Rio Samba Parade: The biggest attraction on earth

The samba parade held to celebrate the Rio Carnival is undoubtedly the biggest attraction on earth, with visitors from around the world flocking to Rio for a week of dancing, singing, and partying. To vibe with the rhythm of the samba the only place to be is the Rio Carnival. The Carnival is celebrated in just about every state in Brazil. While each celebration is exciting and wonderful, none of them can equal the amazing extravaganza that is the Carnival in Rio. In all likelihood, the quest to experience the Carnival once could turn out to be an annual habit for any tourist. The Carnival is the best time to experience the best of Brazilian culture, for this is one occasion that truly sums up the carioca way of life. Since 1984, the parade is held at the Sambadrome where twelve of the top samba schools vie for the prestigious championship title every year.

Samba schools Choreography - Rio carnival

Choreography at its best

Each samba school presents a theme which is portrayed by a team of musicians, samba dancers, and well decorated floats. Months of preparation are put in by the samba schools who mobilize the support of thousands of locals from their communities. At the forefront of the preparations is the Carnvalesco or Carnival Director who sets the theme and organizes practically everything required for the parade right from the costume designs, decorations, theme song, and much more. The samba schools start planning their program next year as soon as this year’s Carnival is over. Musicians, architects, fashion designers and choreographers work throughout the year to present 80 minutes of mind blowing samba mania. Each artist puts forth his or her best effort to ensure their samba school’s show will be the most amazing of all.

Each sequence in the theme is well choreographed while a panel of 40 judges keeps a close eye on each team as they parade down the Sambadrome. Points are awarded based on a number of criteria.

When King Momo Says, “Let’s Party”

The mayor of Rio sets the ball rolling at the Rio Carnival with the crowning of Fat King also known as King Momo on the Friday leading up to the first day of Lent. Carnival fever soon spreads all over, in the streets, bars, clubs, and many other venues, culminating with the samba parade at the Sambadrome. According to Greek mythology, Momo is the god of mockery, while in Carnival tradition King Momo represents joy and posterity. Legend suggests that Momo was expelled from Olympus and settled down in Rio. Once King Momo gives the signal, it is samba time in Rio with plenty of sequins, feathers, flesh and much more.

Children Can Samba Too

On Friday, children turn out in hoards to display their talent at the Sambadrome and host their very own samba parade. The children’s samba schools are formed by youngsters from Rio’s neighborhood communities and are enough to give the adults a run for their money were they to compete at the same level. Saturdays at the Sambadrome is reserved for the samba schools in the Access Group who compete for a place in the Special Group in the following year of competition. Samba is not just for the adults of Rio. There are many children who have committed themselves to this unique musical culture. Their interest and dedication to the Samba is destined to keep the Carnival alive in the hearts and minds of many generations to come.

Carnivals top samba schools

Unlike Rio’s infamous street parties, the samba parade is a highly orchestrated event with each individual having a particular role to play according to the school’s theme. On Sunday and Monday the 12 top samba schools that include Beija-Flor, Mocidade, Imperatriz, Salgueiro, São Clemente, Portela, Grande Rio, União da Ilha, Porto da Pedra, Unidos da Tijuca, and Vila Isabel (The number of points a samba school earns during the Sambadrome competition determines their place in next year’s competition. Those with fewer points compete in the lower groups and those with higher points strut their stuff in the elite group).

On Tuesday the children’s parade take place, they are the future of the big samba schools. The following Saturday at the Champions Parade the 6 best samba schools of the Special Group from Sunday and Monday put up a splendid performance at the Sambadrome, although it is a much quieter affair.


Parade Date Samba Parade Type Our Suggestion Tickets
March 01, 2019
Access Group Samba Parade
Day 1
Fun and Cheap.
Nice day to parade.
March 02, 2019
Access Group Samba Parade
Day 2
Fun and Cheap.
Nice day to parade.
March 03, 2019
Special Group Samba Parade
Day 1
Main Parade.
Try at least one day.
March 04, 2019
Special Group Samba Parade
Day 2
Main Parade.
Try at least one day.
March 05, 2019
Children’s Parade Group Better join
Bands in Ipanema
At Door
March 09, 2019
Winner’s Parade The best 6 schools of the Main Parade. Nice to see the best of carnival. BUY HERE


‘Alas’ – Ground Level Entertainment

For the samba parade each school is divided into sections called ‘alas’ or wings, with each wing consisting of 100 members or more wearing the same costume. In some samba schools, each wing will choreograph their own dance that they practice for months prior to the Carnival. While the dance does contribute to the overall score, the dancers must be upbeat, happy and sing their samba school song throughout the parade.

