Journal
How to Carnival like a Carioca
We spoke to Founder of Ello Agency and Head of Public Relations at Fasano Hotel, Paula Bezerra de Mello to discover how a Carioca does Rio Carnival.

One of the world’s largest and most acclaimed festivals, Rio Carnival, is atop of a must-do list for many. But the five-day festival which wraps up on the noon of Ash Wednesday and commences on the Friday before, can be overwhelming to a first time visitor (or participant). Over two million people take to the streets of Rio during Carnival as Samba schools parade their extravagant ensembles and floats, so it’s very easy to get lost in the crowds and overlook local happenings for tourist attractions.

To help you navigate through what is often dubbed ‘O maior show da Terra’, (The biggest show on Earth), we spoke to Carioca soul and Ello Agency founder, Paula Bezerra de Mello, to discover where to find the best parties, shops and acai vendors during Rio Carnival.

Paula Bezerra de Mello is a true Carioca, though she sometimes jokes of being a Cari-Yorker, as she spent some of her childhood in New York visiting family and moved there at the age of 17 to study at Brown University and pursue a career writing screenplays (before realising that public relations and marketing were a natural career option). She recalls that at the age of 17 she wanted to write a screenplay about Rio de Janeiro’s illustrious carnival.

‘I was kind of obsessed with it because carnival is this one unforgettable moment. It’s one of these things that you really have to live through to understand how magical it is.’

‘I was kind of obsessed with it because carnival is this one unforgettable moment. It’s one of these things that you really have to live through to understand how magical it is.’

She speaks of the ‘intoxicating energy’ that lures many to voyage to Rio with an urge to experience it. But if you are going to experience Rio’s carnival you must decide what aspects most attract you.

‘There are different types of carnival and celebrations. There are street carnivals called Blocos, which are very fun, they’re basically like informal parties where people listen to samba music in large groups. They’re great but you have to be committed to spending a few hours in a large group of moving people. After Eduarda was born (Paula’s four-year-old daughter), the only Bloco I really go to is Spantinha, the kid-friendly version of Spanta Neném – which literally translates into ‘scare away the babies’. We have a lot of fun dressing up together and parading through the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and there are several outdoor games and activities. Other great Blocos are Bloco da Preta and Carnageralda.’

The Rio Carnival parade that most are loosely acquainted with via movies, televisions show or word of mouth is the Sambadrome Marques de Sapucaí, which takes place in Sambradrome, which Paula describes as a ‘beautiful avenue’ and is one of Oscar Neimeyer’s most well-known conceptions.

The procession through the Sambadrone is about 75 minutes long as each ‘school’ parades their work – music, costumes, dancers, etc.

‘It’s basically a Broadway production that’s on the go, transitioning. it’s unbelievable to me when I see the magnitude of it; the thought, the harmony, the detail that goes into every costume is unbelievable.

‘It’s basically a Broadway production that’s on the go, transitioning. it’s unbelievable to me when I see the magnitude of it; the thought, the harmony, the detail that goes into every costume is unbelievable. There are so many different categories that they are being judged on, from the costume to the music. I love witnessing people seeing it for the first time’

Every Carioca has their spot for viewing the spectacle and Paula states that it is Camarote N.1,

‘the most traditional of camarotes, which has its own musical attractions perform during the breaks between samba parades (like Anitta and Diplo), Camarote Allegria, on the other side of the Sambadrome, is a new favorite and also a great option.’

As well as the carnival parade itself there are numerous parties, balls and celebrations that take place around Rio during carnival.

‘The best place to view the street carnival activity and the sunset is the rooftop of the Fasano. Cariocas have a tradition of applauding the sunset, and from the Fasano you can see hundreds of locals and tourists on top of the Arpoador rock, clapping furiously as the sun sets by the two Brothers mountain, on the opposite end of the beach. Perrier-Jouët offers all the guests a glass of champagne to toast the sunset.

Baile da Arara, on the Tuesday after Carnaval, is the best dress up Carnaval ball in town. I always pay a visit to my friend Alexia Hentsch, who makes the best headpieces and bodysuits and usually finish my look with some edgy Charlotte Olympia accessory – like the banana bag. The Copacabana Palace also hosts a more traditional Carnaval Ball on the Saturday before the parades, Baile do Copa.’

As for surviving the balmy climes of the city that’s intensified with the body heat of carnival goers, Paula suggests drinking lots of coconut water, which you’ll find in abundance as nearly every street vendor has a supply.

‘Not surprisingly, Açai is an extremely popular meal during this time. My favourite spot is Polis Sucos, near Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz in Ipanema. I order it mixed with strawberries and bananas and without guaraná syrup – it’s too sweet for me. In Leblon, Bebê Lanches is a local favourite.’

However, if you’re one for more formal sit down meals Paula recommends Marea,

‘The new Quiosque on Ipanema beach on POSTO 8 is a great option for lunch, lovely ambience, great service and drinks but super casual vibe and delicious finger foods.’

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