Rio Carnival: enjoy the best party in the world on a budget (2023)

The biggest party on the planet doesn't have to cost you a fortune. It's entirely possible to enjoy Rio Carnival on a budget.


A time when you can wander the streets wearing as much or as little as you wish. When it's socially acceptable to kiss a stranger you met just a few minutes before.

Rio Carnival is the biggest street party on the planet and it's a time when social norms are forgotten and people really let loose.

But the biggest party on the planet doesn't have to cost you a fortune. It's entirely possible to enjoy Rio Carnival on a budget.

Dating back to the 19th century, Carnival is a mix of European Masquerade Balls and African tribal traditions. Paying homage to their gods, the African slaves would dress in elaborate masks, decorated with feathers, bones and paint to re-enact their religious stories and ward off bad spirits.

The origins of the word Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) come from the Catholic expression 'Carne Vale', or 'Goodbye to meat'. It was the last time to stuff your face and indulge before the 40 days of Lent.

Rio Carnival: enjoy the best party in the world on a budget (1)

Facts and stats about Rio Carnival

Rio Carnival is officially the biggest Carnival in the world.

Apart from the epic Samba School dance-off showdown in the Sambódromo (a custom-built stadium), there are also over 500 street performances (or blocos) spread all over the city (mostly free).

(Video) Rio Carnival 2022: HUGE STREET PARTY (BLOCO) 🇧🇷| Biggest & craziest samba parade of the year!

Rio isn't the only city partying. There are huge carnivals all over Brazil in Sao Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Manaus, etc.

Two million people take to the streets each day.

An estimated 400 million liters of beer are consumed across the whole of Brazil during Carnival.

The local economy will receive over R$3 billion ($8 million US) over the festive period.

Rio Carnival: enjoy the best party in the world on a budget (2)

Practical advice for Rio Carnival on a budget

The official Rio Carnival App (available on Android and iOS) is a good start.

It (allegedly) features a list of all the registered street performances, or blocos, as well as their locations and times. I say 'allegedly' because I wandered across plenty more performances that weren't on the schedule, and also got to some that had previously been cancelled.

After you find some groups you like and create your own daily schedule, cross-reference them against their individual Facebook pages for live updates. An extra bonus of the app is it also provides all the emergency numbers you may need, should you ever get into trouble.

Getting around Rio during Carnival can be tricky. Due to the sheer number of people on the streets and the various performances, lots of streets are closed and you're recommended to avoid driving and use public transport. In theory, this is a great idea but, in reality, you're probably going to end up doing a lot of walking (which is handy for keeping your Rio Carnival on a budget).

(Video) Rio Carnival 2022 🇧🇷! Full guide from the party in February | BEST OF: STREET PARTIES & PARADE

If you're using public transport, you'll want to get a RioCard. It's a top-up card which allows you to travel on buses, trains, subway and the VLT (the metrolink/tram system). You can get the card at any subway or VLT station, and top up in the station or online with a credit card. (Accurate as of March 2019 — Bus: R$4.05, VLT: R$3.80, Subway R$4.30).

A good idea would be, when using Google Maps, to save the map of Rio de Janeiro as an offline map. This way, should you be without an internet connection, you can still find your way from point A to B. If you do have an internet connection, an Uber is probably the safest option (but with the road closures you could be waiting a long time).

With regards to having an internet connection, the telephone company TIM offer a good deal exclusively for foreigners called 'Visitantes Estrangeiros'. You can get a pre-paid chip for your phone, which you can then top up at most kiosks, supermarkets, lottery shops, etc. Because it's aimed at visitors, you don't need to register or provide documentation to get the chip.

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I visited Rio Carnival both in 2018 and 2019, and my experiences couldn't have been more different.

I was working during the 2018 festival, filming and photographing several blocos, so I got to stand onstage in front of thousands of revelers and wander amongst the musicians and dancers as they performed to the fans.

In 2019, I was just a spectator. I feel lucky to have a rounded perspective.

While I never partied like a rockstar, I learnt that it's entirely possible to enjoy Rio Carnival on a budget and still have an amazing time.

