The first thing I notice at the Rio Sambadrome is the crush of humanity. People are packed into the stadium seating with just enough room for little Brasilian surgically-enhanced bottoms. Personal space, as we Americans like to call it, is disregarded. Luckily, pretty much everyone is standing and many are dancing. The supporters of each Samba school enthusiastically wave their flags. The beer was free-flowing and the party atmosphere infectious. Everyone was somehow dressed up (or down!) even if the adornment is just a garland of flowers.
Tickets to the Sambadrome
Most people in Brasil (or even Rio) don’t go to the Sambadrome. It is way too expensive. They watch the Samba School’s parade on television and celebrate Carnival itself at the blocos (street parades) or other private parties.
We got tickets to the Rio Sambadrome for $250 per person. We would have liked to have box seats but they were going for $1000/person. We were seated in Section 9 which is reserved for tourists. It’s a terrific location right across from where the judges sat. Every parade that passed us was going all out to impress the judges.
The box seats didn’t look that special.
Having been to the Rio Sambadrome, I don’t think the more expensive box seats were any more comfortable. They did, however, have a lounge area behind the seats so that our children could have slept there. On the other hand, it was still cheaper to bring along a nanny and send the children home before they were too exhausted.
The kids are dressed and ready to party.
We used Carnaval Turismo to book our buy our tickets and bus transportation to the Sambadrome. They dropped us off in front of Stand 9, the foreign visitors stand, and picked us up there as well.
Tip: Most of the people in Rio are out partying on the night of Carnival. Taxis are few and far between. Pre-organised transportation is a must.
Food and Drink at the Rio Sambadrome
The food served at the Rio Sambadrome is of the usual stadium quality found worldwide. The Brasilian chain, Bob’s Burgers, has a stand that was doing brisk business of burgers, beer, whiskey and vodka. The other option we found was pizza – a thick gelatinous layer of cheese on thick bread. Neither food option was impressive but the beer was great!!
food and drink stands at the Rio Sambadrome
In the stands, the vendors selling beer, water and ice-cream weaved their way expertly through the crowds. People were joyous but we did not see anyone drunk or messy. Although we felt safe in the crowd, as a precaution we did not bring any valuables or bags with us.
The ice-cream sellers were a real service in the heat of the night.
The Rio Sambadrome Stadium
The Sambadrome is a stadium like I have never seen before. It is long and thin with a pretend road down the middle. The stadium seats are on either side of the fake road. Each samba school parade starts with a parade and ends with a flurry of workers sweeping the road clean behind them in preparation for the next samba school parade. Each samba school had their own theme, song and costumes. A lot of the sartorial references were beyond me though.
An Empire of the Sun?
The Sambadrome parades started at 8 pm and went on until about 4:30 in the morning. Each Samba School had a maximum of an hour and a half to parade before they would start losing points.
The parade has a clock which counts the time for each school.
Each night there were six schools that get to parade. Although there are shows from Friday through Monday, the best schools perform on Sunday and Monday. The whole thing was run with an impressive efficiency which I thought would make Brasil a world power if only they would apply it to their economy.
Photo Gallery of the Samba Parades
The Samba parades were amazing! While the tickets were expensive, each parade was a spectacle in itself. Stumbling home at 4:30 in the morning, we watched 4 of the parades at the Rio Sambadrome. We felt we had gotten our money’s worth as each parade was an individual show in itself. We went on the Sunday so we did see some of the best floats. Unfortunately, this year’s winner was in the Monday parade.
The outfits for both men and women were amazing.
It was great to see the floats arrive as well as leave!
A real crowd pleaser was a Pele lookalike running on top of a football.
All sorts of fantastical creatures were made into floats.
Portuguese influenced tea cups? Not sure why these people were dressed in these outfits.
Nor did I understand why a bunch of football players came running out of the orca’s mouth.
Criminals and a taxi? say what??
A drag queen dressed as the Queen of England (Ok, they are playing on the word queen).
