Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the Southern hemisphere, drawing over 2.82 million tourists every year to sample its unique culture and to take part in the biggest party of them all: the Rio Carnival.
Music, sunshine, parties and beaches play a pivotal role in the lives of the majority of Cariocas, as Rio’s residents are known, and weave together creating the festival atmosphere and culture that draws so many visitors to the city.
Rio’s position as a balneario (Latin American seaside resort) is world-famous, with the iconic beaches of Barra da Tijuca, Ipanema, Leblon and, perhaps most famous of all, Copacabana, lining its shores.
Copacabana Beach stretches over four kilometres, providing a white, sandy haven for the millions of local sun-seekers who flock to its sands to swim, sunbathe, play beach sports and party all year long.
The neighbouring Ipanema Beach is also a popular destination for its location and also association with the huge bossa-nova hit “Girl from Ipanema”, a song which epitomises both the bossa-nova musical style and the spirit of Rio.
These beaches are very much part of the urban landscape, with high-rise apartment blocks and crowded favela neighbourhoods jostling up against the shores.
Rio’s favelas, originally shanty town neighbourhoods, often occupy steep sections of land where conventional building was initially too difficult – areas such as Vidigal and the infamous Rocinha, once known for its association with drug trafficking, creep up the city’s hillsides.
But the aspect of Rio’s culture that is most overwhelming and draws the most global attention is its Carnival, held every year since 1723 just before the Lent, the Christian period of self-denial and abstinence.
It bursts onto the streets of the city in a huge blaze of colour and music, as competing samba schools work year-round to perfect their elaborate floats, costumes and dances to delighted the crowd and win over judges.
Over two million people per day crowd into the Sambódromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue to catch a showcase view of this elaborate and thrilling spectacular.