Why the Brazilian Carnival is still the best party in the world
It is curious how a futile event has had such an importance in my life and how it represented the twisting point regarding the way I see women, showing me that there was a much broader, happier reality which I had fully not been aware of. Ten years ago I landed in Brazil and it changed my life; one month ago I revisited it, closing a 10 year cycle which, on the metaphorical side of it, meant perhaps the end of my true and innocent youth.
But since this is a post not based on the effects Carnival has had on me rather on the Carnival itself, I will make an extensive summary of the different ones I was at. Just in case you are wondering, I will not include Rio de Janeiro in the list since not only I have never been there during the Carnival but also it is the Brazilian city which you will find more information about, so it does not make sense to talk theoretically about an event. So, back to the ones I enjoyed and saw with my own eyes, I will try to make a detailed report about all of them, in order that you fully understand the pros and the cons of what is (still) the best party in the whole world.
Going from south to north, here is the list:
Florianópolis, Santa Catarina
Florianópolis – or Floripa on its smaller version – is known for its amazing beaches, landscapes and women. And taking into consideration the latter, if you talk about this city to any Brazilian guy, regardless where he is located in the country, he will tell you how beautiful all the girls who come from here are. And as usually happens with places which are “known for” something, there is always exaggeration on the words released by the mouths who refer them, meaning that Floripa has indeed very beautiful women, but they are a minority (plus the fact that the city is small, with a population of around 400,000 inhabitants). In addition, this city is also very famous for its gay community, which comes especially out to spread its “wings” during the carnival. Regarding my experience, I was lucky enough to be there just for one day, more precisely the day in which the Carnival was official opened (the pre-carnival party called Berbigão do Boca).
Basically the rest of the carnival has as its highlights the Samba parade – lasting for three days and the main attraction of the Florianopólis Carnival (it is a small version of Rio de Janeiro’s Sambódromo, let us say) – and among a handful of blocos, the most famous is the Sou + Eu, which is basically put all the men dressed like women, which shows the full gay potential of the city and therefore something which must be avoided at all costs, unless you play on that other “league”, of course.
I arrived early in the morning and I left quite late in the evening, so I cannot tell with precision whether first you can find accommodation easily and second whether how the prices are during this season. But since I got back to Floripa two weeks after, what I can tell is that not only you have a varied range of offers but also they are quite affordable. For instance, I booked a very nice 4-star hotel room in the center for about 45€ (210 real, with a conversion rate of 1 EUR = 4.5 BRL) which, taking into consideration that those dates were still high season – in Brazil, it goes usually before the new year’s eve until the end of February – can be considered a fair price. You can book easily and find good deals just using booking.com.
Florianópolis is a very interesting case since it the city itself has an amazing logistics but the island itself is terribly inaccessible, meaning that you NEED to have a car in case you want be wandering around between Lagoa and Jurerê, where most of the action happens. Nevertheless, since all the official activities of Carnival take place in the center, just book a hotel room or an apartment somewhere near the Public Market that you will have everything which matters within reach. Actually, the event Berbigão do Boca is held right in front of the market, while the Sambódromo is just on the other side of the road, 1 km away, so you cannot miss it!
Girls and Party level:
The hottest Brazilian I have ever banged I met her exactly during this day of celebration so if I take a look at the big picture, the odds tell me that Floripa is a great choice in terms of women. On the other hand, my skeptical side tells me that I was just lucky and that the city offers much fewer quality women than the ones I had pictured in the first place. You see indeed some nice girls and the value must be given because the party was free – for instance, this would never happen in a place like Salvador, where the above-the-average females are only to be found in very private, expensive events – but in the end the general impression…did not impressed me. Regarding the party itself, you see a lot of people drinking and the atmosphere is very nice, but honestly do not expect high doses of craziness or even debauchery, as most the women here behave in a very normal way and will not give you much credit.
Bottom line: If you have plenty of time to travel around Brazil, you can at least give a try to Berbigão do Boca, since it is a free street party, in which you do not see many beauties – and the ones you see are already infected with some attitude – but where you can have some fun. For the rest of it, if you are a Samba fan, you have here a cheaper option, but a show with obvious less quality than its big brother Rio. Because it is packed with gays and it even has this pride inherent to it, I would give the “Recommended with caution” to the Floripa Carnival.
Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais
Ouro Preto is a small town located in the state of Minas Gerais, one and a half hour away from its capital Belo Horizonte. As its name indicates in Portuguese, Black Gold (actually its first name was Vila Rica, meaning “rich town”), the city was founded in the XVII century by the avid explorers who had been looking for gold in the region and stopped here when they eventually found it. The town itself is a pleasure to the eyes: all its architecture is based on the European baroque of that time and it is an exact copy of several towns located in Portugal, being perhaps the Brazilian place more influenced by the Portuguese colonialism. But since this is not a history lesson rather a report about what brings people nowadays to Ouro Preto, it is time to talk about its famous Carnival. In theory, this celebration had material to be the El Dorado of partying: an academic celebration, with more than 200 republics filled with young drunk students (mostly girls) and no foreigners whatsoever. However, in practice, turned out to be an overrated event, with terrible logistics and inflated prices. But let us go by parts…
As I said before, there are more than 200 republics, since Ouro Preto lives almost from its student community, which of course prepares itself fully to the event of the year. Since I had two close friends who had been there on the year before, I asked them for orientations and they did not hesitate in recommending me to book the republic in which they had been at, as it had everything included in the package price: the accommodation itself, breakfast, lunch, parties and open bar. Since we would go just for a couple of days, instead of the normal five days which almost everybody chooses, we got a special price just for us, around 135€ (1€ was worth 4.5 real at the time) which, far from being cheap, it would be more than acceptable if that would include old school fun. The result? A room for five guys sleeping on the floor on gym mats, a breakfast which was just bread, butter and juice and a lunch which looked like a prison meal. The open bar and the parties were ok, but far from being amazing (especially because most the girls had much more attitude than innocence, but more on that later).
What I should have done? I quickly realized throughout the weekend that many locals were renting full apartments, for instance, for four people, for about 500 or 600 real per day. Since we paid 600 real/person for sleeping in a shit hole, you can imagine how deceived I and my friends felt after we had taken the stupid decision of going to a republic.
It can be great and terrible, depending on which type of accommodation/carnival you choose for yourself:
If you choose to rent an apartment in the town center and hit the streets, then this is perhaps the best logistics you can find in the whole country! Everything is close, there are people everywhere and, of course, with an apartment exactly on the core of the action, the odds of taking a group of girls to take a drink at your place skyrocket. Nevertheless, if you go to Ouro Preto just to hit the normal street carnival, then you have picked the wrong place, not only because there are much better options (Recife on the top of the list) but also because the quality of girls is honestly quite low. And this where you hit a dead end, since the almost only attractive women are the (rich) ones who naturally are in the republics. And this is when the terrible logistics shows up: to have access to each and every republic, you either have to be in it or there is no other option than to pay to join, for instance, a party taking place on a specific one (I could just sneak into another republic, since the wristband was orange, exactly the same color as mine). So imagine you are in a republic with around 60 people (of whom you have already filtered the only three or four really attractive girls, who are of course already under the radar of all the guys ) and then you spot a much better party taking place on the other side of street, with hotter girls as well. So you just go there and guess what? They ask you about 20€ to get in. So by now you can already imagine how difficult it is to move around a place which aside not being so big, lives a lot from people commuting on the streets, which also means that you could easily approach many girls to hang around later on. But unless you want to spend 100€ or 200€ extra per day, I would say that having to pay in every door you get in makes the (academic) Carnival Ouro Preto the worst logistics I have ever experienced.
Girls and Party level:
Maybe I am too demanding or I have just got used to high standards, but if could define the Carnival of Ouro Preto in one word that would be disappointing. In my republic, for instance, there were only two or three girls who I considered quite bangable. On the republic right in front of ours, there were perhaps a couple of more really attractive ones, while the other were just average or from the Komodo Dragon’s family. And when we went to a common party, which gathered about 10 republics in one place, I did not see more than ten girls whom I would lose some time to try my stick my dick into. And what about the “free women” wandering around the streets? I can say that about 99.9% of them were either taken or trash, so you can imagine that your odds of getting a hot girl partying for free was the same as seeing a good music producer coming from Sweden. But if the quality was not good, at least the party was great, you ask? Well, not really. As I said before, you can have some fun in the republic but it will be too limited, as you will be seeing the same people every day and, as you can imagine, it eventually turns a cock/ugly girls’ fest, after the attractive ladies are taken by the most valuable males. Concerning the “outside”, this is indeed where you have more fun, as everyone is there to drink and to listen to the “carnavalesque corsos” and many are there to hook up with one another. Regarding my personal experience, I was able to make out with a girl from my republic and a very hot brunette whom I eventually nailed in the end of the second night, a couple of hours before leaving again to Belo Horizonte, to then take the flights to Salvador.
