Rio Carnival: What you need to know before visiting the Sambadrome
What is the Sambadrome at Rio Carnival?
The Sambadrome at Rio Carnival is definitely an event during Carnival not to be missed. It’s an impressive spectacle that draws in thousands of people each night, allowing samba schools from across Brazil to show off their best moves and vibrant costumes. I went along on the Sunday 26 February 2017 with my three friends, Hana, Hannah and Andreas. Everything I had imagined Carnival to be like came true on this night. If you’re thinking of going to the Sambadrome, read on to find out some of my best tips.
How to get tickets:
I bought my tickets online at Rio Carnival website a few months in advance to ensure we got the best stand at the semifinals, as they can sell out fast. After reading many blogs and advice on the official website, we decided sector 10 sounded the best. I paid with my card online and within a day I received an email with a confirmation number of my order, which I was to keep safe until I got to Rio.
Once you arrive to the city, you need to make your way to Rio Scala in the centre. A club at night and ticket office by day. It is near to the Teatro Municipal and also walking distance from Lapa Arches.
You need to take with you your confirmation email and a photocopy of your passport. They do have a photocopy machine there in case you don’t have one, which you pay about 10$R for.
There was a theme we found in Brazil with queuing. It seemed you never ended with the first person you see. There is always 2 or more people to go to after as the job gets passed down. At Rio Scala, you see one man who you give your booking reference to and then he tells you to go round the corner to queue again to be seen by another man, who then hands over your tickets.
How to get to Sambadrome Rio:
You can easily walk to the Sambadrome from Lapa, which is another advantage of staying there. It takes around 25 minutes, so grab a street caipirinha and get walking.
Once you arrive at the stadium, you will find all the odd numbered stands on the Lapa side. The even numbers are within a favella on the Cidade Nova side. To access stand 10, we had to follow the barriers along and cut into a narrow side street within the favella to find the main entrance. Along the way, there are plenty of ladies selling beers and snacks to help fuel the party goers.
We reached sector 10, scanned our tickets and found some space to take a seat as we waited for the first parade to begin.
What do you imagine when you think of Carnival?
We arrived at the Sambadrome around 22:00 and the first parade began 20 minutes later. As we were seated quite close to the end of the runway, it took 40 minutes for the dancers and floats to slowly twirl their way down towards us. We could hear the live music but could not see any of the performance yet. However, this did not affect the energy of the singing along locals, and soon to be us. The crowds passed down the samba school’s flyers, which displayed the lyrics to each of their songs. We blasted these out in our terrible Portuguese.
The first spectacle was sensational. There were ginormous dragon and crocodile meets jaguar floats, a lady dancing on the wings of a giant macaw, all to an incredibly catchy song. To this day I am still singing the chorus.
Groups of beautifully coordinated dancers all in matching uniforms start at the beginning of each samba school. A live band follows, proudly marching up the runway of the Sambadrome. Pausing in front of our sector to show off their musical skills. For me, they were the real stars of the show. Nonstop singing and beating drums to the same song over and over again for one and a half hours. It was seriously impressive.
The dancers spun and the ladies sparkled in their jewelled thongs. We unfortunately couldn’t see the intricate details of every costume from the height we were standing. However, we could look down on their perfectly synchronised moves.
There was quite a wait between each samba school, at least 20 minutes for the next one to start and a further 40 minutes for the parade to reach our stall. Because of this, we had time to go to the toilet or sneakily grab a Bob’s cheeseburger or keep on drinking and chat to our neighbours.
One of the guys we were with was so sleepy, the best way for him to stay awake was to read through all the lyrics to each song. Pulling the words right up to his face, he religiously sang along, missing almost all of the parade. It was certainly entertaining for us to watch but it was also a sign for us to go home. We stayed for 4 out of the 6 schools and at 04.30 we accepted defeat and walked home.
On the way out we were walking against the exhausted dancers who were stripping off their heavy and extravagant costumes. Glittering them along the street leaving behind head pieces, wings and jewels. It was quite a sad sight and it was a shame we couldn’t collect all the abandoned outfits. They were even too heavy for us to trail home.
My top tips:
- First of all, if you are staying in Lapa, I would recommend you to stand in one of the odd numbered sectors in Sambadrome. Go for 9 or 11 as they are much more easily accessible from Lapa.
- You can take in your own drinks and snacks into the Sambadrome to keep your energy and spirits high!
- Your camera and/or phone is safe inside the Sambadrome. Just be careful with it on your way there and back.
- Surprisingly the locals didn’t get as involved in fancy dress here as they do on the streets. It’s the one place to not dress too crazy. But a little glitter won’t hurt anyone.
- Don’t worry if you don’t get tickets in advance. We found that some hostels had spare tickets for sale and at a reasonable price.
- What if your budget doesn’t quite stretch for a ticket to the semifinal or finale events? If you are in Rio a couple of weeks prior to Carnival, the Sambadrome comes to life at the weekends for free parades.
- Finally, be prepared for long waits and repeated songs. If you get involved with the locals and sing your heart out, you won’t even notice!
If you’re more interested in the other aspects of Carnival, have a read of my other post on the 10 things you need to know about Rio de Janeiro Carnival.