Carnaval in Recife is overshadowed by the one in Olinda, but the city affair is still worth sampling. The best place for Carnaval information is the tourist office, which publishes a free broadsheet with timetables and route details of all the Carnaval groups. You can also get a timetable in a free supplement to the Diário de Pernambuco newspaper on the Saturday of Carnaval, but it’s only a very approximate guide.
The blocos, or Carnaval groups, come in all shapes and sizes: the most famous is the Galo da Madrugada; the most common are the frevo groups (trucks called freviocas, with an electric frevo band aboard, circulate around the centre, whipping up already frantic crowds); but most visually arresting are caboclinhos, who wear modern Brazilian interpetations of a traditional Amazon Indian costume – feathers, animal-tooth necklaces – and carry bows and arrows, which they use to beat out the rhythm as they dance. It’s also worth trying to see a maracatu group, unique to Pernambuco: they’re mainly black, and wear bright costumes, the music an interesting (and danceable) hybrid of African percussion and Latin brass.
In Recife, the main events are concentrated in Santo Antônio and Boa Vista. There are also things going on in Boa Viagem, in the area around the Recife Palace Lucsim Hotel on Avenida Boa Viagem, but it’s too middle-class for its own good and is far inferior to what’s on offer elsewhere. Carnaval officially begins with a trumpet fanfare welcoming Rei Momo, the Carnaval king and queen, on Avenida Guararapes at midnight on Friday, the cue for wild celebrations. At night, activities centre on the grandstands on Avenida Dantas Barreto, where the blocos parade under the critical eyes of the judges; the other central area to head for is the Pátio de São Pedro. During the day, the blocos follow a route of sorts: beginning in Praça Manuel Pinheiro, and then via Rua do Hospício, Avenida Conde de Boa Vista, Avenida Guararapes, Praça da República and Avenida Dantas Barreto, to Pátio de São Pedro. Good places to hang around are near churches, especially Rosário dos Pretos, on Largo do Rosário, a special target for maracatu groups. The balconies of the Hotel do Parque are a good perch, too, if you can manage to get up there. Daylight hours is the best time to see the blocos – when the crowds are smaller and there are far more children around. At night, it’s far more intense and the usual safety warnings apply.