Bottom line: The academic carnival is a waste of time and money, so I recommend you just to hit the streets. But as I referred before, in this case better to go to the Carnival of Recife or even to the growing one in the state capital Belo Horizonte.
Salvador is the 3rd largest city in Brazil and that means one of many things: chaos! I have been all over Brazil and I must say that Salvador was the city in which not only I have seen biggest number of ugly people around but also I have felt more insecure. So before talking about the Carnival itself, let me remind you that you literally only live once so be very attentive and careful while wandering around the streets of Salvador, especially if you are immediately perceived as a foreigner and therefore as an easy target (now, after the only pedagogical thing you will read in this entire article, we can go back to the core of the matter). Currently the most famous and the most attended Carnival among the Brazilians – of course if we take into consideration tourists and foreigners, than Rio de Janeiro is naturally and by far the busiest one – the party of Salvador da Bahia registered a total of almost 600,000 visitors, which makes an average of around 100,000/day. If we sum up that number to the more than 2.3 million local inhabitants, you have an idea of how the city gets packed with people looking for fun. I must say that since I had gone to my first Carnival in Recife, 10 years ago, I had always been hearing wonders about this party, described as something amazing and which every guys needs to attend mandatorily at least once in a lifetime. The reality? As most of the things towards which one creates expectations, it was a huge disappointment. But let us go by parts:
Accommodation and Logistics:
As with most of the large cities, Salvador has very “complicated” logistics. Since the carnival is wide spread all over the city, I am going to refer both where the party takes place and the best places to stay at. The action happens basically in three main areas: Barra-Ondina, Campo Grande and the historical center.
- Barra-Ondina: This is where the core of the action takes place (read: ALL the hot girls come to this part of the town) and where you should aim at. This is where the Camarotes are located and where also many Trios Eléctricos run through (more on this further down). Since this is the part of the city in which the people with money come to enjoy the carnival, obviously the prices are quite inflated. So, if you do not know anybody locally, expect to pay around 1000 real (around 250€)/night in a modest apartment. Regarding hotels and fancy houses, this price can go up to 5000 real/night!
- Campo Grande: it is the most traditional circuit of the carnival of Salvador – having an extension of around 5 km which many Trios Eléctricos go through – and can be a good choice if you want both to live the real experience of the merrymaking in Bahia and to still pay an affordable amount for accommodation. The prices vary between the 200 and 500 real, especially if you share an apartment with other people (expect only the basics, because if you want full equipped places, then expect similar prices as to the ones in Barra). Prepare to be among a crowd of middle-lower class people.
- Historical center aka Pelourinho: built mostly in the XVII century by the Portuguese empire, this is by far the most beautiful part of the city and something which one must at least see once in a lifetime. Characterized by the absence of the Trio Eléctrico, here the party lives on several small concerts, batucadas and gatherings of people and instruments. Regarding the accommodation, despite being in theory the most touristic part of the city, you will be able to find real good deals. A decent hotel can cost around 250 reais if you bargain with the owner so, if you go the budget hostel, perhaps you will be lucky and find a night for between 100 and 150 reais! Expect to see lots of alternative foreign tourists and lower class local Brazilians
To move around, you can take either the normal cabs – which usually have the taximeter, unless you pre-negotiate in Portuguese with them – or the mototaxis, which are usually much cheaper and faster but obviously not so safe as the former ones (Salvador is one of these cities in which the traffic jam is really chaotic so the risks of accidents is quite high).
The Carnival of Salvador is basically divided in three types of party – Camarote, Bloco and Pipoca – but the musical trends are quite homogeneous and are played in terms of frequency as follows. As a regional anthem, you have the Axé, the typical genre played mostly in Bahia. Then, in the background you have the Pagode and also Samba, which can still be heard sometimes in Bahia. Last but not least, you will hear Sertanejo and Funk everywhere, since this is the trashy party music played all over the country.
- Camarote: Welcome to the concept which Brazilian people started to embrace some years ago and which you will always see in any big party or event. A Camarote is basically a huge closed place, with a balcony on which the people have privileged view over a specific event taking place – in this case 90% of the Camarotes in Salvador are facing the main parade where the Trios Eléctricos are passing by. It has usually different rooms, whose accessibility and benefits – such as free food – depend on the price paid, but an element is always present: music, coming either from a DJ or from a live band or, in some cases, from both. Since Salvador can be a very dangerous place in which you have to pay full attention every minute, this is indeed the best choice you can find in terms of safety and comfort. And because rich people love safety and comfort, this protection has naturally a price: it varies from around 200 until 1600 real per day (for the latter, we are talking about around 400€ for 8 hours of party!). And now it is your time to guess what causes such a price variation. Still thinking? Well, the answer is easy: women! The more you pay, the more you will see beautiful girls. In my personal case, I decided to spend the strongest day/night of the Carnival – the Monday – in a Camarote. But on one hand, since I value my money, I did not want to spend absurd amounts of it. On the other hand I knew that if I would go for the cheapest option, I would most likely be the most attractive female in the house. Since my friend was originally, we ended up finding a very good deal, paying 200 real for a ticket which had an official price of 500 for an average Camarote with DJ, live band and open bar.
- Bloco: it is basically a group of people inside a barrier of ropes – held by poor local people who are paid miserably for this task – following a big truck with a live band on the top of it. Looking at this total Brazilian invention – the whole structure is called Trio Eléctrico – I can say with conviction that it is one of the cleverest and most ridiculous ideas I have ever seen. On one hand it is indeed a very clever way to put people together, to save resources and to put the party rolling (a paradise for whomever organizes it); on the other hand you are basically paying to be behind a truck with music, protected by a bunch of wretched people who would do anything for a handful of real. In any case, it is worth the adventure, so I recommend you to try it, even if it is only once (for me once was enough). As I said before, the Trio Elétricos run basically through the areas of Barra-Ondina and Campo Grande. In Barra I recommend you to try the Camaleão, the Trio Armandinho Dodô Osmar and the super famous Balada with Timbalada and Coruje with Ivete Sangalo. Here the crowd is whiter which means that you will see some beautiful faces but, of course, pay more. The price range goes from 400 reais to 900 reais, the price for the Camaleão and Coruje. Concerning the circuit Campo Grande, and as you have already understood, the fancy level drops significantly, which means that you do not want to be in most of them. Regarding my personal experience, I went on Tuesday of Carnival to Bloco Coruja – someone had told me that it was the best in the circuit of Campo Grande – paying 300 real for it. And I can I tell you that I have not seen one single lady who I found attractive. Great, after paying around 70€, isn’t it (do not get me wrong: I think everyone should at least try follow a Trio Eléctrico once, since it is indeed a very fun and different experience. But paying around 70€ to follow a truck and be surrounded by ugly women, it is just not my thing!);
- Pipoca: This mode is basically to follow the Trio Eléctrico outside the “security” roped barrier, a free option for those – the majority – who can not afford the absurd prices of the Bahian Carnival. In theory everyone will tell you that it is super dangerous and that you will be most likely mugged and robbed a couple of times. In practical terms, it does not make such a difference. First, when I was following my Trio Eléctrico within the ropes, I had to leave many times “to the outside”, either to piss or to grab a beer. And guess what? Nothing happened. Then, everyone on the outside is there to watch and have real fun (it is interesting how the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid usually make the best of life) so, unless you act and look like an obvious tourist, everything should go fine. And in addition, I can tell you that while inside, I was constantly pushed and somehow “entrapped” in some corners.
If Salvador received no tourists during the Carnival, then I would say it would perhaps be worst party on the surface of the earth, at least for every single guy who likes attractive women. Honestly, I believe I have never seen a city with so many people and with such a high percentage of ugly ones. But since Brazilians from all over the country come to this party, then I can guarantee you that you will come across some of the hottest women you will ever see. The problem, as referred before, is that this quality has a price…and a high one! Meaning that you have to be at the best parties – aka the most exclusive, costly ones – to have access to these women, because if you choose the average or the free of cost ones, then the only hot thing you will have will be the stifling air of Bahia.
Bottom line: Recommended (but only if you do not care about your own money and belongings). If you choose a Camarote, pick up one of the top three: Nana, Villa Mix or Salvador. The other cheaper ones honestly do not worth the already high price you pay for it. Regarding the Trio Eléctrico, it is not really worth the price and, comparing to the Pipoca, the security itself is not that different so go for the latter option which is totally free – but, with total caution, meaning not showing off any items of value and hiding your belongings.
Olinda and Recife, Pernambuco
Welcome to Recife and Olinda, two nearby places which in theory had everything to be a paradise on earth: warm weather 365 days per year, amazing beaches, great music and a rich architectural heritage coming from the Portuguese colonialism times. From the crystal blue water to the thin white sand, from the palaces of the old town of Recife to the slopes of Olinda, everything around here is a pleasure to the eyes. Nevertheless, like most of the places in Latin America, the people themselves have taken the opportunity of bringing things down to earth, turning the area of Recife in one of the most disorganized, dangerous cities in the country and consequently of the whole world. But again, if you come to Brazil, I suppose you are already aware of all the risks inherent to it, so let us fast-forward to the core of this article. The Recife Carnival is third biggest in Brazil – it gathers around one million people, among local inhabitants, national tourists and foreigners – and is, in my honest opinion, the best one. Nevertheless, I must say that I was in this Carnival ten years ago. So everything that I am going to describe on the next lines is perhaps out of date or even totally senseless since most likely many things have changed (the concept of Camarote has also been introduced here a couple of years ago). Even so, because one of the main characteristics of Olinda and Recife is to be the most traditional Carnival in Brazil – there are no Trio Eléctricos, for instance – I believe its main characteristics are still kept nowadays. All the people just invade the streets, playing and celebrating the way they want – I am going to take the risk and describe it the best way I can. What makes this event so unique is the fact that it is a very good mixture of pure party feeling, with affordable prices, easy girls and traditional celebration and music. Before we talk about that subject you already want to know more about, let us talk about the music. One of the things I truly admire and love in Brazil it not only its musical variety and diversity but also how it is distributed differently by regions. As we seen before, Samba rules in Rio, Axé makes the honors in Bahia, Sertanejo is the king in Minas and in Florianópolis they are more into reggae or even electronic music. With regard to Pernambuco, their history has turned this state in one of the richest in terms of musicality and Frevo and Maracatu set the rhythms across all Olinda, while in Recife Antigo you will hear the best of the Brazilian popular music, with such names as Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Clarice Falcão, Lenine, Ana Carolina or Vanessa da Mata.
The offer is wide and the possibilities endless but if you want to avoid any possible hassles, I strong recommend you to book a hotel in Boa Viagem: not only it is located exactly on the beach but it is also one of the safest areas of the city. From here, especially during the Carnival, you have special buses and coaches (usually the hotels themselves provide this service for free to its guests) which can take you to the party hot spots, especially Olinda during the day – 20 km away – and the old town during the evening – 10 km away. Regarding the prices, I remember paying about 50€/night for a double room in the 4-star hotel “Boa Viagem” (actually a great choice for all its facilities and services) but checking the prices nowadays, I would say that you will pay at least that double amount.
Like any other big city, the logistics in Recife is far from being great, as you always have to travel long distances between spots. Due to this fact and as I said before, in the end it matters more the security of the place you stay at than the best location in itself. So basically stay in the area of Boa Viagem, take a very good, complete breakfast at one of the hotels you sleep at and then head to Olinda before noon, preparing for a long day of drinking, eating and dancing on the streets (make sure you use a strong sunscreen every hour, otherwise you will suffer the painful consequences). Then, between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm, go back to your hotel, take a shower and a revitalizing dinner and go to enjoy the nice atmosphere and concerts in the old town in Recife center, if your mind and body still have the energy and capacity to.
Girls and Party Level:
Unfortunately, in a Back to the Future style, I can only tell you about my experience of 10 years ago, when I was young and innocent and ready to stick my penis in all the girls who had, at least, an acceptable appearance. But since this is a traditional party and has not been a massive influx of Syrians into Brazil, I strongly believe that not that much has changed in the meantime. Regarding the party itself, I can only tell good things about it: it is big, it is fun, it is free! During the day in Olinda, you will have everyone one on the streets, getting drunk and dancing to the various parades and merrymakers which show up from everywhere. In the evening, in a more relaxed style, you can enjoy the free concerts from great artists all over the country. As an extra, you can also come to Recife during the day, as you will have different parades, which include the largest carnival Bloco of the world called Galo da Madrugada. Concerning the ladies, I can tell you that Recife is quite similar to Salvador in terms of seeing ugly faces all over the place. But, contrary to what happens in the capital of Bahia, here the prices are much lower (or even non-existent) which means that many girls who attend this Carnival are just students (coming also from other states, like Ceará) or simply humble people without many possessions. This set of facts just makes things work and somehow the girls are more accessible and have a much nicer attitude than the other cities and Carnivals I was at. And putting things in a simple terminology, this means that if you are a good looking guy, you will get the 1% who are worthwhile all for you.
Bottom line: The best of all: Free, crazy, easy girls (even if 99% of them are quite ugly) and with the best Brazilian artists playing in Recife. The downside: since it is free for all, you have to be very careful.