Carnival in Rio de Janeiro – I am what I am…

…and what I am needs no excuses – the beginning of Gloria Gaynor’s evergreen is the perfect intro to this post, which deals with my perspective on the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, an extremely gay event.

Two Men at the beach of Ipanema
The girl boys of Ipanema

Gay in every sense of the word.

Carnival in Brazil – yay or nay? Spoiler alert: I am what I am, and what I am is not a person who likes carnival. Anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian carnival is world-famous, on many travellers’ bucket lists. Consequently, you have to be a major grouch not to have a great time and enjoy yourself like crazy.

However, I don’t like carnival.

You might think I’m just a pathetic loser with no sense of humor whatsoever.
But that’s not true. You can ask anybody who has known me for five minutes. I am great fun and ready to say the darndest things.
I’m just not the dropping pants-falling water buckets-smashing cream cake-red nose-funny hat-kind of humorous.

Party crowd at the otherwise rather idyllic Largo dos Guimarães in the Santa Teresa district.
Party crowd at the otherwise rather idyllic Largo dos Guimarães in the Santa Teresa district.

And I detest crowds. Even if I would participate in a freedom march, I’d prefer to march by myself than in a crowd. But especially vinous party crowds give me the creeps.

Brazilian Lady
This pretty lady – a street vendor in Belo Horizonte – came closest to the image I had of the carnival in Brazil.

I do like the carnival-ladies in the micro sequin bikinis shaking there not so micro behinds. I like the drummers drumming with vigor. But this takes place only at the Sambadrome where the Samba schools compete.
The real carnival is a bender at every corner in the city.
I’m actually not that crazy about ridiculously accessorized drunks. Nowhere in the world.

Carnival Equals Carnival

There is a carnival in Germany, too. Fortunately, it’s outsourced to the Rhine-Main-area so you can give it a wide berth. Surprisingly, the German carnival is pretty much the same thing as the one in Rio. Hordes of disguised drunks are stumbling and staggering through the streets. Their make-up is slowly dissolving, they are bumping into each other and blocking roads.

Since in Germany it’s cold at carnival season, they mostly cover up – big thumb up!
In Rio, it’s 32 degrees Celsius at 9 p. m., so people walk around basically naked.
It’s only February and I’ve had my share of bare chests for the rest of the year.

Bare-chested men
Bare chests – unadorned version…
Bare-chested men in Rio de Janeiro
….and bare chests – glittering version.

The Brazilian macho’s favorite costume is a skirt. Skirts seem to be the most hilarious – or maybe coolest – thing a man can wear. I wonder whether the Scots are aware of that.

People during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
Individual tutu…

You might think at least the music is rhythmic and Latino and hot so you cannot stand still.
Well, it’s not, take it from me.

People during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
….group tutu – and of course bare chests.

Some tacky techno-merengue-mix-songs are blaring from boom boxes and the crowds are blaring along. My Portuguese is sufficient to understand that some of the lyrics must be quite X-rated.

People during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
Nope, no yellow feathers.

Makes me wonder whatever happened to Barry Manilow’s Lola, the showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair.


The worst thing is that as people drink a lot, nature calls. And as soon as they hear it calling, they open the door naked. Metaphorically and unfortunately literally.
The sharp stench of ammonia is everywhere; sometimes mixed with the stink of vomit.

Beer ad in Rio de Janeiro
CoisaBOA is a campaign by Antarctica beer dealing in a fun way with different issues that might occur during the carnival. Here it says that it’s a good thing (= coisa boa) to make xixi – I presume that you don’t need a translation for this one… – only in a bathroom. The bad thing (which for the record would be coisa ruim) is that obviously, not many people took notice of this billboard.

This makes me think of another song, the first big success of one of the earliest hip hop bands, namely Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. In their greatest hit The Message, they were angrily singing that….people pissing on the stage, you know they just don’t care.

