represent the spirit of a community or of a neighborhood, but everyone can be part of them. There's lot of samba schools and all of them participate during the four days of Carnival. The Schools are divided in hierarchical categories: A, B, C, D and E. Only the first three groups compete in the Sambódromo parades, the others take part in street parades.

Street carnival costs

Present in most Brazilians states, street carnival is very popular in the country, especially when the city does not have traditional samba schools’ parades. The major festivities happen in Brazilian capital cities from the Northeast, especially Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza, but it doesn’t exclude other major cities such as Olinda (PE), Diamantina (MG), Florianópolis (SC), Manaus (AM), Ouro Preto (MG) and even a tiny little town named São Luiz do Paraitinga, in the countryside of São Paulo state.

As street carnival is an open event, in some cases it is possible to participate for free, but the most traditional ones, also called block parties (such as the ones previously mentioned) are commercialized. In Salvador, the most popular street carnival in Brazil, costs per day go from BRL 100.00 to BRL 1,240.00. Packages for the four days can cost up to BRL 2,000.00.

Foreigners coming to street carnival in Brazil, especially in the Northeastern cities, must be very careful with the heat as temperatures around 40ºC are common and the concentration of “foliões”, name of those who participate in the street carnival, is of at least six people per sqm.

Samba school costs

Those who decide to join a parade in the samba schools of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro must get in touch directly with the school they are interested in. Before signing up and buying your costume, have in mind that once you are on the floor, there’s no turning back and you’re expected to show enthusiasm throughout the performance.

Here is a list of the samba schools in Rio de Janeiro that belong to the special group:

  • Acadêmicos da Rocinha: + 55 21 3205 3318 / 2223-1933
  • Beija-flor de Nilópolis: + 55 21 2791 2866 / 2691-1571
  • Caprichosos de Pilares: + 55 21 2592 5620
  • Imperatriz Leopoldinense: + 55 21 2560 8037 / 3593-6582 / 2233-5495
  • Império Serrano: + 55 21 2450-2711
  • Mangueira: + 55 21 2253 3962 / 2223 0722 / 2218 5238
  • Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel: + 55 21 3332 5823
  • Portela: + 55 21 2489 6440
  • Porto da Pedra: + 55 21 2291-94 / 3707-1518
  • Salgueiro: + 55 21 2203-0897 / 2223-1110 / 2238-9226
  • Samba Grande Rio: + 55 21 2771 2331 / 2671-3585
  • Unidos da Tijuca: + 55 21 2263-9679 / 2516-2749
  • Unidos de Vila Isabel: + 55 21 2578 0077 / 2263-3937 / 2283-1744 (winner of Carnival 2013)
  • Viradouro: + 55 21 2624-1804

Here a list of samba schools in São Paulo:

  • Acadêmicos do Tatuapé: + 55 11 2093-5117
  • Acadêmicos do Tucuruvi: + 55 11 2204-7342
  • Águia de Ouro: + 55 11 3872-8262
  • Dragões da Real: + 55 11 3831-4002
  • Gaviões da Fiel: + 55 3221-2066
  • Império da Casa Verde: + 55 11 3961-4956
  • Mancha Verde: + 55 11 3361-2146
  • Mocidade Alegre: + 55 11 3857 7525 (winner of Carnival 2013)
  • Nenê de Vila Matilde: + 55 11 2013 9757
  • Rosas de Ouro: + 55 11 3931 4555
  • Tom Maior: + 55 11 3494 9040 / 3331 3049
  • Unidos de Vila Maria: + 55 11 2981 3154 / 2201-7168
  • Vai-Vai: + 55 11 3266-2581 / 9586-6121 / 7891-2856
  • X9 – Paulistana: + 55 11 2959 3377 / 2975-3893

In general, there is no fee required, with the exception of the rental of the costume to be used during the parade. However, some requirements must be fulfilled, such as attending to all the rehearsals on time.

Here is a list of the major requirements and restrictions for those who decide to participate on the parade:

  • Participants are not allowed to drink;
  • Costumes cannot be damaged under any circumstance;
  • Participants are not allowed to wear costumes from other samba schools;
  • Delays won’t be tolerated;
  • The theme song of the samba school must be sung throughout the parade;
  • Participants are not allowed to carry objects or original documents;
  • Participants are not allowed to take pictures or record videos while on the parade.

