Sambadrome Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Rio’s Carnival Parade

by Dottie

Get practical tips for attending Rio Carnival at the legendary Sambadrome, and learn the rich history, culture, and traditions that make the parade so unique.

The steady pulse of drums echo through the air. Explosions of colorful fireworks light up the sky. The white floors of Sambadrome’s long avenue stretch out before you. The unyielding heat and humidity are ever-present, leaving a glistening layer of sweat on your skin.

Welcome to the Rio de Janeiro Carnival parade, a sensory overload that is often described as one of the greatest shows on earth. It’s a maximalist extravaganza that is the culmination of a full year of preparation. And, more than just a visual spectacle — it’s a celebration of culture and tradition.

Dressed in flamboyant costumes and helming elaborate floats, Rio’s samba schools are in fierce competition with one another to take home the night’s prize. Carnival is celebrated all over Brazil, but it’s the annual parade at the Sambadrome stadium that has captured the world’s attention.

If you’re planning on attending this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’ll offer practical advice on securing the best tickets and seating so you can get the most out of your experience. We also delve into the rich history behind Rio’s samba schools, giving you a deeper understanding of the culture and traditions that make Carnival so unique.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Sambadrome from above drone shot

Table of Contents

  • Choosing Which Night to Attend Rio Carnival Parade
  • Everything You Need to Know About Tickets & Seating at Rio’s Carnival Parade
  • Where to Buy Tickets
  • Cultures & Traditions Behind Rio Carnaval
  • Tips for Visiting Sambadrome
  • How to Get to Sambadrome

Choosing Which Night to Attend Rio’s Carnival Parade

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Frisa seats. Dots on a Map

There are four nights of parades at Rio Carnival, so how do you know which night to attend?

Samba schools in Rio de Janeiro are categorized into two groups — the access group and the special group. Access group schools are competing against one another for entry into the coveted special group, and special groups are competing for the ultimate Rio Carnival parade victory, which earns them fame, glory, and money.

Friday and Saturday night are access group performances, and Sunday and Monday night are special group performances — the championship parades.

If you want to see the top samba schools in the city putting on their best show, buy tickets for Sunday and Monday night. Though prices vary, it’s likely that tickets will be more expensive on these nights.

However, don’t overlook access groups either. We attended the access group parade on Saturday night and it was the greatest spectacle I’ve ever seen in all my years of travel.

If you want to check out our experience at Rio’s Carnival parade, watch the video below:

In this video, we get a behind-the-scenes look at how a samba queen preps for Rio Carnival and also share our front-row footage of the parade.

Everything You Need to Know About Tickets & Seating at Rio’s Carnival Parade

There are different tiers of seating to consider when buying tickets for Rio’s legendary Sambadrome. Prices can vary widely according to the location of seats, the day of the parade, the quality of the view, and when you purchase tickets. To get the best prices for each of the options below, book your tickets as early as possible!

Before purchasing a ticket, check the seating chart to ensure you’re getting the view you want. Some seats may have obstructed views or be too far from the action. We offer more specific tips on Sambadrome sections below.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Samba school float access group
Camarote (VIP, Luxury Suites)

Camarotes are luxury suites in the Sambadrome that offer a VIP experience. They are typically located on the second level of the Sambadrome and feature air-conditioned rooms with comfortable seating, a private balcony that provides a panoramic view of the parade, open bars, and amenities like on-site makeup artists, nail salons, and more.

Camarote Mar was the most aggressively marketed camarote during the 2023 Carnaval, but there are many to choose from ranging from mid- to high-end. Other famous camarotes include Brahma, N1, and Allegria.

Camarotes ranges from $500 on the low end to $1000 or more on the high end.

Gisele dancing in a camarote during Rio Carnival 2023
Camarotes Cobertos (Covered Boxes)

Covered boxes are enclosed spaces with a roof that provide protection from the sun and rain. They offer more comfort, with sofas and tables for seating and are typically rented out by groups or individuals looking for a private experience while watching the parade. Prices range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Frisas (Open Box Seating — Our Choice)

Frisas are located on the ground level of the Sambadrome and offer a slightly elevated view of the parade. They typically accommodate up to six people and come with individual chairs and a small table. This is a great option if you’re on a mid-range budget, or if you are attending the parade with a group and would like your own personal space to watch the parade.

We sat in frisas in sector 6, which we highly recommend. This area is where carnival judges sit, so samba schools put on their absolute best show. We paid $600 for two tickets last minute, but prices vary. You’ll be able to snag cheaper tickets if you purchase them ahead of the time, not the night before like we did.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Frisa front row seats in front of the judges
Grandstands (Bleachers)

Grandstand seats are the most affordable option for budget-conscious travelers. Prices vary widely by sector and time of purchase, with tickets ranging from $50 to $200.

For example, sectors 12 and 13 have restricted views as they are located at the end of the Parade.

For the best viewing experience, we recommend purchasing tickets in Sectors 6-11.

Where to Buy Tickets

International visitors can buy tickets to the Rio Carnival parade here, on the official Carnival website. However, be aware that the cheapest seats tend to sell out quickly, so make sure to purchase them as much in advance if you can.