Carnival is a spectacular event. There are lots of flaws and areas for improvement, but as far as events go... it's unforgettable. Even if you're prepared for the noise, the smell, the heat and the general madness, it would be a miracle if you didn't feel overwhelmed.

Two million people wandering the streets from party to party, most of them dressed as superheroes, fairies, Egyptians, angels and demons... if you can imagine it, someone was probably dressed as it.

(Video) We Went to the World's Biggest Party... Before the World Shut Down.

If there is a costume for everyone, there is certainly music for everyone.

Do you like Samba, Rock, Pop, Marchinha, African Rhythm, Maracatu? Do you want to dance along with a live band as they wander through the streets of Rio— an excellent way of seeing much more of the city (Bloco do Boitata)? Stand like sardines surrounded by one and a half million other people (Bloco da Bola Preta)? Or sit in a bar with a cold drink listening to rock classics with a Brazilian twist (Bloco Cru)?

Whatever your desire (and energy level), you'll find it at Rio Carnival.

2018 had temperatures hot enough to overheat and shut down my camera, and 2019 saw my girlfriend struggling to get back home due to flooded streets and knee-high water.

When you're preparing for Carnival, prepare for anything.

The drainage system in Rio is terrible, so if it's heavy rain you can expect some flooding. Check the weather forecast before heading out as it's entirely possible to get stranded and have to wait out the rain, which is neither pleasant nor entirely safe.

Of all the forecasts, I'd recommend WindGuru. It's the most accurate predictor I've used, and a favorite of surfers and water sports fanatics.

It's cheaper to bring your own food and drink, but difficult to keep things refrigerated if it's a particularly hot day. You'll find people wandering the streets selling all kinds of things, from cakes to sandwiches to beer to single shots of tequila. As a rule, they're usually fairly cheap and trustworthy, but I would strongly recommend you avoid the tequila, the catuaba (tastes nice/makes you crazy) and anyone selling a caipirinha for R$5. The saying "cheap and cheerful" does not apply to street alcohol.

(Video) Rio de Janeiro's "secret" Carnival 🇧🇷

As I said earlier, most of the street parties are free and you can just turn up and dance your day away. Some do charge an entry fee, and it's probably easiest to check on their individual Facebook page (all of them have one).

Lots of blocos give the option to put your name on a guest list. If you arrive before a certain time, then admittance can be free or much cheaper.

One bloco that is definitely not free is the Samba School Competition at the Sambadrome (or Sambódromo in Portuguese).

This is the most iconic and internationally famous image of Rio Carnival, featuring the gigantic floats and parades, hundreds of dancers moving in perfect harmony and the 'Queen of the Drums', the women in fantastic glittery, feathery, shiny outfits.

To get the cheap tickets you'll need to book far in advance, or take your chances with the ticket touts outside. Prices range from R$120 up to R$105,000, so there's something for all budgets.

As I said, Rio Carnival is a fantastic event, and one which I would highly recommend everyone experiences at least once in their life.

Is it perfect? No. 25,000 public toilets for 2,000,000 people is always going to lead to problems (which is why you should NOT wear flip-flops).Does it take forever and a day to get a bus anywhere? Yes. Can it be unsafe at times? Absolutely.

Leave the giant cameras at home. Keep your valuables hidden away. Don't flash your money around. Always try and travel in groups. Follow these common sense travel tips and, along with the advice above, you should have an amazing time.

(Video) What is carnival: origins of the world’s biggest party

The most expensive part will probably be finding accommodation, so why notcut that expense out completely and find a work exchange or volunteer project through Worldpackers?You'll get tips and advice from the locals, learn some key phrases and vocabulary, plus amazing recommendations for where to go and what to see.

If you're volunteering in Rio, you can absolutely enjoy Rio Carnival on a budget.

Rio Carnival: enjoy the best party in the world on a budget (4)


How much money do I need for Rio Carnival? ›

The prices range from USD30 to USD300 for parades, but these include some benefits depending on the type. These prices are based only on the Sambadrome event, so they do not include the plane ticket, the travel document's fees, and so on.