Through our open windows we could hear the chirping of the Maritaca parrots over the rattling of cars on the cobblestone streets. The summer rain pelting off the tiled roofs, the clanging of church bells and the chatter of university students out carousing added to the ambient noise of the town. Ouro Preto, the Brasilian gold rush town, is a perfectly preserved version of its former glory. It had to be thanks to the UNESCO world heritage status it received in 1980. From our hotel room in the historical centre of town, I can tell you the city is pretty but it’s definitely not quiet.
Ouro Preto (which means black gold) was at the epicentre of the Brasilian gold rush. Founded in 1696, Ouro Preto is the oldest town in the state of Minas Gerais. The areas gold is a distinctive darker colour thanks to the deposits of palladium and iron ore in the area.
In the 17th century, the Portuguese considered Brasil a somewhat hellish place. They stuck to settling the coasts and imported slaves from Africa. These slaves though tended to run away (usually into the forested interior of the country). The interior had any number of dangers – wild animals, disease and indigenous tribes of cannibals.
Slave hunters (bandeirantes) were dispatched to retrieve escaped slaves. When the slave hunters got to Ouro Preto though they discovered gold. This gold, much more profitable than slave hunting, was plentiful and easily accessible. Pretty soon Ouro Preto became a Brasilian gold rush town.
People would show up, pitch their camp and start digging. The town grew haphazardly because people were just out for gold. No thought of town planning came into play. The houses were mainly in the valley because the gold would be brought downstream by the water.
The capital at the time may have been Rio de Janeiro but the money came from Ouro Preto. The Portuguese King when he fled Napoleon in the 19th century settled in Rio. The King made a point of visiting Ouro Preto though. He had been escorted to Brasil under the protection of the British Navy. Britain was paid for their troubles with Ouro Preto gold. In fact, Ouro Preto gold paid for a lot of the Portuguese crowns debts.
To this day every April 21st, Ouro Preto gets to be the capitol of Brasil for a day.
Always religious, the Portuguese built chapels and churches to thank God for their luck. Ouro Preto has 13 churches and 8 chapels. Hence, one of the prevalent sounds in town are church bells. I was told that the people of Minas Gerais are still more religious than the rest of Brasil.
All those churches and chapels needed to be decorated. No minimalist Protestantism for the Portuguese!
This work brought in master craftsman and artists to the town. They painted, carved and spackled gold leaf like nobody’s business. The Portuguese traded with the Spaniatds for silver because Brasil doesn’t have silver resources of its own. They traded 2 kilos of gold for 1 kilo of silver!!!
The town still has maintained this artistic heritage, too. There are lots of art galleries in town.
The old town is perfectly preserved. The newer buildings are hidden out of site to maintain the 19th century ambience. We found a lot of Volkswagon Beetles in town. They are cheap (about US $1000), sturdy and easy to fix. There are plenty of spare parts available. Even though the cobblestones are pretty, they are tough on cars. I thought the VW bugs fit in perfectly with the town’s old-fashioned charm.
You can see how steep these hills are. Walking through the town is actually pretty good exercise especially in the heat!!
The pretty colours of the buildings are set by the authorities to reflect period colours. I guess they don’t want a yellow and green Brasilian flag house!
This colour combination comes close to the Brasilian yellow and green flag colours.
The town is also home to a university with the distinction of having the first engineering school in the Americas. (After the initial easy pickings, the Portuguese used slaves to mine for gold). All that money brought culture too. Ouro Preto has the oldest opera house in the Americas too. It’s beautifully maintained and still in use today.
Like many people I thought Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in Brasil was just one giant party over 5 days. In fact, Carnival in Rio consists of a number of different events (samba parades, balls, and blocos). Here are my top tips for Carnival in Rio if you are thinking of going to the greatest party on Earth in the future.
Main Carnival Events
There are four days of samba school parades at the Sambadrome, followed by the choosing of a winner and 9 runners-up who will strut their stuff in the Champions’ parade at the Sambadrome the following weekend.
There are also balls in the tradition of Venetian balls. The Copacabana Palace’s legendary Magic Ball has a full-blown red carpet entrance which my friends arrived in time to watch. The other balls are neither particularly pricey nor exclusive. For example, the Scala ball happens every night of Carnival. The Gay Gala ball is so famous that it is broadcast to the rest of Brasil.