Costume prices

If the samba school already belongs to the special groups, then the costume may be expensive. While a costume from a samba school that has not reached the special group yet costs from BRL 80,00 to BRL 250,00 depending on the group being joined to the parade, costumes for the special group go from BRL 800,00 to BRL 1500,00 and are usually sold out by the last week of December.

Go to the parade already wearing your costume as there will be no place to keep your regular clothes and you will not be allowed to carry them during the parade. Do not carry any other item with you as there will be no place to keep it either.

It’s not only for fun

Carnival is this big Brazilian party, but the participants can never forget how serious the celebration is for the communities. Attending to all rehearsals, arriving on time and taking good care of your costume are only some of the demands to participate in the Brazilian carnival.

Also, it is crucial to know the lyrics to the song of your school by heart. Learning how to dance the “samba” is not mandatory depending on the group you are participating, but would definitely enhance your performance.


The risk of being robbed while participating in the festivities, especially in the street carnival is real and must be taken into account. Pickpockets are everywhere, so avoid carrying important documents and considerable amounts of money with you while staying in crowded places. Cameras and mobile devices must be handled discreetly as well.

Carnival is also among the major concerns of the Brazilian public health system. This is because the general festive mood followed by the high consumption of alcoholic drinks can result in easy sex and the transmission of STDs. The concern by the public health system is so strong that a couple weeks before the holiday and even during the parties, condoms are distributed for free.

Another major problem is the high incidence of car accidents due to drunk drivers. Carnival is one of the holidays with the highest number of car accidents in Brazil, with 2441 injured people in 2011, according to the federal police.

Watching the parade

If you’re not willing to effectively participate on the parade, you can participate as a spectator. Tourism companies organizing the event offer several different bundles for those who want to watch the parade. Here you will find the different options for both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro:

Rio de Janeiro 2014 Tickets

Type of Tickets/ Day of Carnival Access Group
Day 1
Access Group
Day 2
Special Group
Day 1
Special Group
Day 2
Champions Parade

Grand Stand Seats From 176.00 to 256.00 BRL From 176.00 to 256 BRL From 336.00 to 876.00 BRL From 336.00 to 876.00 BRL
From 236.00 to 536.00 BRL
Individual Seats Sold Out Sold Out Unavailable Unavailable 196.00 BRL
Table for Four People From 356.00 to 576.00 BRL From 356.00 to 576.00 BRL
From 1,216.00 to2,496.00 BRL From 1,216.00 to2,496.00 BRL
From 736.00 to 1,216.00 BRL
Special VIP Areas 1,596.00 BRL 1,596.00 BRL 5,696.00 BRL 5,696.00 BRL 3,396.00 BRL
VIP Areas 1,136.00 BRL 1,136.00 BRL 3,396.00 BRL 3,396.00 BRL 2,256.00 BRL

More detailed information regarding each bundle,click here. Information is available in English and also available in other languages.

São Paulo

Sambódromo do Anhembi, which is where the carnival parade happens in São Paulo, starts to sell tickets in January. But just to give an idea of how much it costs to watch the parade, here are some of the prices practiced in 2012:

  • Seats: from BRL 50,00 (access group schools) to BRL 420,00 (special group schools)
  • Table for four people: from BRL 200 (access group schools) to BRL 2.000,00 (special group schools)
  • Grandstand seats: from BRL 25,00 (access group schools) to BRL 150,00

“Camarotes”, which are the VIP areas, are sponsored by beverage companies and therefore commercialized by them. Prices range from BRL 500,00 (individual ticket for the schools of the access group) to BRL 8.208,00 (four-people ticket for the special group schools).

The Independent League of the Samba Schools in São Paulo also had a VIP area in the 2012 Carnival. Prices ranged from BRL 300,00 (access group schools) to BRL 700,00 (special group schools). The VIP area includes buffet services, open bar and shuttle.

Tickets can be acquired at the following locations:

  • Anhembi: Av. Olavo Fontoura, 1209, Santana
  • Canindé Stadium: Rua Comendador Nestor Pereira, 33, Canindé
  • Pacaembú Stadium: Praça Charles Miller, Pacaembu
  • Ginásio do Ibirapuera: Rua Manuel da Nóbrega, 1361, Ibirapuera

Important: when acquiring your tickets, look for the areas of the venue that are closer to the drums as these are the best seats.