The Dos and Don’ts of Rio Carnival

January 27, 2016 by Alexandra Gregg

Calling all festival-goers! Rio Carnival is a lively, vibrant explosion of colour, fancy dress and feathered up-dos, an event that tops many a bucket list. But, as with any big occasion, it pays to be prepared and follow certain dos and don’ts. So if you’re headed for Brazil to partake in this world-famous event next month (5th-9th February), make sure you follow these tips, hints and advice titbits before you do.

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Streamers in front of Christ the Redeemer for Rio Carnival

Do… join in

Get some props or a costume – the more colours, sequins and feathers the better – and get involved with the fun! There’s no better way to immerse yourself in this cultural feast than to be a part of it, so throw away those inhibitions and embrace every second. Just make sure you wear clothes you won’t mind getting dirty.

Street parties and all the festivities are free, unless you’re planning to enter yourself into the official Samba competition, that is.

Don’t… bring a camera crew

Videographers take note: professional video cameras are banned at the Sambodromo stadium, where the Samba parade and competition takes place. That said, you can still take a normal camera or video equipment, just be careful with anything valuable.

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A sea of yellow in the Carnaval parade

Do… learn the language

Knowing just a handful of Portuguese words will get you a long way in Brazil, and at Rio Carnival. The key ones to know are: hello (olà); my name is… (o meu nome é…); how are you? (como vai? / como está?); and, leading onto our next section, where is the bathroom? (com licença, onde fica o banheiro).

Even if you end up talking absolute gobbledygook, most locals will appreciate the effort.

Don’t… use the streets as a toilet!

Urinating in the streets is strictly prohibited – the Carnival may be liberal but there are still rules to be followed. If you’re caught you’ll most likely be arrested and given a hefty fine. Avoid wasting your entire carnival budget and spend a couple of Brazilian Real on using a restaurant toilet instead. If you’ve got bag space: bring your own toilet roll.

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Drummers keeping the Rio beat

Do… be sensible

We may have said Rio was liberal, but that doesn’t mean all your usual travel common sense should go out the window. Keep your money in a money belt close to your body, preferably hidden beneath a layer of clothing, and use traveller’s cheques and credit cards instead of cash as they are more easily replaced. Leave your valuables at home (you don’t need to be flashy in Rio, gaudy will do just fine!), take out good travel insurance and make a photocopy of your passport, leaving the original in your hotel safe.

Don’t… forget suncream

Brazil is hot hot hot, and Rio is no exception! You’re going to be out in the sun all day and, for most of us pasty Brits, that means only one thing: sunburn. Fight off the UV rays by slapping on a solid factor 50 – don’t worry, you’ll still get a tan in this 30ᵒC+ heat – as well as wearing a hat and sunglasses.

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A Brazilian dancer with elaborate headgear

Do… prepare for rain

Umbrellas are a no-no (you don’t want to be blocking anyone’s view of the festivities), but a poncho will work wonders when a tropical downpour ensues.

Don’t… forget to have fun!

Festivals are overwhelming and frenetic, especially in a country you’re not familiar with. But while you should be vigilant, also try and have as much fun as you possibly can. After all, there’s a reason Rio Carnival is lauded as one of the best events on the planet.


Planning a last-minute trip to see Rio Carnival or want to book a Brazilian adventure for later in the year? Speak to one of our Travel Experts today.


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About Alexandra Gregg

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not underwater or deploying a snorkel, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. Tweet me @wonderg1rl