There are lots of blocos (street parties) around the city spread out over mainly the 5 days. For Carnival 2016, there were 505 official licensed blocos and countless other spontaneous street parties. Not all the streets were busy at all times. The city lists the official blocos and everyone is welcome to attend.
At the blocos, you can either watch from the sides or join the parade.
Top Tips for Carnival in Rio
Dressing Up for Carnival
If you are going to carnival in Rio, you simply have to get dressed up. The outfits fall into distinct categories. The women wear something skimpy and dress up with accessories. For men, anything goes but there’s a lot of cross-dressing. Children like to wear Disney or movie costumes.
Tip: There are lots of street vendors. You can buy outfits or accessories fairly cheaply.
Accessories for sale by a sidewalk vendor.
If you are going to get to Carnival in Rio, expect to get dirty. The streets can get muddy, beer can get spilled and garbage cans overflow. Don’t wear clothes or shoes you care too much for. On the other hand, I was surprised by how quickly the city cleaned up after itself for the next day’s festivities.
The Carnival Atmosphere
Everyone we met seemed to like having their photo taken. Not only do they enthusiastically agree if you ask to take their photo, they will occasionally ask you to take their photo. Entire sidewalks will be full of people taking selfies.
This little boy is attending his first carnival before he even enters the world.
People like to to drink and party. We, however, did not see violence. With the party atmosphere and the free-flowing beer, if Rio’s carnival took place in Britain, you know fights would have broken out, people glassed and the ambulances would be out in full force.
Whether you are straight or gay, lots of men cross-dress.
You should, however, be careful with your belongings as pickpocketing is common. My friend saw a chain being snatched off someone’s neck right in front of her face.
We wore our money in those traveller pockets that strap around your body under our shirts. We kept small bills that were easily accessible for buying drinks, snacks or souvenirs in our pockets. Women tucked their phone into their bras. Men who weren’t cross-dressing tucked their phones into their speedos.
Tip: Don’t take a bag if you can help it.
It’s not like he has many other options where to put his phone. The sign says ‘yes’ by the way.
Everybody wants to be your new friend. Brasilians are friendly and no more so than during Carnival. I had any number of people warn me to be careful with my camera. I didn’t have my expensive DSLR but the Olympus mirrorless camera I bought in Japan. It was still relatively flashy.
Brasilian time is flexible. Don’t expect things to start on time. Don’t worry about being late for anything. If you are going to carnival in Rio, the mantra “don’t worry, be happy” could not be more applicable.
Clown hair and a sequin top. Why not?
It’s a public holiday from Friday evening until noon on Ash Wednesday. The banks are not only closed but the doors to the ATM’s in the foyers are locked to prevent vandalism. Some of the shopping centers have ATM’s that work but they do run out of money by Saturday or Sunday.
Tip: Make sure you have enough cash before the bank holiday starts. You can change foreign currency at the airport even during the bank holiday.
Getting a taxi during peak carnival times can be difficult. Taxi drivers need to party, too! Streets get closed randomly and routes rerouted for the blocos.
Tip: The new Rio subway system is clean and efficient. If you don’t want to deal with public transportation, stay in Copacabana or Ipanema where there are lots of street parties (blocos) happening. There will also be chartered buses to take you to and from the Sambodrome leaving from designated hotels.
The parties mostly start in the late afternoon and run into the wee hours of the morning. Most people are probably sleeping off hangovers during the fierce daytime heat. If not, they are baking on the beach.
A sea of colourful umbrellas on Ipanema beach
Tip: February is the hottest month in Brasil. Be prepared to stay hydrated and to wear sun protection. The humidity will also make you wilt, and not in the glamorous way the Cariocas do.
Everything in Rio gets more expensive for Carnival. They know they have you by the party whistles so there is nothing you can do about prices.
Carnival with Children
We took our children to Carnival because we went with friends who also took their children. Our friends also brought their nanny with them which was handy for sending the children back to the apartment relatively early around 9pm – before the real partying starts!
