Carnaval plunges Brazil into the most serious partying in the world. Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Notting Hill in London are not even close; nothing approaches the sheer scale and spectacle of Carnaval in Rio, Salvador and Olinda, just outside Recife. But Carnaval also speaks to the streak of melancholy that is the other side of the stereotype of fun-loving Brazil.

Part of the reason is Carnaval’s origins at the time when Brazil was still the largest slaveholding country in the Americas. The celebrations just before Lent acquired a kind of “world turned upside down” character, with slaveowners ceremonially serving their slaves food and allowing them time off work – giving a particularly double-edged feel to Carnaval as servitude reasserted itself come Ash Wedneday. Brazil has come a long way since then, but the traditional freedom to transgress that comes with Carnaval gives its partying an edge that deepens in the small hours, as alcohol and crowds generate their usual tensions – the already high murder rate hits its peak over the festival and traffic deaths are also at their annual high. There is a big difference between day and night. Carnaval during the day is for families, and you can relax along with the Pierrots, masks and brass bands that ply the streets and squares: if you travel with children they will remember a good Carnaval for the rest of their lives. Carnaval at night is memorably spectacular in Rio and the biggest street party you will ever see in Salvador and Olinda, but it’s best to keep your wits about you and your head clear. For more information, see Carnaval dates and the relevant sections of the guide for more information.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Brazil features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A guide to visiting Brazil's Pantanal

A guide to visiting Brazil's Pantanal

Stretching across the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul (also spilling into Bolivia and Paraguay) the Pantanal is the world's largest in…

13 Jul 2018 • Madelaine Triebe insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Incredible aerial images of one of the Amazon rainforest's uncontacted tribes have been released by Survival International. The pictures, taken by photographer …

18 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs