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Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but it isn’t always cheap. However, in this blog, I share the best budget-saving tips that can help you experience Carnival in Rio de Janeiro on a budget!
Once New Year’s Celebrations come to a halt, many travelers in South America set their sights on the next big event…Carnival in Brazil! The most popular destination to celebrate this iconic event (and for good reason) is Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Many travelers dream of attending Carnival in Rio, however, many skip it solely due to the expenses that seem to surround this world-class event.
And it is true, prices during Carnival in Rio are inflated, and attending Carnival in Rio on a budget can seem impossible. However, there are some tricks and tips that can prevent anyone from breaking the bank while having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I attended Carnival in Rio and it was truly one of the best experiences of my life and a highlight of my Brazil trip. A week of partying, dancing, culture, and celebrating all in one of the craziest cities that has ever existed.
Literally, thousands of block parties are scheduled and there is an entire stadium built solely for the Samba parades. The spectacle which is Rio Carnival is hard to imagine – you just need to go to experience it yourself.
While attending Carnival in Rio wasn’t exactly a “cheap” event, I managed to stay within my shoestring budget. I was on a year-long trip so I couldn’t spend all of my money in one place.
These are all of my tips for attending Rio Carnival on a budget while having the time of your life! I’ve also updated all info to reflect this year’s upcoming carnival.
Choose the Right Accommodation
Here are three tips for choosing where to stay during Carnival in Rio in 2023 without breaking the bank!
1. Choose the “right” neighborhood
A common misconception is that in order to get the best experience you must stay in the neighborhoods of Copacabana or Ipanema.
These rumors have made hostel prices ridiculous during Carnival (sometimes up to three times the usual price.) I don’t think it is worth paying the extra money to stay in these areas as the block parties are EVERYWHERE throughout the city and you will be exploring anyways.
I suggest staying in a different neighborhood, such as Lapa or Santa Teresa.
Lapa is the party area with the best nightlife, so staying in this area is definitely beneficial for anybody who likes to have a few drinks. Santa Teresa is within walking distance from Lapa and boasts some of the most lively block parties (it is the locals’ favorite place to come and party).
Staying in these neighborhoods will save you money as the hostels here are always much cheaper. And besides price, I honestly believe the vibe is better in these areas.
Safety Note: Many people fear Santa Teresa and Lapa because of higher crime rates in these areas than in the “richer” areas of Ipanema and Copacabana. But during Carnival, no area is ever 100% safe and thieves go anywhere in the city. Violent crimes are less likely this time of year due to high police presence, but do be aware of pick-pockets and only bring out small amounts of cash. Personally, I took my GoPro out with me to all the block parties and had no issues, however, be aware, it is risky!
Related Read: If you are planning on backpacking in Brazil here’s what to know!
2. Stay for at least a week
Most hostels will have a rule and only take bookings for a certain number of days (usually 5-7 day booking minimum.) Booking a shorter duration will often incur the same cost as staying for the complete week.
Not to mention, there is so much to do and explore in Rio during Carnival, any time less than a week will feel rushed.
So with that in mind, try to stay for the entire week of Carnival. This will not only save you money but also give you time to recover on some days as Carnival is very exhausting!
3. Choose accommodation with a kitchen and no bar
Accommodation prices inflate during Carnival, and so do food and drink prices. I strongly recommend staying in a hostel with a kitchen to avoid having to eat out for every meal.
Even street food prices were inflated to more than I normally would spend on a meal at a restaurant! Cooking meals is a budget saver, especially during Carnival. I can’t stress this enough.
For anybody who likes to drink, I would also recommend booking a hostel which allows you to bring your own alcohol. Social gatherings at the hostel will be a regular occurrence before and after parties so avoiding the hostel bar drink prices will also be a massive budget saver.
Out on the streets, prices are pretty good as local vendors sell beers cheaply. For 1 small beer can expect to pay around $1.50 USD.
Booking.com and Hostelworld are our two top most-used websites to book budget stays.
The BEST Cheap Hotels and Hostels in Rio for Carnival in 2022
We stayed a few different places in Rio and explored all of the areas. Based on our own experiences (and those of friends and fellow travelers) we have hand-picked the BEST hostels and hotels around Rio for Carnival!
These options are a good balance of comfort, location, and price. Ideally, you can stay without breaking the bank completely!
