Rio Carnival Guide: What are the Sambadrome Parades?

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Published: 13th August 2012
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While Carnival celebrations take place on every corner of the globe, but when you think Carnival, it's the pre-lenten festivities that take place in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro that captivates the eyes of the world. With its beautiful pristine beaches, unique culture, historical sites, museums, first-class dining options and a nightlife that keeps going even when New York City has fallen asleep, it's no wonder why Rio de Janeiro is known as the Marvelous City (Cidade Maravilhosa). When traveling to Rio during Carnival, the "must-do" list can be overwhelming -- and doing them all in one year is impossible. Therefore, when planning your journey to Rio Carnival, it's important that you do your homework and figure out what is most important to you and your group.

The events of Rio Carnival revolve around the legendary Sambadrome Parades. With over 30,000 annual participants and 90,000 ticketed spectators, the parades through the Sambódromo are spectacular and captivating in a way that is unique to Rio Carnival.

There are more than 100 organizations called samba schools that are interspersed throughout Rio de Janeiro. Samba Schools are organized around a geographic connection and their main purpose is to prepare for and compete in the Sambadrome Parades. Yes, you heard that right: compete. As awe-inspiring and miraculous as they are, the Sambadrome Parades are fierce competitions between Samba Schools.

The Schools function in a way that is most easily relatable to European Soccer leagues. The Schools are ranked hierarchically and placed into different leagues. The top two leagues, "The Access Group" and the "Special Group", parade through the Sambódromo. Each year, the winning school from each group is promoted to a more prestigious group; and similarly, the losing school from each group's competition is demoted to the group immediately below. Needless to say, there's a lot riding on these competitions. The schools in the more prestigious groups receive more publicity and more funding for Carnival preparations and also for projects that benefit their community. For image galleries and more information about each of the most elite samba schools, visit!

The Sambadrome Parades start around 9pm and last well into the following morning. It's not uncommon for the last school to finish their procession around 4am! Most people arrive late and leave early, but there are many reasons why you might want to stay for the entire show.

Each school puts it all on the line as they try to impress the judges that are seated along the samba runway. The processions are broken down into various wings called alas, and on average each wing is made up of around 100 people. What's fascinating about the Sambadrome Parades is that the schools declare themes and actually tell a story through their processions. In fact, this is one of the major aspects they are judged upon. So the wings can be thought of as chapters in a book -- each chapter serving a specific and unique purpose. There are some wings where costumes are ornate, heavy and expensive, others where choreographed dance moves are required, but then each school has a wing where the costumes are uniform and all that's required is enthusiasm.

So one reason you might want to stay for the entire show: YOU can actually participate in the parade -- all you need is a costume!, a Miami-based tour operator with offices in Miami and Rio de Janeiro has special relationships with each of the major samba schools. Through their Carnival Costumes page, you can select a costume based on its designs or based on your favorite samba school, and that will serve as your ticket to march in the parade with that school! So if you purchase a costume for one of the final processions of the night, you will have to stay until the end when it's your time to shine in the spotlight!

Tickets to the 2013 Sambadrome Parades are on sale now at The company is affiliated with ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents; ARC, the Airlines Reporting Corporation; and the Miami-Dade Chamber of commerce. is extremely user-friendly and offers a rich source of maps, guides and other information that is useful for purchasing Sambadrome Parade Tickets.

Rio Carnival 2013 Sambadrome Parade Schedule

1. Saturday, February 9th, 2013 — 8:00 PM
Ten Schools that make up Access Group A will compete in the hopes of being bumped up to the Special Group for next years Carnival.
2. Sunday, February 10th, 2013 — 9:00 PM
In this Sambadrome Parade, six out of the twelve Samba Schools that make up the Special Group will parade through the Sambadrome. The first parade of Rio Carnival 2013, this is an event not to be missed! This is sure to be one of the most exciting events of Carnival.
3. Monday, February 11th, 2013 — 9:00 PM
This Sambadrome Parade is when the remaining six Samba Schools that make up the Special Group will display their hard work. The crowds will be enormous and the processions promise to be some of the best of Carnival 2013.
4. Saturday, February 16th, 2013 — 8:00 PM
The Champion’s Parade: after a winner has been announced, the Champion’s Parade, in which the top six Samba Schools of the Special Group perform their prizewinning routines, promises to be an unforgettable close to Carnival 2013.

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