Here are a few more options for purchasing tickets online and on-the-ground in Rio:

  • Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba (LIESA) is the official organization that manages the Carnival Parade at Sambadrome. They offer tickets for all of the parade nights and have an online ticket sales system on their website.
  • RioTur is the official tourism board of Rio de Janeiro and offers ticket packages for the Carnival Parade. They have a physical ticket office in downtown Rio de Janeiro, as well as an online ticket sales system.
  • Ticketmaster Brazil is an authorized vendor that offers tickets for the Carnival Parade. They have an online ticket sales system and also offer customer support in English.
  • Rioturismo is a local tour operator that offers ticket packages for the Carnival Parade. They have a physical ticket office in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro and also offer an online ticket sales system.

Make sure you purchase tickets only from authorized vendors to avoid scams or counterfeit tickets.

Knowing What You’re Watching: Cultures & Traditions Behind Rio Carnival

Don’t be that person who wishes for more American music at Sambadrome (yes, this was a real thing). Here’s some background on the beautiful tradition of Carnival so you know what you’re looking at.

Behind the Scenes of Rio’s Carnival Parade

The work that goes into preparing for Rio’s annual Carnival parade cannot be overstated.

For an entire year, the samba schools of Rio de Janeiro — which consist of hundreds to thousands of people — work on crafting a story, building floats, designing costumes, choreographing dance, and organizing it all into one great cohesive spectacle.

Communities host fundraiser events throughout the year to raise money for their performances. Competition is so fierce between samba schools that the floats and costumes are kept a secret throughout the year.

Attending a samba school rehearsal in Rio de Janeiro
How Samba Schools Are Judged in Rio’s Carnival Parade

Samba schools are judged on many different criteria.

The first is enredo, an original story that acts as the guiding theme for all elements of their procession. These stories are usually informed by traditional Brazilian culture and are accompanied by a samba-enredo, or samba-song, composed each year specifically for the parade.

Yes, samba schools write an original song to accompany their procession in the parade every single year.

The evolution of the procession as the story develops is another key focus for judges, represented by the creativity of costumes, floats, and dance choreography.

Specific roles within the samba school and their performances are also judged:

The beautiful musas and rainhas de bateria.

Performances by “The Master of the Room” and “She Who Carries the Flag”

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Porto da Pedra master of the room she who carries the flag samba school

The percussion band, or bateria.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. Porto da Pedra bateria percussion band

And “The Front Commission” — a group of dancers that lead the parade and introduce their school’s story through dance.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome. first procession samba school
Stories Behind Carnival Parade Performances

The stories crafted by each samba school inform their 55-minute-long Carnival procession. These stories are inspired by Brazilian culture, history, and traditions.

In 2023, we had the privilege of following a musa of Rio’s Porta da Pedra samba school and got a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a Carnival performance. Let’s take a look at their story as an example.

The theme for Porto da Pedra’s Carnival procession centers around Jules Verne’s book, Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon. It’s a book about adventure and the legends surrounding the Amazon — the flora and fauna, creatures from the Amazon River, and the indigenous communities of the Amazon.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome Porto da Pedra float

The kicker? Jules Verne never actually traveled to the Amazon. So the book is all based on his wild imagination, which Porta da Pedra embraces.

Their performance — from the floats and costumes to the original song — is based on an invented Amazon. It is, in essence, a fantasy.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome Porto da Pedra musa samba dancer

In addition to telling stories from Jule Verne’s novel, Porta da Pedra nods to historical Amazon activists who worked to protect the forest and the native populations.

At the end of the procession, Porta da Pedra makes an appeal to protect the Amazon from being continually exploited for profit — currently a major political issue in Brazil.

Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadrome Porto da Pedra float amazon

Other samba schools we saw had stories about the origins of slavery in Brazil, African culture in Brazil, and Candomblé, an African diasporic religion that developed in Brazil during the 19th century.

More Tips for Visiting Rio’s Sambadrome

  • If you’re sitting in the grandstand bleachers, get there early as seats are first-come-first-serve.
  • Each night’s parade lasts until 6 AM. Wear comfortable shoes and pace your drinking so you can last through the entire performance.
  • Bring food, drinks, and plenty of water with you. Food and drinks are sold in the Sambadrome, but everything is pretty mediocre unless you’re in the camarote.
  • Be aware of your belongings before you enter the Sambadrome. The surrounding neighborhoods can be dangerous, and pickpockets and thieves are active during Carnival. Don’t bring valuables with you if you can help it, and don’t wear anything visibly expensive.
  • Wear a costume! A lot of people dress up for the festivities. If you don’t have a costume, some glitter with suffice.
  • Be aware of the weather: The Sambadrome is an open-air venue, so be prepared for Rio’s frequent rains and hot, humid weather.

How to Get to Sambadrome

There are several ways to get to Sambadrome during Rio Carnival:

  • By subway: The Sambadrome is located close to the Praca Onze subway station, making it easily accessible via subway.
  • By taxi or rideshare: Taxis and rideshare services like Uber are readily available in Rio during Carnival. A ride from Copacabana beach to Sambadrome costs around $10.
  • By bus: Several bus lines run through the area near the Sambadrome, so taking a bus is another option. However, buses can be quite crowded during Carnival, so this may not be the most comfortable option.

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Rio Carnival Parade: The Ultimate Guide to Sambadromo

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