Selina Lapa (Budget Hostel)
Selina Lapa is located right in the heart of Lapa. It offers comfortable dorm rooms starting at 18 USD with air conditioning as well as more luxurious private rooms priced at $80 USD, all of the choices have modern furnishings. There is a restaurant, coffeehouse, and rooftop bar for meeting other travelers, often featuring live music. If you want to cook there is a shared kitchen available for use.
Check prices on Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Casa da Cacaia e do Henrique (Budget Hostel)
This hostel located in Santa Teresa is known to be very clean with the friendliest staff (owners.) Casa da Cacaia e do Henrique is a more intimate place to stay with only a small selection of rooms but each bed has its own privacy curtain and everything is kept clean. A fresh breakfast is served every morning which is included in the price. Towels are an extra cost. A dorm bed here starts at $11 USD but there are also private rooms for around $30 USD for two people.
Fluminense Hotel (Budget Hotel)
Featuring a pool and very large and clean rooms Fluminense Hotel is the perfect option for couples or friends wanting privacy and comfort within budget. It is located in Lapa. Double rooms are about $50 a night including breakfast. Fluminese also serves a daily breakfast buffet and a gym with treadmills and dumbells.
Note: You NEED to book accommodations for Carnival in Rio in advance to avoid disappointment. Booking.com often has flexible cancellation policies and offers the lowest price guaranteed. Browse all hotels and hostels in Rio during Carnival here!
Getting Around Rio during Carnival
Taking taxis and Uber during Carnival in Rio gets expensive. Especially with all the road closures (thanks to the hundreds of block parties) taxi fares are long and expensive. But, chances are you will still need to get around the city, and here’s how I suggest you do so:
Get to know the subway system
The underground train system in Rio is quite good and fairly easy to use. This is the absolute best way to get around the city during Carnival. Roads are always blocked because of the block parties so getting around with a taxi is not only expensive but also time-consuming.
The subway system in Rio operates a bit differently than normal as it is not possible to buy tickets at the stations. There are specific places set up around the city for buying subway passes. These booths are located above ground near select subway stations (not all of them.)
The lines can be long, so buy a few passes at a time in advance. You don’t want to be stuck without a pass at a station where there is no place to buy passes.
The taxis also inflate their prices during Carnival. It is ridiculous the amount they will try to charge, it isn’t even worth trying to bargain with them as they are so busy they will just tell you “no” if you even attempt to haggle. Uber prices are also inflated due to high demand, but they still remain MUCH cheaper and safer!
Related Read: Another city for a lot of cheap and free things to do is in São Paulo, Brazil.
Buying Sambadrome Tickets
Carnival in Rio has a special event that no other city has, the Sambadrome. This stadium was built specifically for the Samba parades. The stadium is long and skinny to suit the parading samba schools that compete during this time of year.
Many tourists skip attending one of the Sambadrome parades due to expense and lack of knowledge of what the event entails. My advice is that you must attend the Sambadrome at least once, it is a spectacle which you cannot even begin to imagine until you have been. Truly incredible. However, this ticketed event can get pricey if not planned correctly.
Buy Tickets in Advance
The best way to ensure you get a good price on tickets is to buy them online before they all sell out. Once all of the tickets are sold out on the website then you must buy from a scalper for an inflated price.
The websites to buy Sambadrome tickets from is from Carnival Bookers or Viator.com. However, please be aware it can be cheaper to get them from your hostel, but you run the risk of missing out!
Basic grandstand seats start at $30 USD but you can also upgrade to front box tickets for a better view. There is also a package that includes round-trip transportation that begins at $90 USD.
Go on Friday or Saturday
There are five days of Sambadrome shows/competitions. The “best” samba schools compete on Sunday and Monday, and then again for the championship parade about a week later. The ticket prices for these days are several times more expensive than the Friday and Saturday shows.
The reason being is that the samba schools who usually win perform on Sunday and Monday. However, if you are not an expert in Samba (I doubt any tourists are) then the shows on Friday and Saturday will be just as amazing to you. I would compare it to watching professional sports teams in a sport you know nothing about, one professional team compared to the next will all seem just as impressive to an inexperienced viewer.
I went on a Saturday night last year and was blown away by the talent and shows. Mainly Brazilians buy expensive tickets for the best nights as they all have favorite samba schools they support, similar to having a favorite sports team.
