Carnival of Olinda

For the vast majority of foreigners carnival in Brazil means Rio de Janeiro. It means the procession of the samba schools showcasing their stuff down the Sambadrome strip; unbelievably detailed floats, scorching hot dancers and never-ending drummers playing Samba beats. It really is one of the greatest shows on Earth, but carnival in Brazil is more than just a show – it´s a party like none other which takes over the whole country.
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=> Check our complete guide to travel to Olinda
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For those looking to experience a carnival which is a little less touristy than Rio and a little more traditional than the soundsystem blocos of Salvador, try heading to Olinda / Recife for what is the 3rd biggest and one of the most loved carnivals in Brazil.
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The traditional “Gallo” of Recife being raised pre-carnivalThe fact that beautiful colonial Olinda and it´s big city brother Recife share the carnival and are only 15 minutes apart by bus means that you really get to experience the best of both worlds. Olinda during the day is chaos; the sleepy colonial town is woken up with people from as early as 8am with drinking and dancing continuing till late. Giant puppets roam the town and at times it can really be a surreal sight.
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=> Recife marks the start of carnival with the arrival of a giant rooster float; the city is the place to be at night with masses of people taking to the streets, huge event stages and blocos going through the streets until the early hours.
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The streets of Olinda come alive each year for CarnivalThe best thing about this carnival is that it really is a party for the people; no eye-wateringly expensive tickets are required here and there is no roped off segregation between privileged ticketholders and the impoverished masses as with the blocos of Salvador. Olinda/Recife is open to all, and this inclusive spirit really comes across in the atmosphere of the carnival. You´re likely to meet many carnival goers who´ve travelled from all parts of Brazil to be there and will swear to you that you´ve chosen the best Brazilian carnival to experience!
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The ´Frevo´ umbrella The other important aspect which adds to the fun atmosphere is the costumes. People take fancy dress very seriously here and it´s no surprise to find carnival goers turning up with 2, 3, 4 or even more costumes ready for the week. If you´ve forgotten to pack your costume don´t worry; there will be plenty of street vendors selling accessories – your best bet is to head to the markets of Recife.
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As for the music, well there is a mixture.
Brazil is not all Samba and up North in Olinda the music/ dance most common is known as Frevo - a hyperactive blend of brass instruments, crazy dancing and colourful spinning umbrellas. Recife has some more modern offerings, with electronic music and live band stages popular in the evening.
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Expect to see weird and wonderful costumes during CarnivalYou´ll also hear the sounds of Maracatu and Forro (and yes, some Samba too), but be warned - you´ll hear a couple of the traditional tunes so often that they´ll be stuck in your head for days after carnival ends. If the sound of brass instruments is not for you, we suggest avoiding Olinda! For those worried that the more traditional nature of this carnival might result in it being tamer than the others, rest assured – you will get more than your fill of fun!
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The whole town of Olinda and most of Recife is taken over by ´Skol´
, a rather bland but strong Brazilian beer, and at all times you´re never further than 5 meters from a vendor (or a potent caipirinha!). There is also a fair share of lewdity; you can expect to witness the patented ´Carnival courting technique´ as used by the majority of Brazilian men which goes something along the lines of… grabbing the nearest girl and going in for a kiss. No small talk required! Girls – you can say no (if you wish!)

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ACCOMMODATION, HOTELS AND HOSTELS
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Accommodation gets booked up early – we´re talking months in advance - so plan ahead and do your research. Most hostels and hotels offer a 5 night carnival package with inflated prices. Olinda is generally a nicer place to stay than Recife, but accommodation is more limited.

=> Try the excellent Albergue de Olinda hostel, which offers the carnival package for R$650. The other alternative if you are with a few friends is to rent an apartment.

If you arrive a few days before carnival you will find there are still many advertisements around the town; sometimes for a whole apartment and other times for a spot sharing with others. Make sure to check the accommodation first; we´ve had reports that some of these offerings are more like refugee camps than paid for accommodation! If you go with the last minute approach it will help if you speak Portuguese and as always, the later you leave it the less choice you´ll have…
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