When you think about carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, you probably think about the Sambadrome. And when you think about carnaval in Salvador, you probably envision a trio elétrico passing along a beach surrounded by throngs of people. Am I right?
Those dreamy beach images are from the Barra-Ondina circuit, one of dozens of official carnaval venues in Salvador. From those dozens, there are three primary circuits: Campo Grande, Barra-Ondina, and Pelourinho. Each has its own personality and draws a different crowd. And, I love each for its differences.
Campo Grande / Osmar Carnaval Circuit
The Campo Grande circuit is considered the most traditional of the three primary carnaval circuits. On Friday night, the traditional afro blocos go out, as do big-name samba groups. If your goal is to immerse yourself in traditional afro-Bahian culture and music, be sure to get to this circuit. This is very much “the people’s” circuit.
I love the traditional nature of the circuit, but there aren’t many comfortable amenities available. There is only one publicly-available camarote on the entire circuit.
The public camarote is sponsored by the city. That means it’s super-affordable (˜$30 reais), but also really difficult to get tickets to. Your admission gets you get a shaded place to sit, and that’s it. However, there are plenty of portable restrooms nearby as well as food and drink stands. A wristband lets you come and go as you wish.
The circuit is 4 kilometers long and takes about 5 hours to walk with a trio.
Barra-Ondina / Dodô Carnaval Circuit
Set upon the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the Barra-Ondina circuit is a sight to be seen.
This is the circuit that attracts the biggest bands, the most media attention, and the most visitors. It is THE place to be if you want to see all of the big-name bands.
Pro Tip: If you miss someone on Barra-Ondina, the big names from Bahia (Saulo, Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Psirico, etc) will likely play in Campo Grande later in the week.
Unlike Campo Grande, the camarotes on the Barra-Ondina circuit are plentiful and all private. There are over 30 official camarotes, ranging from restaurants to specially-constructed structures. Amenities vary from barebones to extensive. The most basic are restaurants that have converted to a camarote for the week. At the high end, you will find open bars with premium alcohol, spa experiences, private bands, and more. Prices vary with the level of experience — from a couple dozen reais to thousands per day.
The circuit is 4.5 kilometers long and it takes about 5 hours to walk with a trio.
Pelourinho / Batatinha Carnaval Circuit
The smallest and most family-friendly of the carnaval circuits, the Pelourinho circuit is a special place. There are no trio elétricos and no cordas — just small-ish bands walking the circuit with revelers walking alongside or behind.
Don’t let the fact that these are “small-ish” bands fool you — small does not equate to bad. I play on this circuit, and the band I play in includes percussionists from Olodum –not too shabby. The afoxé my husband organized in 2018 also included percussionists from Olodum as well as musicians who have recorded and performed with megastars Carlinhos Brown, Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, and more.
It is here in the Pelourinho that you find the traditional Candomble afoxés, smaller samba and samba-reggae bands, maracatu music, and more. It is also the route where you see the most community and the city doesn’t feel nearly as overrun by carnaval.
If you want to sit down, have a good meal, relax, and just watch traditional music go by up close and personal, head to the Pelourinho.
The Pelourinho circuit is also the shortest, at just a couple of kilometers. It takes about an hour and a half to walk with a band.
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