When you think about attending carnaval in Salvador, what do you picture yourself doing?
Are you in a bloco walking right alongside your favorite band or artist, wearing a commemorative shirt that tells the world, “yes, I am with them?”
Or, are you in a camarote (viewing stand)? Maybe even one that has a spa experience and premium cocktails — letting carnaval come to you?
Or, maybe you down on the street, elbow-to-elbow with the crowds, jumping up and down rhythmically with everyone else as the trios pass by?
All of these are legit ways to take in carnaval in Salvador. And since the festivities go on for six days, you have time for them all!
Personally, I’m a fan of mixing and matching these experiences — depending up the circuit and the band or artist. It’s like going to a buffet (or what we call “comida a quilo” here — “food by the kilogram”) — I get to sample a little bit of everything.
So, what do you need to know about each type of experience?
Walk with a Band or Artist / Bloco
Like the idea of walking alongside your favorite band or artist and getting a cool souvenir piece of clothing to go with it? Then being part of a bloco is a great way to spend one of your days.
While you can still walk alongside your favorite band without buying into the bloco, membership (having the fantasia or abadá) has its advantages — as American Express likes to say. The biggest advantage is that you get to duck under the heavy cords surrounding the trio and be within the trio’s safety bubble. You’ll get more space to walk, the beer vendors will come to you, and you are less likely to be pick-pocketed. You can also duck out at any time to grab food, go to the bathroom, chat with friends, or all of the above — and then run and catch up when you are ready to re-enter the bubble.
However, this one requires some commitment, because it’s roughly 5 hours walking at a snail’s pace listening to the same band’s music the entire time. Sure, you can ditch the trio at any time, but then you’ll give up the advantages of being in the bloco.
For the traditional afro blocos, purchase your ticket (ticket = fantasia or abadá) in their retail location, or sometimes online. For other blocos, you can generally find information on artist website, aggregator sites, and/or Facebook pages. Tickets for some blocos starts going on sale a few months out, with more and more blocos added as the date nears. You can expect to pay at least a few hundred reais, up to $700 reais or more for Filhos de Gandy, Bell Marques, and others.
Sit in a Viewing Stand / Camarote
After my first carnaval, where I got sick from lack of food and had to pee in some very undesirable conditions, I swore I’d only ever do carnaval again in a camarote. I’m now smarter about carnaval, but since I am a big fan of both food and bathrooms I still like camarotes for the sheer convenience.
When talking about camarotes, people are generally referring to the those on Barra-Ondina circuit, with more than 30 licensed camarotes. In comparison, the Pelourinho doesn’t have any trios or camarotes, and Campo Grande has just two camarotes.
No two camarotes are alike, so you really can pick and choose to get exactly what you want. Do you want to rent out someone’s apartment that is right on the circuit and have an exclusive viewing experience? That’s an option. Want to party with 1,000+ of your closest friends in a grandiose structure that contains closed caption TV, premium cocktails, spa services, an open bar, and awesome food? Also an option. Or maybe you really just want the basics — a bathroom, some food, and a space where you can get out of the way. There is that, too.
Tickets for the high-end camarotes go on sale months in advance. The restaurants-turned-camarotes that sell a basic experience generally start selling tickets about a month out. The ticket purchase process depends upon the camarote chosen. Some have a physical office, others are online. You can expect to pay anywhere from $30 reais (less than $10 USD) to thousands of reais for a VIP experience.
Watch from the Streets / Pipoca
If you just want to dip your toes in and out of the carnaval experience, rub elbows with the locals, or are on a super-tight budget, then you’ll want to be on the streets as part of the pipoca. I find being in the pipoca really overwhelming, but it’s how the majority of revelers experience carnaval. But, precisely because of that, I think everyone needs to try it — at least for a bit.
Now, to answer the inevitable safety question: how dangerous is it? The answer is: with tens of thousands of police and fireman on duty, the risk of violent crime is really, really low. The biggest risks are having beer spilled on you and being pickpocketed. Click here to read more about my carnaval survival tips.
Design your Perfect Carnaval Experience
You don’t have to go it alone — we can help. My husband is a professional musician who has played in carnaval for 20+ years, and I am a technical program manager accustomed to planning complex events. Let us take the stress out of planning, and let us plan a memorable — and safe — carnaval experience for you. From buying camarote tickets to securing your fantasia to planning your entire trip, we’ve got your back.