Tip: You should be able to organise babysitting through your hotel. Alternatively, bring a nanny or relative along to help with babysitting. Trust me, you will want to go out until the early hours of the morning.
A family outing to a Bloco
The children really enjoyed the Children’s Bloco as well as seeing the samba schools perform at the Sambadrome. For children, there are also the children’s samba school parades on the tuesday (Fat Tuesday) which is free to attend at the Sambadrome.
We saw lots of families with kids (both locals and tourist) out and about during the day. It’s really your judgment call on whether you think your child is able to handle the crowds and noise of carnival festivities. The issue wouldn’t be safety so much as the intensity of the experience.
The first thing our children noticed at the Banda de Ipanema Kids Bloco was the shaving cream being squirted by gleefully chuckling Brasilian children. Then, they noticed the confetti being thrown around. Our children have never thrown confetti (or squirted shaving cream for that matter) so they were really happy to get into the full spirit of Carnival Bloco for Children. And, did they have fun!
The bloco for children, Banda de Ipanema Kids, takes place in the park around Praca General Osorio in Ipanema. It has been happening since the 1990’s. This year the party was on the Monday afternoon. Similar to Children’s Day at the Notting Hill Parade, Rio’s carnival bloco for children is a family-friendly and lower-key event than the main parties.
People congregate on the outskirts of the gated park while the main activity happened inside the park. Unlike other blocos, the parading does not leave the park so it is a nice confined area.
The streets around a bloco become car-free for the safety of the revellers.
Blocos are street parties that happen during Carnival in Rio. Considering the Sambadrome can only seat 90,000 people but there were an estimated 500,000 visitors as well as the millions of locals, blocos are a way for everyone to enjoy the carnival spirit. There were 505 official blocos licensed for Carnival 2016. Not all of the blocos are family-friendly but the Banda de Ipanema Kids at General Osorio park definitely was.
An enterprising vendor brought caiprinhas for the adults so we were able to live and let go in the mayhem. It’s easier not worry about such concerns as environmental damage caused by confetti with a caiprinha in your hand.
Caiprinhas for the parents!
Photo Gallery: Carnival Bloco for Children
The whole event was good natured fun. Not only did the children chase each other around to cause maximum shaving foam damage, the party atmosphere extended to cotton candy and caramel popcorn. Because, of course, sugar is exactly what over-excited children needed.
I really also enjoyed people-watching. Brasilians are friendly anyway and they LOVE their children. The interaction between families was really sweet. Our kids were the right age and blended right into the event. The only teens we saw were there with younger relatives.
I love this little girl’s gleeful smile and her father’s long-suffering look. Do what you must, that look says.
This little one was cackling in glee at having confetti sprinkled at him.
A little girl and her mother having fun.
My son, the victim of a sneak foam attack, by his sister.
Thanks to the Caiprinha I couldn’t even get mad about the fact that we told them NOT to spray in each other’s faces. Breathe.
This kid’s smirk clearly means he is up to no good with a spray can!
Of course, there was a band playing music.
No kid ever got tired of popping bubbles.
This guy good-naturedly let himself be a target for our kids. We simply had not drunk enough to volunteer for such an act of valour.
The thing about Carnival? Everyone likes to have their photo taken.
In a city known for the high quality of its street art, Batman Alley stands out as particularly awesome. Located in the trendy neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, Batman Alley is an outdoor gallery with every spare inch of space covered in street art. The work is ever changing as artists create new works and in the process cover up older pieces.
The artwork in Batman Alley is brash, bold and colourful. Sometimes you really need to step in to see the detail. Alternatively, you need to step back to see the big picture (literally!). The artwork expresses so much such as political opinions, poetry, philosophy.
I asked our guide Leo from FlaviaLiz about the origin of the name. He told me it comes from the 1980’s when someone drew a cartoon of Batman on the wall. People started referring to it in everyday speech as a recognisable place and the name stuck. The area is safe during the day and a popular tourist spot.
The alley is popular for photos and parties. We saw a woman doing a photo shoot of her baby belly during our visit.