Furious Five – that sounds pleasantly grumpy. I think I would spend a great carnival in the company of the Furious Five: We would drink just a bit, maybe get a hit or two from a spliff and roll our eyes on all these self-proclaimed clowns.
We would use the mobile toilets that are everywhere at people’s disposal – and I bet the Furious Five would keep their shirts on.

In these posts, you can learn more about other aspects of Rio de Janeiro. Also, I’ve written a comprehensive guide to the Southern part of Brazil.

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43 Replies to “Carnival in Rio de Janeiro – I am what I am…”

  1. It is interesting to see the other side of the carnival. I am also not a lover of big crowds and while I would be fascinated to witness the carnival, I don’t think I would want to be too close. I think the atmosphere of the carnival has been overtaken by the excessive drinking which is such a shame.

  2. I’ve always had a regret about the carnival. I was accepted twice to compete in the samba drome with with two schools but it just wasn’t feasible timing. This honest and refreshing post makes me relieved and feel like I made the right choice not prioritising this. I would have been very uncomfortable with all the madness outside of the sambadrome.

  3. Interesting- I’ve always fancied going to Rio Carnival- I find naked chests quite appealing even when they’re not interested in me lol, but I don’t like large crowds now. We have (well, not this year) carnival here in Malta. It was more fun seeing the floats before the crowds arrive. But I guess Rio should be on the list for one year, just to say you’ve been.

  4. Carnival in Rio has been on our list for a long time. I am drawn by the good side of carnival images. But the down sides that you present are probably the reason we have mixed feelings about actually making plans to visit. I would love the action and noise of Carnival – until I didn’t and could not escape. But I did find the tradition of what look like ballet tutus for men funny!

  5. Going to Carnival in Rio has always been on my list but now you’ve made me rethink so I appreciate your honesty. I hate the idea of crowds & especially using the streets as toilets. My image has always been the streets coming alive with the parade but you have put me straight that it only happens in the Sambadrome. Maybe it’s not up my street after all! Thank you for sharing…at least if I still decide to go I’ll be less disappointed.

  6. Thanks for sharing about the realities of Carnival. I’m with you. Even in my 20s and 30s, I had no interest in hanging out with crowds of revelers. I’ve never had a desire to go to Mardi Gras here in the U.S. for that same reason. I don’t condemn those who do. We all have different tastes and thankfully we have the freedom to choose.

  7. Such an honest post, Renata 🙂 I don’t like crowds either and not much of a fan of carnivals but I would love to experience one of each kind in a designated country. If I could watch the carnival from my hotel balcony will be even better.

  8. A different side to what I've previously seen photos of. You're not alone, I am not a fan of crowds of people either and I do try to avoid them where possible.

  9. It's so important to learn and name what our individual travel styles are! As a queer woman in my early 30's people always seem to assume I want to find the clubs and bars, and go to events like pride and carnival. And while I'm happy and very supportive for those that enjoy those things – I would actually way rather visit a Monastery or Church or otherwise walk in the peace of nature, haha. We are who we are – exactly as you've said! The joy of travel is that it helps us get even clearer on who that is!

  10. It's totally fair to not enjoy a crowded, drunken party just because everyone else sort of says you should. Good that you stuck to your guns and didn't write a post celebrating something you didn't enjoy.

  11. Interesting post. Even crowded place is not my favorite but I still love your post. The carnival looks interesting and everyone looks happy. i would love to join it when reading your post.

  12. It's nice to read an honest post again. 😀 We don't like carnivals neither. And we are gay, but the gays – or also the not so gays – at Carnivals (or any other party parade) are just too much for us. We were once asked why we didn't dress up when marching at the Gay Parade. Our reply: we ARE gay. What do you want us to dress up for? As gay grandmas or what… 😀 We march for same-sex rights, not to make people believe that it's "fun" to be gay or that gay people are always having parties or are always dressed colorfully! Anyway, thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Thanx for your comment – it really made me laugh. There is an episode of Ellen where her friend Peter throws her a sort of welcome to the gay community party – you would love it. He gives her a kit that has items she needs as a gay woman and she answers “I thought I had all I need on me” – your point exactly 😀

  13. I have seen my fair share of carnivals in Germany and hated them, but I was also mislead to think the one in Rio is a glamorous latino fever. Thanks for clearing that out!

