A party on the scale of Carnival can’t be contained, that’s why it spills out into the streets all over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is nearly impossible not to be swept up in the famous blocos of carnival as revelers and costume-clad partyers dance throughout the city. But, don’t worry you don’t need any special apparel to participate, just a sense of fun and willingness to swim in a sea of sweat with the masses.
While we loved the outrageous floats, elaborate costumes and incredible atmosphere of the Sambadrome, many people will tell you that the real Carnival happens in the streets. In fact, many samba schools originally began as blocos and like the samba schools each bloco has a theme which can vary from the traditional to the outrageous. Carnival “season” is marked by the start and end of Blocos, which are not restricted to the short four days of the official celebration. Many Blocos start as early as January and they last until the Sunday after Carnival. The “Blocos de Rua”, which is a group or band traditionally formed by residents of the same neighborhood, have become an essential part of Carnival in Rio, with over 492 blocos this year (2013).
If you only go to three Blocos in Rio during Carnival, these are the three not to miss:
1. Bloco do Sargento Pimenta
The Beatles may have broken up more than four decades ago, but their popularity hasn’t faded as evidenced by the more than 100,000 people that showed up at Sargento Pimenta Bloco in Flamengo. The more than 100 percussionists that put the Beatles hits to a throbbing samba beat is a sight to see and even more fun to listen to. Voted the best Bloco during Carnival, this is a party that you don’t want to miss.
2. Cordão da Bola Preta
This bloco is one of the most famous of the Centro district, beginning on Avenida Rio Branco in the business area of downtown the bloco travels through the streets to Lapa. The crowds are enormous, attracting an estimated two million people, partyers drink and dance well into the night. The costumes and craziness is unparalleled and worth a visit even if the throngs of people may crush you.
3. Banda de Ipanema and Simpateo e Queso Amor
These two popular blocos in the Ipanema beach area are held on the same day and not to be missed. Both beach side blocos attract large crowds in Zona Sul with thousands gathering at Praça General Osorio to parade down the beachfront of Ipanema. The Simpatia d Quase Amor is so established that each year a new theme song is created and t-shirts are sold, making this a great souvenir to take home!
I have only highlighted three of the more well-known blocos, there are hundreds to discover and easily a new one each day to strike your fancy. Your carnival experience wouldn’t be complete without being carried away in the crowds along Rio’s famous beaches or pulling an all-nighter in Lapa moving to the samba beat. Don’t miss out on what many claim to be the ¨real carnival¨!
WHEN YOU GO:
Carry only what you need, don’t bring any extra money or gadgets with you to the blocos, crowds are heavy and it’s the prime opportunity for pickpockets.
Don’t forget to hydrate, and I don’t mean by drinking beer, which you’ll have plenty of. It’s hot and you’ll be dancing, so don’t forget to grab a bottle of water in between your beer guzzling.
Safety in numbers, travel to the blocos with a friend or two, there is always safety in having a few people with you to keep an eye out for you.