When there’s a major event in a major city going on, you need to book travel well in advance. When that event is Carnival and it’s in a a city perpetually short on luxury hotels—Rio de Janeiro—it’s even more important to make your plans as far ahead of time as possible.
When you think of Brazil, one of the iconic images that probably comes to mind is a Rio Carnaval parade, complete with wild costumes, samba music, and dancing. There are actually multiple parades over several days and in 2020 that will be between February 21 and 26. If you can’t go this coming year then go ahead and book for 2021. It’s even earlier then, February 12 through 16.
This is a pre-Lent blowout like you find all over the Catholic world—including New Orleans with Mardis Gras—but on a much larger scale. It dates back to 1840, got a samba injection in 1917, and has been a wild party ever since. More than a million people from outside Rio pour in, creating one of the world’s largest festivals.
So, this is not an event where you want to wing it at the last minute or take your chances. Brazil is already underserved by flights from North America and they’re already expensive. Plus there’s the hotel shortage we mentioned (remember all those Olympic attendees sleeping on cruise ships?) and you need tickets for most of the Carnival events. There are limited ways for outsiders to take part in the parades too, but not by just showing up and talking your way into a group.
So the best best is to connect with an agency that has been doing this a long time and knows all the ins and outs. One based in Brazil will usually have deep experience and plenty of contacts to set up the memorable trip of a lifetime. They should have a dedicated Rio Carnival travel page on their website. There should be suggested itineraries you can take advantage of, or you can customize the plans to meet your needs.
A good agency will also work out your Rio hotel stay, based on knowledge of which of the limited places to stay are fine and which should be avoided. Since they send business to these properties regularly, they have negotiated rates and an inside track to preferential treatment.
If you prefer working with an agency outside of Brazil, tour company Intrepid runs a Carnival tour each year, as do some of the other big international companies. (When doing a search, know that it’s spelled as Carnaval de Brasil locally.)
If Carnival in Rio is on your bucket list, don’t drop the bucket by trying to set up the trip yourself. Even though it looks like we can book everything online ourselves, that doesn’t mean we should. You’ll probably pay a similar price and have a lot better trip if you call in the experts.