Carnival in Rio is when the tourists get taken for everything they have. All the hotels are booked to capacity for months in advance and the landlords make as much in two weeks as they do for the rest of the year.
Every pickpocket, scammer, hustler, pimp and whore in Rio comes out in force to fleece the dumb gringos who arrive by the plane load, full of dreams of wild sex and 24 hour parties. For many of them it all ends in tears.
Rio Carnival started off as a parade of the local samba schools of the favelas and grew in size and sophistication over the years until now it’s one of the geatest shows on earth. None of the people living in the favelas can afford tickets of course and their only chance to be anywhere near the Sambadrome is if they’re dancing in one of the samba blocos.
Tickets for seats in the Sambadrome are snapped up within hours of going on sale and the touts lay their hands on as many as they can. A good seat costs around $80-200 at the box office and double that if you buy from a tout. It is a great show though and the crowd are on their feet the whole time, dancing and singing as the outlandish floats pass by with samba queens all but naked save for a few sequins.
Otherwise the carnival in Rio de Janeiro takes the form of street parties and balls. The latter can be an excuse for drunken orgies and are largely reserved for those with the cash to buy the tickets and the costumes necessary.
The street parties are to be found all over the city but whilst there is a vibrant, licentious air to Rio in these days, Carnival is much more of a gas in other parts of Brazil. Many cariocas actually leave Rio during carnival just to avoid the madness. Isla Grande is a popular spot to run to.