Just as mugs clink and beads fly at famous world festivals like Oktoberfest and Mardi Gras, Rio de Janeiro throws one heck of a party during its annual Carnival. It’s a glamorous, racy spectacle of sequins, feathers and costumes that marks the start of Lent.

The party dates to the early 1700s, when Portuguese immigrants brought their customs to the Brazilian colony. The Entrudo (an alternative name for Carnival in Portuguese) was originally celebrated with food and music and what was basically a giant water fight. The modern-day Carnival did not take shape until after Brazil abolished slavery and Afro-Brazilians were able to participate. The tradition gradually evolved into a street party where musical styles and other customs merged over time.

Samba music

Rio Carnival is Latin night on “Dancing with the Stars” meets the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Sambadrome is the official home of the annual parades of samba schools held each night of the festival of Rio Carnival. More than 70,000 people cram in to watch some of the top dancers in the world march down the Samba runway to choreographed performances. The cost of admission is just as outrageous as the costumes. Tickets for the more centrally located sections can cost up to $750; however, the event was designed with the spectator in mind, so the cheap seats on either end of the parade route still deliver an outstanding experience.  

Each samba school presents a theme, which is portrayed by a team of musicians, samba dancers and magnificently decorated floats. A panel of 40 judges keeps a close eye on each team and awards points that will determine their place in next year’s competition.  

Colorful costumes

While full nudity is not allowed, both men and women shed coverage at Carnival to make room for wild headdresses, tails and beads. Yet the costumes are more than just for show; they play an important role in the week’s festivities. The hand-crafted, jeweled bikinis and extravagant accessories are as important to Sambadrome as the dance moves themselves. Street parties are an ocean of bright colors, glitter, face paint and vibrant accessories.

Brazilian street food

It takes a lot of calories to party all week, and food vendors are at the ready all over Rio. Some of the best Brazilian street eats include: Pão de Queijo, delicious cheese puffs; Pão de Batata, a potato bread filled with either ground beef, chicken or sausage; and churros, a doce de leite filled dough that is fried and covered with cinnamon.

Are your toes tapping and stomachs rumbling at the thought of attending Rio Carnival?