Rio de Janeiro, carnival capital of the world

Carnival occurs every year in Catholic countries around the world, but celebrations in Rio de Janeiro take it to another level. The Rio carnival is the biggest in the world, attracting around 500,000 visitors each year. 

performers Rio Brazil Carnival

Every year, thousands dressed in elaborate costumes pack the streets of Rio for five days of parties, performances and parades. (Raphael Dias/Getty)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

A performer dances during a traditional maracatu carnival in Olinda, Brazil, on Feb. 8. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Zika virus not spoiling the party

Despite the Zika virus epidemic, thousands of tourists gathered in Rio for this year's carnival celebrations, which come to an end on Tuesday.

Brazil Carnival Zika

City workers carry a flag that reads 'Out Zika' during the second night of carnival in Rio de Janeiro. (YasuYoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty)

Rio's unique celebrations

Carnival is a wild five-day party celebrated before the beginning of Lent, when Catholics are supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures. The concept of carnival was first introduced by the Portuguese in 1850. Over the years, traditions in Brazil acquired elements from African and Amerindian cultures, making Rio's carnival celebrations among the most distinctive in the world. 

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

Sabrina Sato, queen of samba school Vila Isabel, participates in a parade in Rio de Janeiro. (Marcelo Sayao/EPA)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

A reveller parades for the Unidos do Peruche samba school during carnival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters )

Samba schools

The samba schools are key to Brazil's carnival celebrations, with each school representing a particular neighbourhood, usually a working-class favela. Each school's parade is highly organized, involving thousands of singers and dancers decked out in elaborate costumes.

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

Members of Vila Isabel samba school participate in a parade at the Sambadrome in Rio, Feb. 8. (Luis Eduardo Perez/EPA)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL Rio de Janeiro

A member of the Portela samba school performs at the Sambadrome. (Antonio Lacerda/EPA)

Samba parade

A highlight of the Rio carnival is the Samba parade, a fierce competition between Rio's samba schools. Preparations for the parade begin months in advance, with each school choosing a theme and a song as well as designing their own costumes and floats.

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

Performers from the Imperio de Casa Verde samba school parade during carnival. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

Revellers from Uniao da Ilha samba school perform at the Sambadrome on Feb. 7. (Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

The Portela samba school performs with a Gulliver's Travels theme. (Marcelo Sayao/EPA)

Street bands and block parties 

Block parties take place throughout towns and neighbourhoods in Brazil during carnival. Here, people participate in an annual block party known as Ceu na Terra (Heaven on Earth) on Feb. 6, one of many parties in the neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro. 

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

(Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Every neighbourhood in Rio has its own carnival street band (or bands) to take part in huge processions. People gather at a well-known spot, like a square or a local bar before the band leads a parade full of samba revellers dressed in costumes and bathing suits, some even in drag. This town's carnival is far from the glitz and glamour of Rio de Janeiro's famous Sambadrome parades.

Brazil Caretas Carnival Photo Gallery

Caretas performers put on their handmade costumes before parading at carnival festivities in Triunfo, Brazil. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

BRAZIL CARNIVAL

Revellers pose for photographs while participating in an annual block party in Sao Luiz do Paraitinga, Brazil, on Feb.7. (Roosevelt Cassio/Reuters)