To say my first Salvador carnival experience was overwhelming and bewildering would be an understatement.

First, there were new and unfamiliar terms — bloco, camarote, pipoca, circuit, fantasia, adabá — that I had to understand to navigate the behemoth event.

Second, in the two months since I had last been to Salvador, the logistics of the entire city had changed to support the influx of three-quarters of a million people that would be visiting for the the biggest carnaval in the world. I remember walking with a girlfriend saying, “what happened to my city?”

My hope with this multi-part guide is to help demystify Salvador carnaval so you can have a memorable, magical, and safe carnaval in Salvador.

As with most large gatherings right now, the fate of Salvador's carnival 2021 is currently unknown. Maybe July 2021 -- maybe not.

I know, the waiting and the unknown is hard. I think once a week I check the news for an update. Nothin'.

But, there is no reason we should both be constantly checking the news.

Whether you are thinking about Salvador carnival in 2021 -- or beyond -- get our no-cost Salvador carnival quick guide and we'll share updates with you as we get them.

Send me carnival updates

3 Primary Salvador Carnival Circuits

While there are dozens of official carnaval circuits and praças in Salvador, there are three primary circuits (routes) closest to the city center that people really think of as Salvador carnival: 

  • Campo Grande — The oldest Carnaval circuit in Salvador. This is where you will find the afro blocos (groups) and samba groups. This is also where you will find many of the locals.
  • Barra-Ondina — This is the high-end circuit that is filled with household names and has been known to attract stars like U2’s Bono to its viewing stands.
  • Pelourinho — The most casual, eclectic, and family-friendly of the three circuits, filled with smaller, talented bands and afoxés. This is where I play with Movimento Percussivo as a part of Kizumba.

Click here to read more about the three carnaval circuits.

Three Ways to Soak in Carnaval

There are three basic ways you can take in carnaval — as a part of a group, in the viewing stands, or on the streets.

  • As a part of a group — you’ll actually walk with the band or artist the length of the circuit. This is called being in a “bloco” and you’ll need to wear “fantasia” or “adabá”. (Get a refresher on these terms)
  • In a viewing stand — You get to stay put and watch as the Carnaval circuit goes by. There are over 30 different viewing stand (camarote) options at a variety of price points with lots of different benefits.
  • On the streets — Salvador is truly the people’s carnaval, so it’s always free to watch on the streets. When you are on the streets you’ll be called part of the “pipoca”.

Click here to find out why watching the streets means you are part of the pipoca and more about each of the different types of viewing options.

The Salvador Carnival Calendar

You may know that the carnaval dates are tied to Easter and the Lenten calendar. Carnaval in Salvador starts the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and goes through the official holiday, Carnaval Day, on Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).

Upcoming carnaval dates:

  • 2020: Thursday, February 19 – Tuesday, February 25 (see my ultimate guide)
  • 2021: Thursday, February 11 – Tuesday, February 16
  • 2022: Thursday, February 24 – Tuesday, March 1
  • 2023: Thursday, February 15 – Tuesday, February 21
  • 2024: Thursday, February 7 – Tuesday, February 13

If your wallet (and liver) can’t do six days, you can cut your party time in half and still have an epic experience. The “big days” in Salvador are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 

In general, the pattern in Salvador is as follows:

  • Thursday: The official opening with a ceremony at the Farol in Barra. This is THE night for samba in Campo Grande.
  • Friday: Campo Grande is the place to be if you want to see the afro blocos.
  • Saturday – Monday: Lots of great talent everywhere — and you’ll find the super-big names on Barra-Ondina on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Tuesday: The past couple of years this has been a big day in Campo Grande. The big names from Bahia do “blocos without cords” — allowing the local residents that can’t afford to buy a shirt the ability to walk with their favorite trio

Carnaval Schedule

For the project manager in me, the fact that the city doesn’t release the final bloco schedule until the week before carnival drives me nuts. We usually have guests, and I’m trying to make sure we craft an awesome experience for them, and it flat-out stresses me out. Plus, our guests want to know as well, and repeatedly hearing, “yeah, I don’t know yet” doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in your guests. 

The somewhat reassuring side is that I have learned that most blocos keep the same days year over year. So if you know who you definitely want to see, you can start with previous year’s schedule and go from there.

Final Words of Advice

My biggest bit of advice is to just go with the flow. Keep your wits about you, don’t drink too much, and know that this is Bahia — so both time and plans are fluid at best. Come with a smile on your face and know that you are going to see some of the best music in the world in a beautiful city with gracious hosts. Just enjoy.

18 of my tips for a great carnaval.

Have an Unforgettable Carnaval

Let us craft a memorable and safe carnaval experience for you. Whether you just need someone to buy a couple of tickets (fantasia/abadá) or complete carnival planning, our Salvador concierge service is here for you.

2 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Carnaval in Salvador

  1. Nisreen says:

    Hello Jen ☺️

    I just came across your site. It is very informative, thank you so much.

    I have a question about Salvador during Carnival.

    I want to treat myself to a trip to Brazil the year I turn 60 which will be 2022. So, I was thinking of traveling Carnival time. Start with Rio, then come to one of the Bahia beach towns (Bahia has always been a dream of mine to visit even though I know very little about it), ending in Salvador.

    My question is, if you can help me, should I time it so I leave one week before carnival or experience at least a few nights (maybe 3) of carnival?

    Before, I was so sure it had to be during carnival and I am only hesitant now because some friends said to not go during and that it is nicer the three weeks before.

    Thank you and best regards,

    Nisreen

  2. Jen Santos says:

    Hi Nisreen, my favorite time here is actually before Carnival as well. My favorite time here is the month of January, which has a lot of the energy of Carnival, minus the 750K extra people!

    If you want something Carnival-like that isn’t Carnival, the weekend before the official start of Carnival (which is always a Thursday) is Fuzue and Furdunço. They are like “throwback” Carnivals, that have a lot fewer people (80K vs 750K). Small trios go out, lots of groups on foot, more colorful costumes, and there is space to actually walk around. Here is my Instagram post on the topic: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8prnNMpa1H/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

    Does this help?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *