Samba Parade in Rio de Janeiro: The World’s Biggest Carnival

Posted on March 11, 2014 by

Samba music suddenly blasts through the speakers and the crowd goes wild.

On the Sambadrome’s runway, the Carnival king and queen appear in their shimmering diamond-studded costumes, dazzling the audience with their fast-as-lightning samba moves. Behind them are troupes of costumed dancers: young girls decked out in silver dresses, gym-pumped men adorning brown feather headdresses, sexy ladies dressed in glitzy rhinestone bikinis — all gyrating to the same rhythm.

Surrounded by a sea of dancing people, I find myself shaking my hips and singing along with the crowd. Indeed, I haven’t stopped moving for days – or nights. I’m drained from the partying around-the-clock and dancing to the beats of the Brazilian bandas, but I’m still not ready to stop. For it is not everyday that I get to be part of the world’s biggest Carnival celebrations.

Carnaval in Brazil

Carnaval (known as Carnival in English) is a massive event in Brazil, and it is celebrated throughout the country – from the Amazon to the coast of the Bahia. While customs, celebrations and costumes vary by region and city, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is the biggest and flashiest.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is the Sambadrome desfile (samba parade), otherwise known as “one of the biggest shows on Earth”. What originally started as a series of samba street parades is now a fierce competition among top samba schools from Brazil. These samba schools are huge social entities, with over 3,000 to 5,000 members, including some famous celebrities making special appearances.

This year’s samba parade began on 28th February and ended on Fat Tuesday, 4th March. I was fortunate enough to get last minute tickets for one evening and the show completely blew my mind with the sheer magnitude of the performance, the impalpable energy of its people and the infectious atmosphere. It was definitely the most impressive parade I’ve seen and – I believe – will ever see.

To give you an idea of just how impressive the parade was,  here are some of my best photos from the night.

Samba dancers on a float

Beautiful samba dancers dressed in elaborate costumes perform on a float

A samba dancer on the Vila Isabel float

In the hands of a giant

Young girls decked out in white

Young girls also participate in the parade

A float

Samba dancers are often decked out in high strappy heels, large headdresses and feathery wings

Fur is the theme here

In purple pursuit

Scantily clad dancers

Some costumes can be pretty outrageous

Traditional Bahian wear

Women dancing in traditional Bahian wear

A modern take

Giving a modern twist to Carnival

Glitz and glamour

There are so much colors and glitter that I don’t know where to look

Glitzy dancers

The float with an African theme

A close up of a dancer

Gorgeous samba dancers

A famous celebrity

Performers include famous celebrities

Animal kingdom

Animal kingdom

One of the most impressive floats of the evening

This was one of the most impressive floats

The favela float

The samba school had ‘favela’ as their theme

The head of one float crashed into the photographers' platform

This float unfortunately crashed into the photographers’ raised platform and the head fell off.

Embracing their African heritage

An animal-themed float

For more photos of the samba parade, click to see our photo gallery.

To read more:

Carnival in Rio: A Quick Guide


Disclosure: This experience was made possible by G Adventure as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in Brazil here or follow me on Twitter with the #gadv hashtags.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

7 Responses to “Samba Parade in Rio de Janeiro: The World’s Biggest Carnival”

  1. Stef March 11, 2014 2:53 pm #

    Reminds me of the time I went to the Carnival in Gualeguaychu Argentina. But Rio is a lot bigger of course. I absolutely want to experience it one day too! Love your photos!

  2. Jen March 12, 2014 12:47 am #

    What an incredible experience Nellie. You got some really great shots. I can’t wait to experience this for myself someday!

    • Nellie March 12, 2014 6:14 am #

      Thanks Jen! I wish I had bought tickets for front-row seats though, my friend did and he was just a few feet away from the performers. I would have gotten some good close-up shots! Nevertheless, the experience was incredible and I\’m just thankful to have had the opportunity to be there.

  3. Carmen March 12, 2014 3:31 pm #

    Stunning photos. Want to make it to Rio for carnival some day!

  4. Tina March 13, 2014 1:19 am #

    I want to experience that as well, Nice shot.. love the photos…

  5. kristy March 19, 2014 12:52 am #

    It looks amazing! So much color and I can feel the energy of the crowd and the performers in every pictures.

    • Nellie March 19, 2014 5:32 am #

      It is! Im sure you would love it if you have the chance to go there.

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