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Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro
Brazil's insider take:

All of Brazil celebrates Carnaval, each region with its own distinct flavor and tradition. And though many locals leave Rio for Carnaval—some of the biggest parties are in the northeastern city of Salvador da Bahia—Rio's is still most accessible for tourists. The main event, the Samba Parade, now takes place in a downtown stadium, Oscar Niemeyer's Sambódromo. Private seating costs big, big bucks, but regular tickets are around through local travel agents (or better, ask your concierge for help). If you miss the parade, though, take heart: The best bits of Carnaval are often the impromptu parties that happen in the street. Hang around the Praça General Osório square, two blocks from Ipanema Beach—it's the home base of the celebrated and most epically celebratory parade clique, Banda de Ipanema. Among the many highlights of this Banda is their drag queen parade, which takes place on the street Rua Jangadeiros on the afternoon of Carnaval Saturday.

Though Carnaval is officially a four-day affair that ends on Fat Tuesday, the party actually gets going at least two weeks earlier. It's worth taking in the public rehearsals of the top two samba schools, Mangueira (55-21-2567-4637) and Salgueiro, which compete for costume and performance prizes. The street party outside gets going around 11 pm; inside, it goes till dawn. Expect to hear the same Carnaval song over and over and over, though.

Carnaval dates: February 17–21, 2012; February 8–12, 2013; February 28–March 4, 2014

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