Is Rio Carnival the biggest party in the world? ›

Famous for its high energy, vibrant colours and samba-filled streets, Rio Carnival is known as the biggest party in the world. Bustling streets come alive with gorgeous costumes, parades and sumptuous street food and drink.

Is the Rio Carnival worth it? ›

Attending Carnival is one of the highlights of visiting Brazil! It's a unique and amazing experience you have to see to believe. Carnival is the country's largest annual celebration, where you get to party like there's no tomorrow while immersing yourself in an explosion of culture, music, and dance.

What is special about Rio Carnival? ›

This festival evolved from a pagan ritual to Greek or Roman gods into the current celebration with great seasonal significance for Catholics. The overall reason for this festival is to honor the spirit of overindulgence. Rio hosted the first Carnival in 1723, with Brazil's culture influenced by Portuguese colonists.

Is Rio Carnival expensive? ›

The prices range from USD30 to USD300 for parades, but these include some benefits depending on the type. These prices are based only on the Sambadrome event, so they do not include the plane ticket, the travel document's fees, and so on.

What are the best seats for Rio Carnival? ›

Sector 2, 4,6 and 8 Grandstands – Affordable seating with great views. Located direcly opposite Sectors 3, 5, 7 and 9, the Sectors 2, 4, 6 and 8 offer great views of the Samba Parade, with sector 6 being the best considered that's the area where most of the judges are seated.

What do you wear to a Rio Carnival themed party? ›

Colorful clothes are a must, as Carnival in Rio is always happy and cheerful, plus bright clothes make for great Carnival Photos! Accessories like funny hats, wigs, big necklaces, tiaras are very typical. You can also dress as a themed character and your options for outfits are endless!

Do you need tickets for Rio Carnival? ›

The sambadrome is an outdoor auditorium where the famous floats parade. This is what comes to mind when people think of Carnival as this is what people typically have seen on television or the internet. Carnival tickets must be purchased in order to attend the Sambadrome and vary greatly in pricing.

What are the negative effects of Rio Carnival? ›

Tourism and the hotel industry are among the sectors which most feel the impact. Last year alone, tourism lost 437,900 formal jobs, with a 12.5% reduction in the workforce when compared to 2019. The hosting segment accounted for 65,400 of these lost vacancies.

What do people do on Rio Carnival? ›

Incorporated into every aspect of the Rio carnival are dancing and music. The most famous dance is carnival samba, a Brazilian dance with African influences. The samba remains a popular dance not only in carnival but in the ghettos outside of the main cities.

Is Carnival in Rio fun? ›

Carnival is the Great Brazilian Experience

Brazilians love to party and celebrate, and Carnival is also about that. But in addition to the fun elements, Carnival is also about reflecting on Brazil's history, culture, and even critiquing some aspects of its society. It's a very rich experience.

What do people do at the Rio Carnival? ›

The Rio de Janeiro Carnival takes place for 4 days, from Saturday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday. These celebrations invade every neighborhood with street parties, parades, dances, and free concerts. For 2022 this celebration is confirmed to take place between February 25 and March 1.

What food is eaten during Carnival? ›

Top foods include traditional Brazilian recipes such as feijoada (slow-cooked pork and beans with rice), moqueca baiana (a fragrant fish stew) or carurú (a dish similar to gumbo made with shrimp and toasted nuts).

What do you wear to a Carnival in Brazil? ›

Wear shorts, a shirt, a top, or just a summer dress. The people aren't as dressed up as in the streets. The parades are going for hours in the Sambódromo, so be sure to bring some snacks and plenty of water. It's still hot in the evening, so wear something light and airy and leave the layers and jackets at home.

Where is the biggest Carnival celebration in the world? ›

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It's the world's largest Carnival celebration, attracting participants in the millions for a week of explosive, flamboyant, samba-shaking fun.

How much money should I bring to Rio? ›

You should plan to spend around R$423 ($82) per day on your vacation in Rio de Janeiro, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, R$81 ($16) on meals for one day and R$33 ($6.31) on local transportation.

