Carnival in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil – The wildest parties on the planet!
Every year, five days before Ash Wednesday and prior to Lent, Brazil celebrates its most outrageous party of the year welcoming thousands of guests who want to experience the biggest carnival in the world. While Rio de Janeiro is often the most popular choice, Salvador – the Afro-Brazilian capital – is still more of an insider’s tip with less tourists.
Last year, for the first time, I was lucky enough to travel to Brazil during Carnival and join the festivities in both cities and – oh boy – these were by far the wildest parties I have ever experienced!
We, my friends and I, had booked our trip six months ahead of time, which was absolutely necessary because prices for both flights and accommodations surge during Carnival and fill up extremely fast. First, we spent five days in Rio, where we stayed at an Airbnb, directly between Copacabana and Ipanema – a perfect and safe location close to two of the most popular beaches. Then, we relocated to a hostel in Barra, the Southern tip of Salvador.
In both cities you can join blocos – street parades – or camarotes – balcony parties – from which you can view blocos. The parades consist of huge, slowly-moving trucks blasting music called Trio Elétrico, with a live music act on top, surrounded by their friends, family, and a few lucky other people who made it onto the vehicle. You can follow your favorite artist walking next to the truck for the whole parade, if you buy an abada – a T-Shirt with a special print or color for $50 – $450. You can also just stand on the side of the streets for free and watch all artists.
For our first night, we chose to buy an abada, which a hostel employee got us because we wanted to make sure that we’d buy a legit shirt and not fall into a tourist trap of purchasing fake shirts that would be useless. The T-shirts are made out of the cheapest material in the most boring shape, but you’re allowed to cut them the way you want, which we did. From our hostel, we were able to walk to the area right by the beach within 10 minutes, where the parade would start at 6 p.m. Now, imagine thousands of people with 20 plus different shirts; street vendors with drinks, necklaces, masks, and white body paint (which can be painted in a pattern on your body, usually an arm or leg). We found our fellow T-shirt wearers and waited for our truck to arrive. Once it did, we were let in through a rope held by numerous strong guys and waited for the music to come on.
Once the music started, it was as if people fell into a trance; they were screaming, laughing, and dancing and everybody had the time of their lives. The energy was incredible and contagious. When our truck started rolling, the pushing and shoving began and I was extremely thankful for wearing tennis shoes rather than sandals or heels. I lost count on how many people stepped on my feet and on how many I stepped. At times we were so close to others that they literally carried us, but sometimes we had room to walk normally. I was amazed that nobody fell. The weather was so hot and humid that we rubbed off sweat against others and vice versa. This closeness makes you meet people easily but it made me also leave my camera and even my phone at the hostel, unfortunately! However, now that I know how it works, I’ll be sure to take it next time!
We stayed inside the ropes for quite a while, then decided to exit and join the crowd on the sides of the streets where we were finally able to breathe and walk normally again. Up from a small hill, we watched the other trucks pass by until the parade ended and the crowds slowly dissolved. This was definitely an unforgettable experience everyone should have on his/her bucket list and at least do once a lifetime.
The next day, we walked to the Pelourinho – the city center neighborhood – where we experienced the biggest parade I had ever seen. The music had started at 10 a.m. and ended late at night. At this parade, there were no abadas, but people dressed up in elaborate costumes to join inside the ropes. We also saw the Olodum’s Band, who had played in Michael Jackson’s “They don’t care about us” video, which was shot in Pelourinho. The city center had stands and small separate parades and the most tourists I had seen so far (which were not many). At the parade however, my friend and I stuck out as clearly the only European-looking girls in a wide radius and were harassed with slaps, whistles, and “holy water” spray, but everyone was in such a great mood that these acts could be forgiven. The stench of urine and warm beer is omnipresent, unfortunately. However, these little things did not make this whole experience less amazing: Carnival 2017 – here I come again!
…and here’s a short little video to the madness: Carnival in Salvador de Bahia
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