  14. I don't blame you, I'm not a fan of crowds either. While carnival looks pretty I can imagine living around is difficult, we were in New Orleans for Haloween and it was just too much of a snesory overload!

  15. I don't know much about Carnival in any way, but you've definitely highlighted why it might not be for some people – and I think that is fine. Travelling is about staying true to ourselves and whilst we can try new experiences we don't have to love every one!

  16. I've always wanted to go to the carnival, it seemed so fun. But….now that I'm older and don't drink like before, I'm not sure I'd enjoy it. It's the reason I've never gone to Cancun during Spring Break, to avoid crowds and drunks. Still, maybe I'd enjoy it for a day just to get a feel of the craziness and then leave. 🙂 Too bad you didn't enjoy it, but hopefully the rest of your trip was great.

    1. Yap, Edith, that's what it is like: Cancun during Spring Break. The rest of my trip was so wonderful that I really don't care much. I just wanted to share that it is not pretty ladies in sequin bikinis as everybody – myself included – thinks.

  17. Based on the tone throughout your post this is not the party for you! You've definitely highlighted the not so pretty parts to such an event. Shelby and I have been to many shows, raves, and festivals with large crowds under the influence. As we get older we notice it's not as easy to be a part of these crowds. hah

    Kudos to you for checking it out and reporting the side that probably gets overlooked by most writing on the Carnival.

    1. Thanx, Nathan. Yap, I only wanted to point out how I see it and why it is not my kind of fun. I am well aware that many, many people would disagree; which is fine: I am what I am…. ?

  18. It was actually not really bad – I was just disappointed resp. surprised that I didn't enjoy it. Not everything is for everybody. Everything else of my trip is fine, so….no worries.

  19. Sorry to hear you never enjoyed your experience. Everybody thinks travelling is glorious but in reality we do find ourselves in situations or places that are just not for us. Personally I don't think i would have enjoyed that very much but onto the next thing. safe travels

  20. So different than the pics you getting to see in TV, i thought it would be much more glorious 🙁 Thanks for sharing your experience…

  21. Loved reading your experience. Carnivals are not usually my thing but would still love to check out a south american one. I do love music so who knows…might like it.

    1. I am happy for everyone who has a great time. I just realized that it's definitely not for me. The music is terrible, too: Do not think of Samba, Merengue etc. It's very simple, stumpy bacchanalian songs which people can sing along while doing little party dances.???

  22. A shame that you didn't have a great Carnival experience. I've not been myself – but wouldn't mind the glittery bare chests. 🙂 Overt public drunkenness and large crowds are also not fun for me and my partner. Much prefer to hear the music and soak up the vibes from a high balcony above all the riff raff.

    1. The music they play in the streets is also terrible: Lily the pink-style! And people sing along and dance group dance Macarena-style. It's like kiddy-club at an all inclusive resort. So all it has for you are the glittering chests….?

  23. i totally understand, crowds can be intense at times. And it sounds like this Carnival is way more intense than i thought!

  24. Sounds like Carnival is a bit more intense than I realized. Its good to learn that the fun music is at the Sambadrome, I'll have to tuck that info away for my trip to this crazy festival in Brazil.

    1. I guess the parades at the Sambadrome are pretty and fun. I didn't go because I wasn't in Rio at weekends – too bad. But since I did other great things instead…

  25. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing your experience. This is definitely not the view I think of when I think of carnival in Brazil. They make it seem so glamorous on T.V.

    1. Yes, those are the parades taking place at the Sambadrome. I thought I would see that in the streets, too, but what I saw was faaar different ?

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