Rio Carnival – Hot in Samba rhythms

Tiếng Việt


Big cities are no longer my favorite because of such a common feature on hustle and bustle. They become transition spots where I have to pass by to continue my journey. However, Rio de Janeiro is an unique exception.

As soon as I arrived its airport, I was overwhelmed by its energetic vitality. Though the city was welcoming millions of tourists for its Carnival, its liveliness was even well demonstrated by simple things in the airport, as well as on the streets. The way they welcome their beloved ones back by jumping on the arms, crying and laughing simultaneously; the way they say goodbye by passionate hugs; and of course, the way they dance samba wherever, whenever they have music, as naturally as breathing, making me who tends to avoid the crowd, want to swing.

Never have I felt the vitality of a city as strongly as I had in Rio during its Carnival. No word, image or footage can perfectly capture the lively and fascinating atmosphere during those days. Only once you have been there, indulged in its spirit, been overwhelmed by the vivid colors of the masquerade and immersed yourself in throbbing drums and hot sambas, would you understand why Rio Carnival is named as “the Greatest Party on planet”. 

I have to say, Rio de Janeiro is worth to stay for a few days. It is famous not only for its Carnival, but also its breathtaking landscapes. It was surprised to realize that Rio city had been built in between a harmonious blend of mountains and ocean. Layers of houses on mountainsides and seemingly endless coastline bring out the uniqueness and differentiation for Rio.

The scenery on the top of Sugarloaf was impressively splendid. After 2 floors of cable car, we reached the top when the sun was about to set. We were so eager to observe the transformation of the landscape through the changing sunlight. The sun was partly covered by a huge grey cloud, yet a few rays of sunshine still shone on the slope.

Stunning sunset on top of Sugarloaf mountain

The surface of the sea was as calm as of a lake with lots of toy-like yachts. A long bridge connects 2 sides of the city. When it got darker, the city was lightened up and sparkled as stars on the ground.

Not far from there is Corcovado Mountain, famous for its massive open-armed statue of Jesus.  The statue of 30 meters tall and 28 meters arm reach has become religious and cultural symbol of both Rio and Brazil, also is listed in new 7 wonders of the world. We took the tram in a station at the bottom of the mountain to travel to the top. It is the most convenient transportation with picturesque view along the way. In addition, visitors can also take tourist van from Largo do Machado Square in front of the church, however, the road is not as beautiful as the railway.

Reaching the top, a wide view of Rio appeared dreamily from behind the cloudy sky.

Such an amazing view from the top of Corcovado mountain

However, it seemed that amazing panorama view was not the only thing people were crazy about. We burst out laughing when seeing many kinds of poses, from kneeing to lying on the floor, try to take a photograph with this celebrated Jesus statue. As a result, the landscape was though amazing, didn’t leave any special impression to us.

Rio is also known as a beach city, not because it boasts many beaches, or for its sandy beauty and the quality of sea water, but because of its lively atmosphere which can be experienced in both day and night. We felt excited when sitting there, enjoying our cool beers in bustling samba music from numerous nearby bars. The sea was clean and clear as tourists struggled to swim through the large waves battering the shore. Like us, many people chose to relax on the beach and watch the beautiful people from all over the world enjoy themselves.

Botafogo beach, next to Copacabana beach – view from our hotel’s rooftop bar


With such marvelous scenery, however, on top of everything, the most impressive and memorable thing about Rio was the fascinating atmosphere and its energetic vitality. It seemed to be multiplied by several times when the city was jubilantly preparing to welcome millions of tourists for the biggest carnival season in the world.

People in colorful costumes everywhere on the streets in Rio

The history of the Brazilian Rio Carnival has its roots in slavery; slaves (mostly people from Africa) would sing and dance on the street for several days once a year. As time passed, the festival was gradually formalized, becoming the biggest festival in Brazil. It’s now almost a week, in Feb or Mar, exact date varies by year depending on the Easter time in Catholic calendar. In big cities like Rio or Salvador, the carnival is organized in huge scale, not only has spontaneous street parades where anyone can join free of charge, but also magnificent performances by Samba schools with huge investment and professional practices, taking place in a customized stadium with the ticket price ranged from a few hundreds to a few thousand US dollars, depending on where to sit.