Do Rio carnival tickets sell out? ›

Tickets for the Sambadrome sell out quickly, so if you don't buy them in advance, you will probably have to rely on local travel agents or scalpers. The official website for buying tickets is here.

How much money do you need for Carnival? ›

How Much Cash Should You Bring On a Carnival Cruise? On a Carnival cruise, you should bring around $100 cash per person for each day in port and nothing for the sea days.

Why do people wear masks at Rio Carnival? ›

The African influence

People began to use costumes and tribal masks during the celebrations. Feathers were also used in many of the African costumes and this symbolized rebirth and the rise of the spirits which are also important components of the modern day Brazilian carnival.

Who pays for Rio Carnival? ›

WHO PAYS FOR IT? Rio's city hall is investing 24 million Brazilian reals this year (about $8 million). The rest comes from sponsors, sambadrome ticket sales, samba school parties throughout the year that raise funds and a group of shady gambling businessmen called “bicheiros.”

Is balcony or orchestra seats better? ›

Orchestra seats get you closest to the stage, but being in the mezzanine or balcony can give you a wider, fuller view of the stage from a little higher up, especially as compared to a section like the side orchestra, where you might be closer, but might not have a full view of one far side of the stage.

How strict is Carnival dress code? ›

Please no tracksuit trowsers, basketball shorts, flip-flops, bathing clothes or cut-off jeans. Gentlemen: elegant dress pants, shirts, sports jackets as well as suits, ties and tuxedos. Ladies: cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts, blouses and evening gowns.

What do girls wear to Carnival? ›

For a carnival party, a fun, bright dress is the best choice. Wear something that shows your personality and don't be afraid to get creative with the color and pattern. While it is never wrong to wear a brightly colored outfit, the most important thing is to wear something that will make your experience memorable.

Can you wear your own costume to Carnival? ›

Costumes for Everyone

You can be just as content being a spectator and join the thousands of cariocas who enjoy the carnival to the fullest with elaborate costumes of their own. Feel free to wear your costume at one of the many street parties that take place during the Carnival.

Who attends Rio Carnival? ›

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

On any given day, more than 2 million people, Cariocas, tourists and people who travel to Rio de Janeiro from cities across Brazil and throughout South America to take part in the events of Rio Carnival.

Is Rio Carnival family friendly? ›

It Includes Lots of Parties

Each party is organized around a specific theme, and some are kid friendly, with clowns and people walking on stilts to dazzle the crowds.

What are 3 benefits of Carnival? ›

It will promote, among others: Economic benefits - general goodwill; wealthcreation; intellectual property rights; bigger and more profitable industries;employment; foreign exchange earnings; private sector development.

Is Rio carnival religious? ›

The Carnival is a Christian festival observed by Christians all around the world. Nevertheless, the Carnival in Brazil is by far the biggest, and most colorful of them all.

How many people does the Rio carnival attract? ›

Facts about Rio Carnival

Today, Rio Carnival attracts over 6 million participants. Each day, there are more than 2 million on the streets during festivities.

How many meals do you get on Carnival cruise? ›

Food and Beverages

The main dining room offers the quintessential cruise experience with nightly three-course meals, sea day brunch, and a sit-down option for breakfast on port days.

Do you eat free on Carnival cruises? ›

Much of the food is included in your cruise fare, with the exception of the steakhouse, Cucina del Capitano, and chef's table that cost a little extra. You can eat as much as you want!

What is the most popular food at a Carnival? ›

The corn dog may just be the most popular carnival food. This iconic recipe is said to have been invented at the Texas State Fair in the late 1930's. Even today, this delicious and portable hotdog remains a fairground favorite across the country.

How do I not look like a tourist in Brazil? ›

We don't recommend jeans or long pants—you'll get uncomfortably hot. If you're going to the beach or just wandering through the streets, choose beach shorts and light t-shirts with sandals or flip flops. If you are going to a restaurant, choose more up-scale shorts with casual shoes and maybe a polo shirt.

