Carnival is celebrated all over Brazil, but the two most popular Carnivals are Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Bahia. I have been to both and had the time of my life. It is extremely hard to pick which is better, but I have compiled a list of factors that may influence your decision in choosing the right one for you!
In Salvador, you feel as you are in a huge non-stop party because there are millions of people on the street – dancing, drinking, following their favorite bands – it’s actually the largest street party in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In Rio de Janeiro, it’s literally one of the most amazing shows I have seen in my life – the costumes, choreography, music, passion – It beats the hell out of any Vegas Show (makes a Vegas Show look like a high school play).
Below I have compiled a comparison of both Carnivals.
Weather: Winner – Tie
It is late summer in both destinations. Expect weather in the high 70s to high 80s.
Flight Time: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Rio de Janeiro is a much larger airport than Salvador and there are direct flights to Rio or Sao Paulo from all over the world. The only direct flight from the US to Salvador is on AA via Miami and there some flights from Spain and Portugual that fly directly there as well. The flight time between Sao Paulo and Salvador is 2.5 hours vs. a just 45 minute from Sao Paulo
English Spoken: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Rio de Janeiro is a much larger city and English is spoken more in Rio, but generally you will not find a lot of English speakers in Brazil in general.
Food: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
The Salvador cuisine is world re-known and delicious. If this was any other time besides Carnival, I would go with Salvador, but during Carnival, you will have a lot more options in Rio for food because it is a larger city.
Beaches: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Salvador has a ton of beaches, but between both cities, you can’t top Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, especially because of the eye candy.
Party Atmosphere: Winner – Salvador Carnival
No doubt it’s Salvador. Imagine millions of people just going absolutely nuts.
Sophisticated Partying: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Rio is definitely more sophisticated than Salvador because it is a larger city and does have more exuberant parties like the Copacabana Palace Ball for instance. Although Salvador does have parties that are crème of the crème, like the Salvador Camarote. In both cases, all of the exuberant parties are very expensive, but Rio takes the cake because you will see the likes of Naomi Campbell, Giselle, and other International stars at the parties in Rio.
For Singles: Winner – Salvador Carnival
The best carnival for singles is in Salvador. You have Brazilians from all over the country that go to this Carnival and the main slogan is “Solteiro em Salvador!” which means everyone is Single in Salvador!
For Couples: Winner – Tie
If you want a more romantic experience, I would definitely go with Rio because there are more touristy things to do and the party isn’t as wild. If you are a crazy couple (and I’ve seen a ton within the years), then you will enjoy Salvador Carnival.
For Families: Winner – Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Hands down, Rio de Janeiro is the best carnival for families unless the kids are over 18. There are more things to do in Rio and the Samba Parade is jaw dropping although it does end pretty late.
For Brazilians: Winner – Salvador Carnival
Salvador is hands down the most popular Carnival for 18 – 35 year old Brazilians. You will meet people there from the South, Big Cities, Interior, Amazon and Northeast.
For Ages 20 – 30: Winner – Salvador Carnival
Definitely Salvador, if your young and want to party, this is the place to be.
For Ages 30 – 45: Winner – Tie
It all depends if you want a crazy party or a more sophisticated experience.
For Ages 45 Plus: Winner – Rio Carnival
Generally, you will enjoy Rio de Janeiro more as it’s a little bit more tame, although don’t get me wrong, Rio de Janeiro in general is not at all tame, it’s just a bit tamer than Salvador Carnival plus more tourist attractions are open and the main event is more of a sit down and watch event vs. being on the street and participating.
Tourism, Sites: Winner – Rio Carnival
Salvador has some historic sites, but during Carnival everything is pretty much closed. If you do want to check some sites out, it’s definitely better to get there a couple of days before Carnival.
Hotels: Winner – Rio Carnival
Rio de Janeiro is the 2nd largest city in Brazil and # 1 city for tourism, so it is going to have way better hotels. There are some good hotels in Salvador, but do not expect the 5 or even 4 star hotels you have at home.
Music: Winner – Tie
Axe (Salvador) vs. Samba (Rio). Samba is world reknown and has some crazy beats. You definitely have to have rhythm to dance. What I’ve seen is that the ladies usually get it and the guys just move their feet. Axe is a mixture of Brazilian pop, rock and Afro-rhythms and literally by the end of Carnival you’ll know the words to a lot of the songs.
Overall if you are a huge party animal, I would suggest traveling to Salvador, Bahia for Carnival. Don’t get me wrong, Rio de Janeiro also has a lot of partying as far as street parties and carnival balls, but it’s a lot crazier in Bahia. If you are more into sightseeing and want to check out one of the greatest shows in the world, I would suggest Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Carnival in Salvador for 2011 starts on March 4th and Carnival 2011 in Rio de Janeiro starts on March 5th. If you are looking for an incredible package deal for Brazil Carnival Travel Packages, definitely check out Tours Gone Wild. They have great packages to both carnivals and even provide the Ultimate Carnival Package, which goes to Salvador, Bahia for Carnival and then Rio de Janeiro. You can essentially see two Carnivals on one trip because the Saturday following Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, they have the Winner’s Parade, which is a parade that features the top 6 Samba Schools from that year’s Carnival.
Below are the Brazil Carnival dates up to 2020:
Brazil Carnival 2012 dates: February 17 – 21
Brazil Carnival 2013 dates: February 8 – 12
Brazil Carnival 2014 dates: Feb. 28 – Mar. 04
Brazil Carnival 2015 dates: February 13 – 17
Brazil Carnival 2016 dates: February 5 – 9
Brazil Carnival 2017 dates: February 24 – 28
Brazil Carnival 2018 dates: February 9 – 13
Brazil Carnival 2019 dates: March 1 – 5
Brazil Carnival 2020 dates: February 21 – 25