Nothing can accurately describe the innumerable feelings that the Carnival provokes. It is only when you are there, amongst the throngs of celebrators, breathing in the lively air, and becoming one with the energy of these people, that you can truly experience the sensation of the Carnival which you have never ever imagined.

The liberal attitudes of the festival are shown through the colorful and sexy costumes. Most of the people we met on the street wore costumes, from simple to sophisticated, but each was very diverse and creative. Men wearing tutus or women in colorful dresses without anything underneath are all normal on the street. Although we did not prepare any costumes, we all were incredibly excited to indulge in the lively and colorful atmosphere.

The driving melodies of Latin-influenced music easily connects people together. When the music played, strangers from all around the world danced together and became friends. If you have a musical instrument, you are welcomed everywhere whether you’re alone or in a band. Bands were quickly formed by those who didn’t know each other, people randomly began playing familiar songs together; the crowd kept cheering and followed them around, forming a parade on the street. This is also a unique feature of the Rio Carnival, you’re free to join countless parades in every corner of the city, just like joining a party without a host and no invitation needed.

The open-mindedness of the festival was also expressed in passionate spontaneous kisses. We were extremely surprised and excited when seeing those scenes. After their kiss they asked each other their names and phone numbers, it was then we realized that they were strangers who had passed each other randomly in the crowd. Just a feeling or a crush was enough to warrant burning kisses.


The backbone of Rio Carnival is Sambardrom Marques de Sapucai. Though it is dubbed “the greatest party on the planet”, it is not simply for entertainment, rather it is ferocious competition among samba schools. 13 teams compete in 2 nights and the winner will be performed in the final event of the following year. Samba schools have not only professional dancers, but also social groups who love carnival. They gather as a samba school and dedicate time to practice in order to perform every year.

The crowd at 9:00pm, while to show start at 10pm

The show started from 10pm to 6am the following day. We had wondered why it happened too late in the day, but we got it after attending. The weather in Rio in early Feb was so hot and sultry that no one was able to enjoy a lengthy outdoor performance, neither audiences nor performers.

We managed to watch 6 out of 7 schools on that day, till 5am. Each school performed around 75 min, parading down the samba runway in the middle of 2 side grandstands of the stadium, under a unique theme with thousands of dancers, its drum teams and floating units. It was a fascinating night, went beyond my expectations and imagination. It seemed an eye open for me with massive, colorful and creative performances. The creativity was spectacularly demonstrated in designing glorious customized costumes for dancers, in operating and decorating dazzling floating units that are as tall as the grandstands with hundreds of dancers on it, the harmony of the music, the lighting, the beats, sexy Samba of leading dancers, as well as group performance to reflect the theme of each team.

School 1: The samba empire on the road to China

The floating units are the medium to express the concept of theme. With the theme of “the Samba empire to the road to China”, giant dragons, Buddha statues and Great Wall were amazingly designed to bring out a Chinese look and feel. While spaceships or rolling time machine were used for the theme “Run, the future is coming”. In the theme of “With money or without money, I play”, floating units were movable casinos with caustic images of pigs and ducks.

School 3 – the best of the night with theme “Run, the future is coming”

Samba dancers are the soul of samba schools. They are beautiful and super sexy girls in florid & catchy handmade costumes. Always be the lead of the floating units, samba dancers with mastering samba steps on their high-heeled shoes catch all the attention of the audiences. Tremendous audiences’ cheers and throbbing drum’s beats enhanced their passionate performance.

Such a sleepless night, but an amazingly unique and only experience in my life. Not until I had watched the performances with my own eyes could I begin to understand the greatness of the investment and long-nights practicing effort of samba schools for those 75-minute performance.

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If Brazil is not yet in your wish list, simply add it in. You will experience something extraordinarily unique and different from what you have known. I felt lucky and satisfied that I had completed successfully this trip.

Traveled in Feb, 2018

Read my other articles about Brazil

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