What Brazil's Carnaval is REALLY Like


South America

It’s 6am. I pour myself a generous glass of vodka as I slam together a grilled cheese for breakfast. Glitter slowly cascades off of my face as I sprint to grab a police hat and my shimmering white vest. My phone starts buzzing in my pocket, and as soon as I unlock it, my friend Lucas screeches in my ear:

MIKE! We are going to be late for the bloco!

I try to search for my voice to respond, but by this point in the week, there is no voice left to be found. As I’m heading out the door, I dash to spray myself with cologne and attach a pair of handcuffs to my daringly skimpy white shorts. It’s go time.

Before one of you tries to send a psychiatrist to my house, let me explain myself: This was day 3 of Carnaval in Belo Horizonte.

Friends during Carnaval
In case y'all wanted to know the outcome of that outfit I alluded to in the introduction.

If you’re unfamiliar with Carnaval, it’s basically the most massive party in the entire world and it occurs all throughout Brazil every year, culminating on Ash Wednesday. The original idea of this festival can be traced back to the Portuguese, but the Africans who were brought to Brazil also mixed in a sizable portion of their cultural flare, creating the diverse Carnaval we have today. It’s essentially a five-day-long fantasy where class differences and appearances are thrown out the window and people can be whoever they want. Every city in Brazil, from Rio de Janeiro to Recife, introduces a different “flavor” to the festivities. My personal experience took place in Belo Horizonte, where more than 5 million people came from all over the world celebrate.

To be completely honest, the start date of Carnaval is a bit contested because some may argue that it begins a month or even two months before Ash Wednesday. This is because in this period, some blocos have “previews” in which they test out their parties before the actual week of Carnaval. Might as well get a head start, eh?

Bloco Garotas Solteiras
I barely remember it, but this is the bloco "Garotas Solteiras" in downtown Belo Horizonte

If you’re not Brazilian, by now you’re probably wondering “Mike, what the heck is a bloco?” Good question. 

A bloco is generally a moving street party which includes giant trucks that feature stages for performers and massive sound systems (also known as trios elétricos). On any given day, there are loads of blocos to choose from all around the city. Some blocos are Samba-galore, others play more funk, and many are geared more towards the LGBT community. More often then not, you’ll also find a local marching band or professional dancers accompanying the trio. Basically, there’s a bloco for everyone. Some are relatively small with only hundreds of people, and others, like Então Brilha attract hundreds of thousands. Have you ever attended a party that gigantic in your country?

So now that you more or less understand the logistics, let me tell you what being in Carnaval is actually like. One word: Madness

Angel Carnaval
My favorite costume of Carnaval. Before you ask, yes I did slam my angel wings into basically every single person in that crowd.

For the first few days, I woke up at the crack of dawn to my roommates mixing drinks and blasting Ludmilla’s viral song about selling lettuce (or so she says). We threw glitter all over each other, painted each others faces, and figured out who was going to pay the Uber to take us to the city limits. Once in the center, we scurried from bloco to bloco, dressed up in whatever crazy costumes we could throw together, eating food here and there while downing catuaba and corote. (the cheap but strong traditional drinks of Carnaval). We danced like there was no tomorrow, met new people from all over the world, and left our problems behind. I had never before seen so much radiance in happiness in one place. At the same time, I had never in my life seen so many drunk people at 9 in the morning.

Something you’ll also see and probably experience as you’re hopping around the blocos is the beijo de Carnaval. Let’s be honest guys, people make-out a ton during Carnaval. If someone asks you to kiss them, don’t be surprised. In fact, a lot of couples actually break up before Carnaval and get back together afterwards so they can hook up with other people. I guess you can say it’s all about “sharing the love.” What’s that? You want to hear about who I kissed? Nope sorry, keep movin’ on. Not talking about that here.

In the evening, most people head home to sleep or host private get-togethers with their friends. Nothing too crazy. I personally spent my nights drinking a ton of water and stuffing my face with rice and beans so I could survive to see the next day. 

By Day 5, I was basically dead. Oops, I guess I didn’t try hard enough. More experienced Carnaval-goers were up at 8am dancing in the rain with bottles of catuaba. At this point, I was waking up at noon and had thrown myself head-first into an alcohol detox. However, I still managed to gallop around the city with my friends, dance to Pabllo Vitar, and enjoy my last day of Carnaval. In fact, at every bloco, whereas my friends were buying 50 shades of Skol Beats, I took it upon me to chug a variety of vitamin-filled fruit juices (Acerola and Caju are my favorite!) 

If you are ever presented the opportunity to spend Carnaval in Brazil, just freakin’ take it! From the samba competitions of Rio, to the frevo street parades of Olinda, you’ll have a unique experience wherever you go. It’s a proven fact that Brazilians know how to throw a party better than anyone else in the world. So, what are you waiting for?  

Tip to get started: Take a shot of cachaça for every time I mentioned the words “Carnaval” and “bloco” in this article.

Have you ever been to Carnaval in Brazil? Do you have something similar in your country?  Let us know in the comments below! 

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