As we had plenty to say about the city of Rio during Carnival, we thought it only smart to divvy up the samba school parade into it’s own post because we have way too many photos to share. We had resolved to get tickets when we got to Rio in hopes that it would be cheaper than the pirate-y gringo prices they were quoting online (but that’s the only way to buy ahead as they sell out quickly). Turns out with a little miracle we didn’t even need to do that, our host totally had our backs – her friend had bought too many tickets, unsure how many she needed, and was willing to sell a couple of spares to this unprepared foreign couple.

So the parade is held every year now at the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, where the samba schools groove to their own theme song which they sing non-stop the whole time, according to a theme they chose and with marvelous, shiny (sometimes barely-there) costumes that everybody sees on TV as Rio’s carnival. Women with angel feathers and huge headpieces of all colors, humongous floats with people jumping and dancing for a whole hour straight. Overall what happens here is that they file down to 12 schools that compete for the champion’s cup; they have 82 minutes to march down the parade ground, in harmony, with costumes and makeup immaculate and a developed theme that runs smoothly throughout the march. It is spectacular. Ultimately spectacular. Along the enclosed 700m parade avenue there’s several judges’ stations, bleachers for 90,000 people, and every school’s show was jam packed with floats, dancers, costumes (dear god what do they do with those thousands of costumes after every season), props, music trucks, buckets of glitter, hills of sequins, flocks of feathers, and battalions of all-or-nothing drummers.

The photos will have to do the parade justice… because it was more than words can describe. But I’ll do my best to give a few details about each of the schools.

#1. Vila Isabel – The theme is celebrating the legacy of Miguel Arraes a famous lawyer and politician. We really liked the first floats which had a surrealist scrub-land feel representing the state he championed. This included the horse skeletons, and the steamboat float later on representing industrialization was somewhat creepy but fascinating.


#2. Salgueiro – Their theme for this year was The Malandro Opera. All you need to know is “malandro” is the Brazilian term for a trickster/scoundrel/rogue/hustler/rascal. This was possibly the funnest and most creative school with a lot of floats and costumes centered around fast living and petty crime. They had cabarets, gambling, gypsies, couples in love, dingy bars, ball gowns, twirling ladies, the hanging gardens of Babylon, beggars and princes and everything in between.


#3. São Clemente – More than a thousand clowns in the saloon. So yeah… as you can imagine many..many..clowns. They were aiming for laughs and happiness, but I’m glad they had clowns from every age. Opening with a huge gorgeous gold red and orange chinese dragon, they then brought in magicians, contortionists, jesters, harlequins, circuses and devils, and even jokester bakers.

#4. Portela – this year was “An eagle’s flight, an infinite trip”. This school out of all we saw had the most theatrical beginnings and epic theme, even if it felt slightly random at times. Waiting for the start, everyone in the crowd suddenly realized there were 3 parachuters gliding in from above the stadium. They circled a few times for effect and, wobbling from side to side, they quickly descended into the stadium and landed at a run but on his feet to thunderous applause. Starting with the old testament they brought fabulous pharaohs and Neptune himself. Next they ran though ancient travelers, famous nautical characters, and finally into space and time travel with dinosaurs, finally ending with famous archaeological finds.


#5. Imperatriz – Last but not least for our night (as we ducked out around 4am) was Imperatriz with a Country Music theme, tributed to Zezé Di Camargo and Luciano. In addition to the music I’d also say there was a huge farming theme as agriculture is still in many ways Brazil’s backbone. So as you can imagine many of the floats and costumes were very green with participants dressed up as different plants, cowboys, sunflowers, cattle, bees, shepherds, and Brazilian hillbillies.

…..So yes if you remained unconvinced by the photos (as we didn’t get good recordings of the music) this is quite possibly the greatest show on earth. I’d bring a seat cushion myself next time for the concrete bleachers, but we both had a really good time standing and cheering, dancing and resting, before throwing in the towel around 4 am to crawl back to the metro and our rented room to rest, recover, and most likely repeat.