Carnival

Carnival is an annual celebration that embraces the entire country, even a business centre like São Paulo. The celebrations have far more impact on Brazil and its economy than the Christmas and New Year holidays. Most offices and businesses will close for the week of Carnival.

Carnival is a moveable feast that is tied to the Roman Catholic calendar. Carnival takes place from the Friday prior to Ash Wednesday and continues up to and including Ash Wednesday itself. In some cities and towns the celebrations take over the entire week and the following weekend.

Rio de Janeiro is the most famous and the largest of Brazil’s carnival celebrations, but there are equally impressive carnival activities in Salvador, Recife and Olinda. In Rio the focus is on samba and the parade of the samba schools organised by the League of Samba Schools on the Sunday and Monday evenings; in Salvador the focus is on the Trio Electricos and the Axé bands that parade through the city; while in Recife and Olinda the driving beat comes from frevo, maracatu and other traditional rhythms. In São Paulo the city also has a very respectable parade of the city’s samba schools.

Wherever you stay in Brazil during carnival, you won’t be far from music and a carnival party. Tickets for most major carnival activities can be reserved in advance through the better tour operators.

As in many countries, COVID-19 has had a major and disruptive impact on life in Brazil and in Rio de Janeiro. Given the size of the population, and the country, Brazil has had one of the highest number of COVID cases and deaths in the world after the US, and access to and around the country has been restricted. As a result a number of hotels, restaurants, bars, stores, attractions, and even beaches, have been closed or offer limit access. So please check before you plan a visit to Brazil or Rio for leisure purposes. We will try to update the site just as soon as it is clear which businesses have re-opened and survived. It also looks as if there will be major disruption to carnival in 2021 with few or none of the major parades and group activities taking place. If you want to truly experience carnival in Rio, or any other part of Brazil, you will be better to wait until 2022. 


Carnival is just one of the many celebrations and festivities that take place throughout the year in Brazil. Highlights include the Festa do Divino held just before Pentecost Sunday (late May or early June); the June festivals (Festa Junina) linked to the feasts of saints John, Anthony, and Peter; Nossa Senhora de Aparecida, on October 12, which is also a national holiday; October also sees the festival of Círio de Nazaré in the city of Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon. The Amazon also has its own carnival, the Boi Bumba, which takes place over the last weekend in June in Parintins, a town 250 miles (800 km) downstream from Manaus.

Another major spectacular is seeing in the New Year on Rio’s Copacabana Beach. You will be one of around 3 million people on the beach, the vast majority dressed in white. Hotel beachfront rooms are, not surprisingly, at a premium at this time. While Rio and the rest of Brazil are honouring Iemanjá, the Queen of the Sea, Salvador celebrates the festival of Bom Jesus dos Navegantes.

Up coming dates for Carnival in Brazil (Friday-Wednesday) are:

  • 2021: 12-17-February
  • 2022: 25 February-2 March
  • 2023: 17-22 February
  • 2024: 9-14 February
  • 2025: 28 February-5 March

This amazing tilt shift video, The City of Samba by Keith Loutit and Jarbas Agnelli will give you a little taste of the Rio carnival parade, even in the rain, and the city itself.

For a full explanation of the Rio carnival parade CLICK HERE

The main parades of the Grupo Especial were scheduled to next take place on the nights of Sunday, 14 February and Monday, 15 February 2021, but due to Covid-19 this is unlikely to happen. The 12 schools scheduled to parade are (and the 2020 results):

  • Viradouro (269.6 out of 270)
  • Grande Rio (269.6)
  • Mocidade (269.4)
  • Beija-Flor (269.4)
  • Salgueiro (269.0)
  • Mangueira (268.9)
  • Portela (268.8)
  • Vila Isabel (268.6)
  • Unidos da Tijuca (267.6)
  • Sao Clemente (267.0)
  • Paraíso do Tuiuti (266.2)
  • Imperatriz (Promoted)

Based on the results of the last five carnivals (2016-2020), the League of Samba Schools (LIESA) ranks the top samba schools in Rio de Janeiro as:

  1. Mangueira (64 points)
  2. Portela (56)
  3. Salgueiro (50)
  4. Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel (45)
  5. Beija-Flor (44)
  6. Viradouro (35)
  7. Grande Rio (29)
  8. Unidos da Tijuca (25)
  9. Vila Isabel (21)
  10. Paraíso do Tuiuti (18)
  11. Imperatriz Leopoldinense (13)
  12. União da Ilha do Governador (5)
  13. São Clemente (5)

[Schools score 20 points for a win, 15 for 2nd, 12 for 3rd, 10 for 4th, 8 for 5th, 6 for 6th, 4 for 7th, 3 for 8th, 2 for 9th and 1 for 10th]

31 schools have paraded in the Grupo Especial since 1985, and the first parade on the purpose built Sambódromo. Since 1985 the top six most successful samba schools have been:

  1. Beija-Flor (478 points)
  2. Salgueiro (340)
  3. Mangueira (317)
  4. Imperatriz Leopoldinense (315)
  5. Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel (277)
  6. Portela (229)

Viradouro, the winning samba school in 2020

The results of Rio’s Carnival Parade in 2020 were:

  • Viradouro (269.6 out of 270)
  • Grande Rio (269.6)
  • Mocidade (269.4)
  • Beija-Flor (269.4)
  • Salgueiro (269.0)
  • Mangueira (268.9)
  • Portela (268.8)
  • Vila Isabel (268.6)
  • Unidos da Tijuca (267.6)
  • Sao Clemente (267.0)
  • Paraíso do Tuiuti (266.2)
  • Estácio de Sá (264.7)
  • União da Ilha (264.2)

Mangueira, the winning samba school in 2019

and in 2019 were:

  • Mangueira (270 points out of 270)
  • Viraduro (269.7)
  • Vila Isabel (269.4)
  • Salgueiro (269.3)
  • Portela (269.3)
  • Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel (269.0)
  • Unidos da Tijuca (268.8)
  • Paraíso do Tuiuti (268.5)
  • Grande Rio (267.9)
  • União da Ilha (267.7)
  • Beija-Flor (267.6)
  • São Clemente (267.4)
  • Imperatriz Leopoldinense (266,6)
  • Imperio Serrano (263.8)

Click here for more images from the first day or second day of the parades in Rio in 2019 .

Beija Flor, the winning samba school in 2018

and in 2018 were:

  • Beija-Flor (269.6 points out of 270)
  • Paraíso do Tuiuti (269.5)
  • Salgueiro (269.5)
  • Portela (269.94)
  • Mangueira (269.3)
  • Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel (269.3)
  • Unidos da Tijuca (269.1)
  • Imperatriz Leopoldinense (268,8)
  • Vila Isabel (268.1)
  • União da Ilha (267.3)
  • São Clemente (266.9)
  • Grande Rio (266.8)
  • Imperio Serrano (265.6)

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