Edited one year later to add: if you are looking for good travel advice on Rio during Carnaval, look somewhere else. I actually had mostly an awful time; if you’d like to read about that, then by all means continue. If you want to see the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, and dislike crowds, I’d recommend going during the off-season, when it’s still warm and a hell of a lot easier to get around. My experience on the beach of Ipanema, for example, was that I had no view of the ocean and no breathing room both days I went during Carnaval. And my other advice would be to go to a smaller city or town for Carnaval: you’ll still get the parties, the music, and the beaches, and things will be a bit cheaper and more relaxed. I now live in Florianópolis, for example, and Carnaval here has been delightful this year. The Northeast is also a great option: Olinda, João Pessoa, Fortaleza…! Also, don’t just assume it’s okay to grope people because *it’s Brazil* and *everyone does it.* Nobody does it, and you’ll get slapped at the very least.
So Carnaval in Rio wasn’t quite what I expected, if we’re being honest. The first night I was there, I went out with Ma and the other girls I was staying with to a street party in Lapa. This is relatively normal, sure, for Carnaval. What is not normal is that I went home and woke up in the middle of the night with my nose running as if it were being chased by a madman with a chainsaw. Ew. Commence crazy sinusitis and migraine! I am especially confused as to how and why this happened, especially since I’ve never had sinus problems in my life. At any rate, this misery lasted through medication, “self-medication,” and a few nights of horrendous sleep–right up until the morning I left Rio, when it disappeared. The Fates didn’t want me to revel, I guess. But revel I did, somewhat. Here are some tips, should you find yourself in this situation:
- Sleep at night, go out during the day. It’s harder to sleep during the day anyway–not to mention impractical to go to the beach at night–so you might as well get up [slowly] and get out. I ended up passing out as early as possible at night, which sometimes wasn’t very early because I was sharing a studio apartment with 4 girls who were in the habit of inviting gentleman callers with flutes and tambourines over to pre-game before going out (I shit you not). But sleep when you can.
- Forget trying to be “fun.” I’m pretty sure I got called a mala a lot behind my back (mala meaning suitcase, or colloquially, social baggage or a person who is a draaaag). I was past the point of even trying to pretend I felt good sometimes, though, so whatever.
- The beach is your best friend. Stay there for a few hours, preferably under an umbrella.
- DO NOT go around the city with a group that can’t decide–for two hours–on where to stop for lunch. The building rage and low blood sugar will only intensify the migraine.
- Medicine will not help.
- Contrary to popular logic, beer will.
- But then you will feel like absolute death afterwards when the beer wears off. You will know pain you’ve never known before.
- Avoid going to the Beatles-samba bloco, since the music sucks and is hard to hear, and it is über-crowded and you will end up just going to Ipanema and having a better time anyway.
- Rio is beautiful, and even if you don’t get up to Christ the Redeemer or to any other super touristy attractions, and even if the hordes of people there for the festivities sort of dampen the effect, you will like it and want to go back.