Each wing has a specific role to play according to the school’s theme. In between these wings are the floats that separate each section. To get the attention of the judges, the floats are designed with special effects. Two of the more spectacular floats have been a fire breathing dragon and a metal eagle that soared along the parade route flapping his wings.

The elaborately decorated floats are pushed by men while others are motorized. You will find a group of mesmerizing samba dancers along with special guests atop these floats. Many celebrities lend their support to samba schools so don’t be surprised to find some of your favorite stars taking part in the parade. Many of the star performers who ride the floats have to pay for their own costumes and they can cost a fortune. In some situations the samba school will absorb the cost. One of the highest honors a samba school member can receive is a place on the float.

Alas - Ground Level Entertainment - Rio Carnival

Destaques – Star Performers

Each samba school has its own flag, distinctive colors, and costume styles. The most lavish costumes are worn by a group of members called destaques, specially chosen by the schools to perform atop the floats. These costumes are painstakingly made by hand with many of them featuring mirror work, feathers, silk, coins, gems, and just about anything else creative minds come up with. Apart from costumes, body paint and glitter add to the sensuousness of the near naked beauties that are a main attraction at the parade. Among these are some of the best samba dancers in the world who gyrate to the pulsating rhythms produced by the samba drummers or baterias in each wing.

Vanguard Commission – Leading the way

The Vanguard Commission is a group of 12 or more dancers that are the first to enter the parade ahead of their samba school. One of their tasks is to introduce their school to the spectators, which is why celebrities often are a part of this group. As the Vanguard Commission leads the procession it is vitally import they put on a good show and impress the audience. They set the tone for the rest of the performance. Their energy and vitality infuse the crowd with their own vibrant excitement that carries throughout the show.

The Commission is no longer a group of men in white top hats and tails, but has become a spectacle on their own with some wearing the most elaborate costumes.

The Flag Bearer and her Escort

The first couple to come dancing down the parade strip carrying the school’s flag is the Porta Bandeira and Mestre Sala. While the lady moves along with the flag her escort dances gracefully around her. Most schools have several flag bearers, however, the first one is the most important in the eyes of the judges.

The Flag Bearer and her Escort - Rio carnival

Whirling Ladies (Bahianas)

The Bahianas are a group of older women that represents the soul of the samba schools, which are their African roots. These much respected women put up a spectacular presentation of the samba in their traditional Bahia costumes, earning plenty of applause from the spectators. Unfortunately, spectators cannot purchase costumes and join these ladies in their samba performance. This wing is dedicated exclusively to those women you have toiled for many years preparing their samba school for Carnival after Carnival. It is a way for the younger generations to show their appreciation for all the love and support these wonderful ladies have given to their samba school.

Bahianas - Samba schools carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro

Queen of the Drummers and the Bateria

At the very heart of the samba parade are the bateria or drummers that provide the much needed energy for the samba dancers. The echoes of the drum beats with the Sambadrome are enough to keep even the spectators dancing all night long. Becoming a drummer requires extreme discipline and training. Innovation has infused the drumbeat with rhythms such as Brazilian Funk. And while these different beats do please the audience, the rhythm of the samba is the most important element to echo from these drums.

They are lead by a beautiful female samba dancer, the Queen of the Drummers, who introduces the drummers to the crowd, motivating them all the way down the samba strip. Lucky is the lady who is selected to be Queen of the Drummers for her samba school. It is not unusual for a popular celebrity to be tasked in this role. However, even the celebrity is expected to take her part seriously and attend all rehearsals. She must captivate her audience during the Carnival and win their support.

The baterias of samba schools are so famous in Rio de Janeiro that during the year, when there are not in Carnival, they play in ceremonies, celebrations and parties around town.

Queen of the Drummers and the Bateria - Rio Carnival

Passistas – Carnival’s leading samba dancers

Of course, no parade can be bereft of the Passistas or samba dancers that dance the entire length of the samba strip. This group of 15-20 dancers is chosen through a competition each year and has the honor of representing their samba school. Well known lead vocalists and a group of fellow vocalists do justice to the samba songs that are composed for especially for the parade.

Passistas in the Rio carnival parade

They are usually on the sound truck behind the percussionists or find their way marching along with the school down the runway. One of the most important elements in the samba school parade is the rhythm and the lyrics of the theme song. The song must energize the dancers and the audience generating an intense desire to dance. The song must be related to the chosen theme and this theme should also be represented in the costumes, floats and wings.

While the schools are busy parading and the spectators enjoying a night of entertainment, the judges keep a watchful eye in order to pick out the champions. However, it is safe to say that considering all the hard work and effort that goes into the making of the Rio Carnival, everyone is a champion, so to say.

Not Sure How to Plan you Rio Carnival Extravaganza?

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