When you picture Rio de Janeiro, do you think of sexy people partying? You’d be right.
Brazil’s Carnival is known worldwide as the “world’s biggest festival,” full of culture, dance, food, samba, parades and music. Tourism officials estimate 977,000 tourists joined local revelers last week at Rio de Janeiro’s 2015 Carnival.
The highlight of the carnival is the Rio Samba Parade in the Sambodromo, a massive stadium where tickets are required. Nightly parades last until dawn. These parades are not street events but a highly organized, fierce competition among clubs who develop their own themes. Young and old, hundreds of Brazilians in official samba clubs compete and spend millions on elaborate costumes, entertainers and music. Clubs are complete with drag queens in fabulous outfits.
Carnival ends with the Feb. 21 Champion’s Parade — essentially the best of Carnival. In addition to the Rio Samba Parade in the Sambodromo, there are 456 block parties and parades and several official balls — including an LGBT Ball — around town.
Just before Carnival officially began last week, there was a final rehearsal at the Sambodromo. Jose Marcelo Martins and Newton Mendonca Filho invited local hospitality leaders (and me) to a preview of their original Sambodromo creation — a 16,000-square-foot VIP lounge called “Folia Tropical.” About 400 revelers and celebrities are whisked into a fantasy environment complete with massages, a live DJ, open bar, a beauty salon, international gourmet foods and the best seats in the house. Tickets to the VIP “Folia Tropical” are around $400 each for the all-night party; www.rio-carnival.net.
Up all night, beach all day
Rio is all about the beach. There are two main beaches — Ipanema and Copacabana. The gay beach in Ipanema is located in front of Rua Farme de Amodeo — the gay street of Ipanema. You will notice many beach vendors with rainbow flags that sell beach chairs, umbrellas and cocktails. Bring only what you absolutely need to the public beach. Local vendors “hawk” drinks, gifts and other beach sundries like sunglasses and clothes. It is best to buy everything from the vendor that you select for your chairs and umbrella. The waters are warm and Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer is visible from the LGBT beach, which is free to enter.
Sleep (as little as possible)
Hotels are plentiful in Rio. Choosing a hotel can be overwhelming, and online hotel reviews are not always helpful. It is best to choose based upon price, location, security, service and ocean-view rooms. In Ipanema Beach, Caesar Park Rio De Janeiro managed by Sofitel is centrally located with stunning ocean-view rooms at varying price points and an English-speaking, friendly staff. Caesar Park — rumored to be starting a renovation soon — offers turndown service, a private lounge for early-arriving guests and a rooftop restaurant with commanding views of the beach; www.sofitel.com.
On the world-famous Copacabana Beach, the Miramar Hotel by Windsor is near perfection. You are welcomed at check-in with a glass of champagne and daily breakfast that rivals the best brunches anywhere. This new hotel focuses on luxury suites and exceptional customer service. The international staff is fluent in several languages. A rooftop infinity pool and bar is a perfect place for a romantic dinner or an evening nightcap; www.miramarhotelbywindsor.com.
Plan ahead and safety
Your hotel concierge is a resource. Use that person! Luis Cesar Rodrigues, chief concierge for the Caesar Park Hotel, recommends calling your hotel concierge before you visit to help you plan your trip. The concierge can advise on tickets, tours and restaurants. (Don’t forget to tip!) Another option is to join a small LGBT group tour to Rio’s Carnival with reputable tour operators, including Zoom Vacations; www.zoomvacations.com.
Rio is a big city and very LGBT-friendly. However, reminders are all around to keep yourself and your property safe. Rio is a safe city but, as with travel anywhere, mind your own safety. For trips to the beach, small amounts of Brazilian Real (the dollar) and a credit card are sufficient. Keep an eye on smart phones and try to blend in. A good idea is to take a cell-phone picture and a photocopy of your identification, passport and credit cards. Bring only what you need out with you. Many hotels have restrictions on bringing non-registered guests to your hotel. So for you Grindr, Scruff and Tinder fans, “hosting at your hotel” may require that you register your guest.
There are many reasons to plan a trip to Rio since the party will not end in February. March marks Rio’s 450th anniversary and, to celebrate, the mayor’s office is kicking off a yearlong party. In addition to the incredible natural beauty of Rio, with its iconic beaches and mountains, the city offers a robust collection of LGBT bars and restaurants. A trusted resource is the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau’s website: www.rcvb.com.br. With so much to do, next month’s column will be dedicated to all that abounds outside of Carnival in Rio.
Jeff Guaracino is the author of “Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.”