Rio Carnival 2019… the highlight of the social calendar for an already incredibly social people.
Officially beginning 5 days before Lent (although unofficially the drums start beating weeks before), the biggest carnival on earth dominates Brazil. Rio Carnival will see over a million tourists hit the streets, and benefit from close to $1 Billion in revenue.
For those of you who’ve only ever seen clips of the Brazilian festival on TV or Youtube, Carnival (or Carnaval as it’s called in Brazil) is MUCH more than the parade with the lady wearing glittery feathers and the big floats.
This parade takes place at the Sambódromo, a mini-stadium where people pay big money to watch the giant floats and fantastic dancing of the Samba Schools as they battle it out to be crowned champion of the world. This truly is a sight to behold, yet it is only a fraction of what Rio Carnival actually is. For the rest of the time, the 100s of street parties and concerts, most of them free, are where the party’s at.
Alongside the tourists, locals also come out in force. This brings the estimated numbers to 2 million people on the streets each day.
If you’re planning on attending Rio Carnival 2019, I imagine it could be a little intimidating. The sound is deafening, the smells are eye-watering and the caipirinhas intoxicating. In a sea of 2 million people it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
What you need is a no-nonsense, practical guide on what to do, how to do it and what to do if things go wrong. And you’re in luck, because you’ve just found it!
Table of Contents
Rio Carnival 2019 – The Basics
Let’s get the obvious advice out of the way nice and early:
- Bring suncream – it can get roasting hot.
- Drink lots of water.
- Don’t look like a tourist. Everyone’s wearing ridiculous outfits so dress as outrageously as you want, but keep your valuables out of sight.
That covers pretty much all the basics. Now for the actual useful information which will make your experience even more awesome, save you stress and keep you safe.
Before we get into the websites and apps you need, it’s worth quickly talking about how to stay connected when in Brazil. It’s no use having a million and one apps if you’re offline. Whether you’re coming just for the Carnival Parade or a longer Brazilian experience, it could save you a lot of headaches to get a cheap Brazilian CHIP/SIM for your phone.
There are free WIFI hotspots around Brazil (you can find a map of all the wifi hotspots using Wiman), but be careful. When you connect to a free wifi hotspot you’re at risk of your phone being hacked, or your security information being stolen. With millions of people using the wifi during Carnival it’s a hackers dream. Always use a VPN! This basically encrypts your data and makes it much harder for them to steal your passwords, credit card details or install malware on your machine. I personally use VPN Express, and I’ll be writing a whole post about that shortly (Get a 30 day free trial of VPN Express here. You get 30, I get 30… winner winner!)
To avoid this risk, and ensure you have a constant connection for uploading your Carnival selfies, it’s much easier to get a CHIP/SIM (I still use VPN Express even with my CHIP. It gives you access to Netflix from all different countries… winner!).
TIM is a good company, they’ve got coverage in all Brazilian states and have over 60 million customers… so they’re legit. They offer a CHIP especially for tourists called the ‘VISITANTES ESTRANGEIROS’ (Foreign Visitors). It’s a prepaid CHIP, costing R$25 ($6.70) for 1.5gb of data which lasts a week. Top up again by SMS using a credit card, or buy a prepaid card in banks, lottery kiosks, pharmacies, supermarkets and other places displaying the TIM logo.
There are other companies eg Claro, Movistar etc, but most of them are not tourist friendly. You may be asked to provide a CPF number (the Brazilian equivalent of a Social Security or National Insurance number). Without one it’s a hassle to do most things in Brazil – flights, big purchases etc You can get one as a tourist, but the application process takes time.
Officially, there will be 509 blocos (or Street Bands) performing this year, but there are always groups who don’t register.
For a complete list of all the Rio 2019 blocos check out Catraca Livre. It’s a local newspaper website, but they have a full rundown of all the registered blocos, the location, date, time and sometimes the style of the performance. If your Portuguese is a little rusty then you may need to Google Translate the page.
To get around during Rio Carnival you’ll want to get yourself a RioCard. This top-up card allows you to travel on buses, trains, subway and the VLT (the metrolink/tram system). You can buy the card at any subway or VLT station and you can also top-up your credit online using the official Recarga Facil website. The streets can get crazy busy and are often closed during Carnival, so the best option is the subway. View the full subway map and other useful information using the Rio.com website.
The official app for Rio Carnival 2019
It’s available for both Android and iOS, and has plenty of handy features.
The app gives you the full list of registered blocos, the location, date and time, and it also allows you to create your own itinerary. Select the groups you want and create your own calendar for the day/week. As you meet new people and get recommendations, one click and they’ll be added to your schedule.
Search by group name, stage or date, or view the full range on the map. The Utilities feature is also jam-packed with useful advice. Using your phone’s GPS location it can tell you the nearest public toilet, hospital or airport (if it all gets too much and you want to make a quick exit) plus lots more.
The selfies feature is a nice touch, but the quality sucks. Maybe they’ll sort that out before the big weekend, but I doubt that will be a deal breaker.
There are also similar apps for other carnivals around Brazil and hopefully, in the future, there will be one app to rule them all.
The next app I’d recommend downloading is Moovit. Also available on Android and iOS.
Covering over 80 countries, it’s a great journey planning app. Once you’ve decided which blocos you want to visit you’ll need to figure out how to get from one to the next and back home again. Moovit offers real-time updates, plenty of filters and also a handy ‘GET OFF NOW!’ alert when you’re nearing your destination.
Don’t worry about the closed roads, as it factors these in too.
No need for a link here, as I can’t imagine many phones don’t have it. The reason for mentioning? This year Google Maps will be tracking in real time where the biggest blocos are, and what the traffic situation surrounding them is. This is useful if you’re looking for one of the moving bands. Some are planted in one location, but some tour the streets, following a pre-designed route. If you miss the start of the set it can be tricky to locate them. If all goes well, you should be able to track them using the Google Maps app.
This may seem like an unusual one to add to the list, but hear me out. Aside from sharing your awesome photos and videos with your friends and family, it also has the function to share your exact location with them. This can be extremely useful should you get separated or lost. You can share your current location as a static set of coordinates, or you can share a live location. This allows them to see your location in real time. It’s all encrypted, so only the person or group you share it with can track you.
There are alternatives out there for the Whatsapp haters, Glympse being one of the better ones.
Rio Carnival 2019 – Useful Numbers
Finally we come to the handy numbers that everyone should know, if you’re here for Rio Carnival or not. Hopefully you’ll never need to use them, but you’d be foolish not to have them written down somewhere safe, just in case.
- Emergency: 199
- Police: 190
- Fire: 193
- Ambulance: 192
- Tourist Police: 041 21 2332-2924
So there you go. No nonsense, just solid advice, tips and tricks to ensure you have the best Rio Carnival 2019 possible. Did we miss anything out? Do you have any burning questions that need answers? If so, leave them in the comments below and we will answer them.
Be safe, be relatively sensible and have an amazing time.