My first trip to the continent of South America was to Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil during carnival 2017. I wanted my first trip to the continent to be BIG and Carnival did not disappoint. I struggled a lot with the visit because I didn’t speak any Portugese. I only knew how to say Hello (Olà) and Thank You (obrigado). I didn’t buy a local sim card so I had no google translate while I was out (now I know to download the language to be available offline). The staff at the AC Hotel Rio de Janeiro Porto Maravilha was wonderful. They talked to my Ubers for me and helped me with my Sombròdomo ticket purchase. They made sure I knew all the safety precautions and was happy to see me stroll thru the lobby safely each day since they knew I was a solo female traveler. As a US citizen a visa is required to visit Brazil. Apply for this visa well in advance to get an appointment. I got my visa in my passport the same day of my appointment. The cost is $160usd for a 10 year visa. If your passport expires before the 10 years is up you would just carry both passports on your visits to Brazil.
BUDGET: The flight was expensive. I had been watching this flight from Houston for about 6 months. It was initially $1,250usd when I started looking for a direct flight on United. I waited and waited hoping to find a flight deal, but I wound up paying $1,376usd for flights with a long layover in Bogota, Columbia. So definitely get your tickets early or watch flight deals a year in advance. There was a wide range of hotel cost but the type of hotel I was looking for ranged $175usd a night to $450usd a night on Copacabana beach. The best nights for the parades are Sunday and Monday but those tickets are more expensive $130-$160usd a night in regular grandstand seats. If you just want the experience at half the price do a Friday or Saturday night for $60-$80usd per night. I spent an average of about $11usd per ride in Uber’s and Taxi’s. The cheapest way (free) to enjoy carnival is going to the different neighborhoods and catching blocos (street parties).
LOCATION: Where you stay really depends on what your goal is for the weekend. If you like to be in the mix of a constant party Copacabana beach is your place. If you want to go in your hotel and escape the party outside to a quiet retreat I suggest staying in a different area. I stayed in the warehouse district near the the harbor. It was a nice area for me and it wasn’t far to Uber to the Sambòdromo. The bus station was a block down and it had several fast food restaurants, a post office, convenience store, souvenir shops and several ATM machines. Remember Carnival is a BIG thing so expect places to be closed or have limited hours.
ENTERTAINMENT: Samba Parades are a must! I suggest getting tickets as early as possible and do price comparisons because when chatting with a few Brazil natives I was informed I over paid. The energy in the Sambòdromo is CRAZY! Everybody is there to have a good time! I purchased the more expensive tickets in the middle the first night and I did the cheaper tickets at the end of the route the second night. In my opinion they were both great areas to sit in so you may as well save some money and go with the cheaper tickets. The parades start about 9pm and go well into the morning so pace yourself if you want to make the entire event. There will be multiple breaks between samba schools for you to grab a bite to eat at the concession. Sightseeing must are Christ the Redeemer (Portuguese Cristo Redentor) & Sugarloaf Mountain. They both get very crowded as the day progresses so I would suggest making these an early morning excursion. Do them on separate days if you can and plan to arrive at opening time. Catch a bloco if you want to really party with the locals. If you like to experience the finer things in life there are formal balls during carnival also.
PATIENCE: The crowds will be unbearable and you are likely to run across some RUDE people that you will have to ignore. I got caught in a bloco the day I went to see Escadaria Selarón aka the Selaron Steps. I initially tried to push thru the crowd but got nowhere. Granted I didn’t try very hard because I don’t like crowds like that. I walked 30 minutes out of the way to go around. Unfortunately there was a language barrier with the Uber so I didn’t understand that he was telling me the steps were right there. I probably would have tried a little harder to push thru if I had known that or I would have just waited until the party passed.
SAFETY: Practice common sense! Don’t carry a lot of cash/credit cards & don’t wear valuables. I was constantly being told to protect my cell phone and camera. Thankfully I didn’t have any incidents but this is a warning I thought I should share since the locals reminded me so many times.