Don’t worry about what section you’re in
In the Sambadrome there are 12 different sections for general seating. The middle tends to be more expensive, however, the professional dancers keep up the show the whole length of the stadium. So, it is not important where you are! We had tickets for section 11 and still had the same show as everyone else!
Related Read: Ihla Grande is one of the most beautiful island to visit in Brazil!
Other Important Information for Carnival in Rio 2023
How to Find the Block Parties
Every year the location of all the block parties changes. In the below link, you can find the 2023 full list of Pre-Carnival, Carnival, and Post-Carnival block parties! Yes, you read correctly, the parties start well before the week of carnival (as early as December) and go on for weeks after!
An up-to-date list of the Rio Carnival block parties can be found HERE at this link.
What Things Cost
- Beers/Alcohol – During Carnival the government controls the sales of alcohol and the price with authorized vendors all selling at the same price. In 2022, 1 beer cost between $5 to $15 BRL ($1 to $2.75 USD). Cocktails were $20 to $30 BRL ($3.70 to $5.50 USD) each. Don’t worry about supply, there are literally thousands of vendors.
- Food – You can find street food at all the block parties. Hot dogs and burgers went for around $6 to 10 BRL ($1 to $1.85 USD). You also must try the cheese on a stick, it is so tasty!
- Public Transport – A ticket on the train is around $4.30 BLR ($0.79 USD) which is cheap for foreigners.
What to Take to the Block Parties
Heading out to the block parties is usually a full-day thing, so taking everything you need for the day is handy. Below is a list of things I packed!
- Sunscreen and a hat– During Carnival, Rio’s temperatures can hit the high 30s Celcius (80s Fahrenheit) with high humidity. All of the parties in the street have little shade, sunscreen/hat will help you avoid heatstroke or serious sunburns.
- Hostel Address – A lot of the block parties march along the streets so getting lost is possible. Taking the address of your hostel will make it easy to ask for help even if you don’t speak Portuguese
- Money – Bringing enough money is essential! However, leave your credit cards at home!
- Camera – Please do so at your own risk but I personally had no issues with a small GoPro. Also, be aware you are likely to get wet as people cool down the crowds with hoses so don’t take a camera that can’t handle getting wet!
What you can and can’t do
Carnival pretty much has no rules other than don’t commit serious crimes. Things like urinating in public are extremely common and not a police issue or concern. Drinking on the streets is encouraged and there are no music curfews!
Please note, taking drugs during Rio Carnival is extremely risky as the gangs and police try to make quick money off unsuspecting tourists. Police stitch-ups are also an issue and the police in Rio are not to be trusted!
Related Read: While in Rio, be sure to visit the iconic Christ de Redeemer statue!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Carnival in Rio is really an incredible experience. Between block parties, the Samabdrome, amazing music, and the friendliest people it is sure to be a memory for life. Attending Carnival celebrations is easily one of the best things to do in Rio!
If you have any other questions, please comment below! Also, be sure to check out all of our Rio blogs as well as some related blogs here:
Things to do in Olinda and Recife, Brazil
Best places to visit in Northeast Brazil
How we afford long term travel
Saturday 20th of August 2022
Nice blog, other than the carnival, what other must-see or must-do things do you recommend for Rio?
Monday 22nd of August 2022
Hey Suman, if you search our site for Rio, you will find our blog on the best things to do.
Friday 24th of January 2020
Thanks very interesting blog!
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Wednesday 12th of June 2019
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Sunday 9th of June 2019
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Sunday 9th of June 2019
Wednesday 3rd of January 2018
Hi Guys, thanks for a really useful post! I’m going to a carnival this year. I’ve booked a hostel in copacobana however having second thoughts, querying Lapa or Santa Teresa now! I’m a solo female traveller and in Rio for the week. I know you guys recommend Lapa and Santa Teresa but I just wondered why in particular you preferred these areas?
Wednesday 3rd of January 2018
I meant that we had to travel to Copacabana, so when we stayed in Santa Teresa many of the best block parties were only 50m from the hostel!
Wednesday 3rd of January 2018
Hey libby. We preferred that area as it was less busy and we also had to travel to get to Copacabana! If you have a place booked in Copacabana you will still have an amazing time, just make sure you check out the Santa Teresa bloco one day! And like we said in the blog, the train runs so your only about 6 stops from Lapa! If you need more info let me know!