Rio on a Budget: Cheap Ways to See the Largest Carnival in the World

For CheapOAir Miles Away. January 2018. 

Are you desperately in need of some sunny beaches, dancing in the streets, and meeting some of the friendliest people on earth? Is seeing the largest carnival in the world on your bucket list but the high travel costs scaring you off? Follow these essential tips so that you can plan a trip to Rio De Janeiro this spring for a lot less than you may have imagined!

Plan Ahead

planning a trip to rio

Flights and hotels in Rio go up in prices during peak season, so book as far in advance as possible. Gather some friends who can split a room or an apartment. Carnival tickets go on sale in December and they are cheaper early on. If you have friends in Brazil, ask them to purchase it locally, as residents receive discounts.

Get There Early for Free Street Parties

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Don’t wait to get to Rio until carnival weekend. Over 400 carnival parties take place for 3 entire weeks leading up to Carnival Monday, and flights are a lot more affordable! During the days leading up to the season of Lent, there’s a block party practically every day in different neighborhoods, complete with marching bands, live orchestra, DJs, and samba dancers.

rio bloco orange edited

Everyone is invited and there’s no cost to attend these block parties, called Blocos de Rua. Each block has a theme that determines the colors, flags, dress code (e.g. oranges, nuns, drags, clowns) so you may want to check online and prepare to blend in. Drinks are available for purchase but you can also bring your own to save money. The best blocos are located at Rio’s major districts including Ipanema, Santa Teresa, Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Leblon, Gávea, Jardim Botânico, Vila Isabel, Ramos, and Tijuca.

The freeform parties are mostly attended by neighborhood residents, but also attract party hoppers from all over Brazil as well as tourists. It’s a fun way to enjoy the local music, dance, and culture without having to spend anything. The block parties are the best places to interact with the vibrant and diverse people of Rio.

Pack Your Weird and Wacky Halloween Costumes

Part of the carnival fun is to dress up in costumes and express yourself in front of thousands of people without being judged. Though not required (you’ll see people in bathing suits, shorts and T-shirts, underwear, or even in drag), here’s your chance to dig out those Halloween costumes buried deep in your closet. We recommend you pack as many loud and colorful costumes and accessories as you can, as they will all come in handy at the block parties and save you the time and money of having to purchase them in Rio.

Samba costumes, on the other hand, are very expensive and made to order. Unless you’re planning to dance in the carnival parade (for which you may need to move to Brazil for a few months for practice), just add a few feathers to your swimsuit!

Save on Costs at the Grand Parade

rio carnival parade edited

The biggest parade in the world takes place at the Sambadrome in Rio on Sunday and Monday before carnival ends and tickets are sold out few weeks in advance. Six samba schools perform each night for about an hour each with over 24,000 performers. Make sure to bring extra camera and phone batteries as you take photos and videos of 3-story tall elaborately decorated floats with professional dancers wearing lots of feathers and glittering costumes. Here’s a secret – there is a special “Access Group” performance on Friday night where seven of the best samba schools (known as Carnival Gold Group) parade, for a fraction of the cost!

There are five types of tickets available for the parade depending on the proximity to the floats, inclusion of snacks/ drinks: Boxes, Dress Circle, Grandstands Seats, Back Stall Seats, and Specially Handicapped. Though box tickets can cost as much as $2200, we feel the stadium seats (cheapest) offer the best panoramic views of the entire parade, as well as a chance to mingle with the locals. You can bring your own food and drinks in coolers, therefore saving money on those meagre food stalls.

rio carnival edited

Tickets can be purchased through the official carnival store, though we found the best prices online at Brazilian event tickets sites. We paid $20 per person for the Access Group performance on Friday night.

You want to get there at 10-11pm and plan to stay till sunrise. Uber is much cheaper and safer way to get to and back from the Sambadrome, which is not accessible by metro.

 Go Beyond Rio

Although Rio’s Carnival is the most famous one, other cities in Brazil also celebrate the carnival with lots of fanfare and enthusiasm. Different regions of Brazil are influenced by local music, folklore and culture. Go to the northeastern state of Bahia to see Afro-Brazilian inspired groups, mingle with some of the largest student population in Belo Horizonte, and see Galo de Madrugada (the biggest carnival parade in terms of number of participants according to The Guinness Book of World Records) in Recife.

All Carnival pics by Amanda Villa-Lobos/ goeatgive.com

Written for CheapOAir Miles Away. January 2018. 

 

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