As unsanctioned artwork, there isn’t any approval process in putting your mark on Batman Alley. On the other hand, with the quality of the work on display, you better be good if you want to put your work up here. The street artists though have a code of conduct where they respect each others work. You can’t draw without asking the original owner of the work. If the work is fading etc, they may let you take over the space. So we’re talking a self-policing community of people creating work for the people.
Art defaced probably by someone who hates Corinthians, one of the major Sao Paulo football teams
Although the alley runs only about 250 feet long (a couple of city blocks), allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in. The street art in Sao Paulo is truly impressive and none more so than what you find in Batman Alley.
You can hear the thunder of Iguazu Falls long before you can see them. The Iguazu River appears calm as you watch it drifting along between Brasil and Argentina and then suddenly it drops in a spray of noise and water.
Fun Facts About Iguazu Falls in Brasil and Argentina
Here are 10 Iguazu Falls facts that you may not know.
The Iguazu river runs mostly through Brasil but the falls themselves are mostly on the Argentinean side. Brasil has about 20% of the waterfalls andArgentinian has the remaining 80%.
Smaller drops on the outcrops of the Brasilian side
About half of the water of the Iguazu river comes down the chasm called the Devil’s Throat. This waterfall is U-shaped about 80 metres high and 150 metres wide. On the Argentinian side you can pretty much go directly over the Devil’s Throat falls (with the minimal of safety precautions).
The Devil’s Throat is just a blanket of water.
Depending on the water level, there are about 250 waterfalls at any given time in the area which is spread out over 1.6 miles. These falls are ranged along 2.7 kilometres of the Iguazu river. The average drop of the falls is about 210 feet. There’s an estimated 1.5 million litres of water falling every second.
The Iguazu River lies between Brasil and Argentina. Looks pretty peaceful here, right?
These falls are a result of a volcanic eruption which left a crack in the Earth.
There are airports in both Argentina and Brasil that service the Iguazu area. In fact, the Argentinian airport was actually located in the Iguazu National Park before it was moved to its current site. If you are a masochist, you can take the 18 hour bus drive from Buenos Aires to Iguassu Falls.
The walkway to the Devils’ Throat on the Argentinian side. The closer you get to the falls, the wetter you get.
Each country has an Iguazu National Park which cooperate to run the area together. Both parks are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Iguazu National Park on the Argentinian side
Iguazu has the largest annual water flow of any water falls in the world. It is almost a third taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide. It is wider than Victoria Falls in Africa but smaller in size because its waterfall is less interrupted by rocky outcrops.
The rainforest surrounding Iguazu Falls has more than 2000 plant species. The Argentinean side is overrun with Coatis who are not afraid of people at all. I found the Coatis completely creepy even if they just walked beside me and went about their own business. They looked too much like bad-tempered racoons for my comfort. The forests are home to the opossum, the only marsupial who lives outside of Australia.
Not a sign I really wanted to see!
The name of the falls comes from the local Guarani language meaning ‘big water”. And, Big Water is probably a massive understatement. More like Ginormous Water.
Which Iguazu Falls is Better – Argentina or Brasil?
I had enough time at Iguazu Falls to visit both the Argentinean and the Brasilian side of the Falls. I know many people have to choose only one side of the falls due to time or money constraints.
The Argentinean side lets you get much closer to the waterfalls. There is a walkway, for example, that lets you get right over the Devil’s Throat. And, I mean, right over – there are minimal guard rails. I can’t imagine such close access would be allowed in the USA for fear of someone doing a dive from the side (or a child being pushed in by a sibling).
I found the Argentinean side also overrun with coatis which did freak me out. I was told they leave you alone if you leave them alone. On the other hand, they reminded me too much of raccoons which I have never liked.
One of the many smaller waterfalls on the Argentinian side
I think it’s worth it to see both sides of Iguassu Falls. They truly are magnificent both from a distance and up close. I’ve created a YouTube video which shows you the difference between the two sides.
If you do have the chance to see these falls which are considered one of the new Wonders of the World, I would definitely encourage to do so. You can find more information on Iguazu Falls for each of the parks in Argentina and Brasil.
Tips to help you choose a side if you can only visit Iguassu Falls from either Brasil or Argentina.