No city in the world throws a party like Rio de Janeiro. The famous Carnival celebration lures nearly half a million visitors to Rio every year to watch the samba schools compete with elaborate floats, skimpy costumes, and pulsating samba moves. This year the Unidos da Tijuca samba school won the top prize by performing “It’s a Secret!” featuring a dancing impersonator of the late pop singer Michael Jackson.
Although the iconic image of bikini-clad vixens dancing atop floats continues to be the pervading image of Carnival throughout the world, this celebration actually represents the livelihood for many of the samba dancers who compete each year for the coveted prize. Each school is a social club representing a certain working class neighborhood, which is often a favela, or shanty town, and they practice year-round for the Rio Carnival Parade. Each “escola” chooses a theme, writes music and lyrics, and makes their own floats and costumes. Carnival is an elaborate week-long, city-wide party that ends with the not-to-be-missed Samba Parade in the newly built Sambodromo.
Start planning now for Carnival next year since many of the hotels are booked far in advance. Here are some of wandermelon’s favorite places to stay in Rio:
Copacabana Palace Avenida Atlantica 1702, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 2548 7070
This iconic whitewashed hotel is the most famous in Rio de Janeiro and has housed royals and celebs since opening in 1923. The service is impeccable and the expansive rooms offer incredible ocean views. Rates start at USD $498 for a standard room.
Hotel Santa Teresa R. Almirante Alexandrino, 660, Santa Teresa; Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 2222 2755
Located in the artistic, hillside community of Santa Teresa, this beautifully restored hotel uses natural materials like tropical wood combined with art from native tribes to create a warm, modern vibe. The intimate property is surrounded by over 150 types of trees and plants and the inventive restaurant uses all recycled materials while the spa features organic products by Natura. Rates start at USD $450 for a standard room.
Fasano Av. Vieira Souto 80, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 3202 4000
This sophisticated boutique hotel is located in a coveted section of Ipanema Beach and attracts beautiful young trendsetters. The minimalist yet rustic lobby is awash in hardwoods, glass, and marble. Designed by Philippe Starck, the posh infinity pool on the rooftop has one of the best vantage points in all of Rio. Rates start at USD $498 for a standard room.
If you’re not making the trip this year, there are other ways to celebrate like a Carioca. Start by mastering the famous Brazilian caipirinha cocktail using Leblon cachaca, a Brazilian rum made from fresh sugar cane. You can even sample the bountiful Brazilian churrascaria at restaurants like LA’s Fogo de Chao. Most importantly, learn how to Samba before you go with regularly scheduled classes for all levels offered by one of LA’s top “sambistas,” or practice at home with a DVD from www.sambabody.com.