Four days of frenzied partying before the six weeks of Lent, the Rio Carnival is a world-famous extravaganza of music, colour and uninhibited celebration.
The carnival, which takes place during the southern hemisphere's steamy midsummer, evolved as a resounding farewell to the pleasures of the flesh before the strictures and austerity of Lent. It now attracts over 500,000 foreign visitors, and is considered the ultimate event of the carnival season.
The must-see focus of the event is the samba parade, which takes place on Sunday and Monday night. Six of the 12 best samba schools parade on each night. The schools are associations or social clubs, representing a particular neighbourhood. Throughout the year they run popular dance clubs and prepare for the annual samba parade - picking themes, designing costumes, writing lyrics and music, building floats and so on. There are over 70 samba schools in Rio de Janeiro, and they will all parade at some point during the Carnival.
The Samba Parade takes place at the Sambodromo, a parading avenue with spectator seating for 70,000 people, designed by the world-famous Brazilian artist Oscar Niemeyer, and inAugusturated in 1984. It begins at Avenida Presidenta Varga and ends in Rua Frei Caneca.
The Carnival Balls, with live music and samba, are another high point of the Carnival. They are open to all and tickets are available at the door. Costumes are not compulsory, but extravagant and striking dress is the norm. The Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel on Saturday is a high point.
Or you can just go to Rio and enjoy the party atmosphere that permeates the city. There are street parties, with open-air music and dancing and crowds gathering outside the numerous corner bars to drink and socialise.