The sooner you book your carnival entry tickets for the famous Sambodromo arena, the better chance you will have of securing a premium seat at a good rate with outstanding views of the samba schools in their flamboyant costumes.
The same applies to hotel accommodation – this is the world’s biggest party and although Rio de Janeiro is a large city, the main tourist areas where the best hotels are located (Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon) fill up pretty quickly. Leaving accommodation to be sorted out on arrival is a huge no-no – one poor tourist we know rocked up in Rio at the start of Carnival and had to fly to Buenos Aires that same day just to find a bed for the night!
During Carnival all hotels in Rio will impose a minimum stay – usually five nights. Remember also that Rio is not the only place celebrating Carnival, so hotels in other areas such as Salvador and Olinda in the northeast will also have restrictions on length of stay. Many tourists heading to Brazil will want to make the most of their visit by including the Iguaçu Falls, Salvador, the Amazon and the Pantanal, but if you just want some chill out time after the festivities then there is no better place to wind down than Ilha Grande – a verdant sub-tropical island with hidden coves and gleaming white beaches, about a 4-5hr journey west of Rio by car and ferry.
Note also that Carnival dates for 2011 are 5-8 March, which is at the end of Brazil’s summer. Although you can expect average temperatures to be around 30-40 degrees it can be quite wet at this time of year so a lightweight waterproof jacket and waterproof shoes should not be missed off your luggage list just in case.
Brazil’s economy has been going from strength to strength over the last four or five years, which means that going out for meals, taking excursions and booking transport is no longer as cheap as it used to be. Remember though you will probably still spend less in Brazil than if you were to stay in a city in the UK.
A good tip for eating out cheaply is to head to restaurants known as “comida por kilo” - literally food by the kilo. This is Brazil’s answer to fast food, only much healthier and tastier! It's also great if you aren't confident with the local lingo as the food (which can include everything from steak to sushi) is usually displayed buffet style, so you just take what you want to eat and pay for it at the scales – easy.
To see the famous Carnival procession (and we certainly wouldn't suggest you miss it), you must buy tickets for the Sambodromo arena, but there are also scores of informal street parties going on all over the city. Cinelândia in the centre of town is the most well known and probably is the biggest, starting on Friday and finishing on Tuesday from 5pm-3am every day. If you want to be within easy reach of your hotel, have no fear: samba drums can be heard from most street corners in Copacabana, Ipanema and Lapa.
Fala Português? Even if you don’t speak the language, it always helps to know a few words, so here’s a quick lesson:
Oi – hello
Bom dia – good morning
Tudo bem? – How are you?
Tudo bom – I am fine
Obrigado – thank you (if you're male)
Obrigada – thank you (if you're female)
Uma cerveja – a beer
Duas cervejas – two beers
A conta – the bill
Por favor – please
Tchau – good bye