If you’re looking for the world’s biggest block party, look no further than Rio de Janeiro—the heart of Brazil’s annual Carnival.
While it’s easy to characterize Carnival as Brazil’s version of Mardi Gras, the celebration is more like the Rose Parade, Super Bowl, and 4th of July—rolled into one.
Carnival draws its roots from 18th-century Portuguese immigrants, who brought the Entrudo tradition to Brazil. Entrudo is a celebration held on the Tuesday before Lent begins, similar to Mardi Gras. Brazilians added their own twist to Entrudo, introducing elements of Samba music and dance—as well as themed costumes and street performances—and Carnival was born.
Today, the Carnival celebration lasts for nearly a week, starting the Friday before and ending on Ash Wednesday. In 2018, it will be held from February 9 through 14. There are hundreds of street parties—called “blocos”—throughout the country, but none are bigger than the party in Rio on the Saturday of Carnival, which draws over a million people from around the world.
The party officially begins on Friday, when the mayor of Rio de Janeiro passes the keys to the city to King Momo. The mythical king represents joy and good fortune; he is derived from the Greek god Momus, who, according to legend, settled in Rio after being expelled from Mount Olympus.
The main attraction of Carnival is the Sambadrome parades in Rio. Twelve of the most prestigious samba schools in Brazil compete against each other with spectacular parades through the Sambadrome—a 2,300-foot-long stadium that holds 90,000 spectators.
Each group presents highly choreographed dance and musical performances tied around a theme, complete with elaborate costumes and parade floats. Nearly a year of preparation, thousands of people and millions of dollars go into each performance. Groups have 80 minutes to perform and a winner is crowned by a panel of 40 judges.
Visitors to Carnival get an unparalleled slice of life in Brazil. Not only for the sheer magnitude, creativity, and passion of the Samba parades but for the sense of community that’s present in every bloco. The food, the live music, and the dancing illuminate the pulse of every neighborhood and the heartbeat of Brazil.