How busy is Rio during Carnival? ›

Carna Rio de Janeiro is the biggest carnival in the world, with over two million people attending each year. The carnival was first held in 1723 when the Portuguese colonized the country. Back then, it was called Entrudo, or entrance. This is what makes it one of the oldest carnivals in the world.

What is the biggest celebration in America? ›

Independence Day is often considered the most “American” of American holidays. Most celebrations are officially kicked off with a parade honoring the history of the country and those who fought for its freedom.

Which state is famous for carnival? ›

Carnival in Goa, also called "Carnaval", "Intruz", "Entrado", or (colloquially) "Viva Carnival" refers to the festival of carnival, or Mardi Gras, in the Indian state of Goa.

Is carnival the biggest party in the world? ›

An annual festival full of colour, music and life, Brazil's Rio Carnival 2023 kicked off on February 17. Often described as the “world's biggest party”, it is expected to be attended by more than 40 million people this year, according to local authorities' estimates.

How much money do you need for Trinidad Carnival? ›

You can easily spend $2000-$7000 USD on carnival depending on how good your costume is, how many fetes you wish to attend and where you are flying from. But trust us, it is worth every penny, so save up and just enjoy having the time of your life! Carnival costumes in Trinidad and Tobago are amazing and over the top!

What do you wear to Rio Carnival? ›

Colorful clothes are a must, as Carnival in Rio is always happy and cheerful, plus bright clothes make for great Carnival Photos! Accessories like funny hats, wigs, big necklaces, tiaras are very typical. You can also dress as a themed character and your options for outfits are endless!

How long to stay in Rio for Carnival? ›

Not to mention, there is so much to do and explore in Rio during Carnival, any time less than a week will feel rushed. So with that in mind, try to stay for the entire week of Carnival. This will not only save you money but also give you time to recover on some days as Carnival is very exhausting!

Can you use US dollars in Rio? ›

By law, the Brazilian real (R$) is the only currency accepted in Brazil.

How far does US dollar go in Brazil? ›

The U.S. dollar will go far in these 20 international cities
LocationCurrency ExchangeAverage Cost of Daily Expenses
Buenos Aires, Argentina1 USD = 27.1010 ARS$64
Bangkok, Thailand1 USD = 32.9077 THB$65
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil1 USD = 3.76620 BRL$65
Banff, Canada1 USD = 1.32857 CAD$71
16 more rows
Jul 9, 2018

Should I carry cash in Brazil? ›

Unlike some other South American countries US dollars are rarely accepted in Brazil. Therefore we recommend you have some reais in cash.

What do people wear at Trinidad Carnival? ›

At most events, men wear shirts, polos, or tee shirts with shorts, or jeans. Women tend to wear rompers, skirts, stylish blouses and vests, short shorts, sandals, sneakers, heels and wedges. Swimwear, cover-up, sandals.

What is the average cost of a Trinidad Carnival costume? ›

Basic costume prices for the Trinidad Carnival are approximately US$400 to US$600. However costumes in the more popular sections can cost upwards of US$1000.

How much is Fete in Trinidad? ›

Fete with the Saints release their tickets at $1400TT (General) and $2000TT (VIP) making it the highest priced school All Inclusive for 2023.

Is Carnival strict on dress code? ›

Please no tracksuit trowsers, basketball shorts, flip-flops, bathing clothes or cut-off jeans. Gentlemen: elegant dress pants, shirts, sports jackets as well as suits, ties and tuxedos. Ladies: cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts, blouses and evening gowns.

What shoes to wear to Rio Carnival? ›

Feel free to wear flip flops as many people were them. The go-to brands are Havaianas or Ipanema. However, if you're worried about people stepping on your toes or getting your feet dirty, you can wear sneakers instead.

Is 10 days in Rio too much? ›

If you're going to Rio, plan to stay for a while.

5-7 days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Rio, although closer to 10 days will allow you to truly see it all.

Where is the best place to stay for Rio Carnival? ›

The most popular accommodations location during Rio Carnival is the South Zone (Zona Sul), which consists of the beachfront neighborhoods spread out along the Atlantic coast in Ipanema, Copacabana, Leme, Leblon and Arpoador.


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