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Travel in Latin America

How to Celebrate Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilians call Rio de Janeiro, Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) and with good reason. Breathtaking mountain vistas, lush tropical forests and world-famous beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana surround this cosmopolitan city. But why go for the scenery? The true marvel of Rio is her culture and passionate people. See Brazilians put on a spectacular cultural display of color, music and dance. If you love to samba and want to party, don't miss the most unique Carnival celebration on earth.

Plan ahead. Brazil requires a tourist visa even for short visits, so check out the nearest Brazilian consulate for instructions. Also, Carnival officially begins 40 days before Easter, so the actual dates vary from year to year. Check your calendar and be sure to book a flight and hotel far in advance, as this is peek tourist season in Rio.

Get your tickets early. The Samba School Parade held at the Sambadromo on Sunday and Monday of Carnival weekend is the highlight event of the Carnival season. Samba schools (or teams) compete in this all-night spectacle that is a must-see. Keep in mind that tickets are expensive and sell out quickly. They can be purchased online or through a travel agency.

Spend at least a week in Rio during Carnival season. There is so much to do and see you won't want to miss a thing.

Watch a Samba School rehearse before the big parade. Rehearsals take place in the schools' respective neighborhoods but are open to the public and easily accessible by taxi. Arrive any time after 11 p.m. and be prepared to dance!

Go to a street parade called a banda or bloco. It's free and a good way to burn some calories as you samba in the streets with all the locals. There are dozens of these events held all over the city throughout the Carnival season (up to 2 weeks before and after Fat Tuesday). Check a travel guide for times and locations.

Buy an official banda T-shirt available only during the street parade. It makes an inexpensive and unique souvenir you can wear every day.

Visit one of the hundreds of Carnival Balls held on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday. Ticket prices are reasonable and sold at the door. Costumes are not required but many people do dress up, so be adventurous and creative!

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