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How to do Rio Carnival like a local

Rio Carnival is a wild, free-for-all street with all night dancing, singing and drinking. Think that sounds great? It is! But tickets to luxury Carnival balls and the popular Carnival Sunday and Monday Samba Parades can cost $100, $200 and more.

However, Carnival can be a blast without bursting your budget. Here are my tips for having a fun, affordable time at Rio Carnival.

1. Buy less expensive tickets

The main Carnival runs for four days before Ash Wednesday, with a special Champions parade after winners have been chosen. If you want the best deal on tickets in the Sambadrome, then going for the Champions parade is the best deal. Tickets are cheaper as winners have been announced already, but the parade is still a glorious show.

For the timid tourist, tickets in Sambadrome Sector 9 offer assigned seating, so you don’t have to handle the pressure of the crowds, but what is the fun of that? This isn’t a boring, controlled political parade, this is a parade for the people, a celebration of the city – you need to join in and be part of the fun!

2. Don’t buy Sambadrome tickets

If a frenetic atmosphere and hanging out with the Cariocas in Rio is more important to you than getting the best photos in the well-lit Sambadrome, then grab a spot along the parade route staging area.

Outside the Sambadrome, the Samba schools line up in succession for their turn to roll on in and pump up the crowds. As each team has their turn, their actual show begins outside the Sambadrome, where you can watch it for free!

Across the road from the Sambadrome entrance, makeshift grandstands give you a great view of the floats and samba dancers. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only tourists in your section of the grandstand either, as these are the best free seats in the city. Just don’t expect to be sitting: the dancing in the stands is constant. And enterprising vendors ensure you have a constant supply of cold, cheap beer, too.

There’s an electric, street-party atmosphere in the free grandstands, with fireworks all around you. It’s the perfect solution if you’re travelling on a budget but still want to experience an out-of-control street party.

Now I’m not saying you should avoid the Sambadrome — if you are able to get tickets, do it! With well-orchestrated lighting and sound, the show is stunning. But if you’re around Carnival for more than one night, be aware there’s a great FREE party happening across the street.