March 4, 2011
Brazil has the largest Carnival celebrations in the world. Though you can't always predict all situations of risk in a festival of this magnitude, in which people have a wilder behavior than usual, you can still do your best to ensure that at least the things in your control are taken care of. Here are some basic tips for your safety and well-being in Brazil Carnival.
- Don't come to Brazil Carnival alone.
This tip is particularly valid if you're a first-timer in Carnival, and even more so if you're also on your first trip to Brazil. It's a great thing to have at least one travel companion to help you work out the challenges of this wild party, to share the fun with, and perhaps to stop you from doing something silly.
- Stay all night at Carnival parades and galas.
Of all the safety advice I've ever received, this has been some of the very best. (Thanks, Mom.) When going to Carnival events which last through the night, such as the parades at the Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro or Carnival galas at clubs, be one of the last to leave. Being out in the hustle and bustle of a new morning (many people do work during Carnival, you know) is much safer than leaving in the middle of the night.
- Know your street parades.
Avoid parades in riskier neighborhoods. In the largest parades, avoid the thickest of the crowd - stay near the borders. If you're going with the parade flow, step aside - at a corner, if possible, for a better exit route - so you don't enter bottlenecks such as the ones formed in the narrow streets of Olinda.
- Don't bring valuables to parades.
Have the photo ID page of your passport photocopied and laminated and carry that in a travel neck pouch under a shirt, or in a waist pocket under your shorts, along with just enough money for subway or taxi rides and snacks. If you carry a camera, let it be very compact and cheap; look around before taking photos and put the camera away as soon as you've used it.
- Locate police officers on duty.
Be aware of police cabins and officers along Carnival parades. English-speaking officers from departments such as the Tourist Police in Rio or their equivalents in Olinda and other cities might be available. If not, non-English speaking police officers can radio them for you.
- Don't drink too much alcohol.
Keep your senses sharp even if everyone around you loses theirs. You'll be less vulnerable (and healthier). If you drink, don't drive. Completely avoid strong local alcoholic drinks such as Pau do Índio (Indian's Stick), sold in Olinda Carnival.
- Drink plenty of water.
Temperatures in Brazil Carnival can reach the 100s. Drink lots of bottled mineral water, sold near many parades - those are OK to buy from vendors. If you don't do so well in very hot weather, choose early morning parades.
- Don't buy unpackaged food from street vendors
Some of the handmade food sold at street stalls in Brazil is safe to eat (for example, the tapioca at Alto da Sé in Olinda). But as a rule of thumb, avoid all food that isn't industrially packaged if you need to eat during a parade at all.
- Eat healthy.
Think of Carnival as an endurance event and take care of your nutrition accordingly. Pass up greasy foods. Instead of a few heavy meals, have several smaller meals a day, with complex carbohydrates and fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Think before kissing.
Indiscriminate kissing has become a trend in Brazil Carnival (and at some nightclubs as well). Even if the behavior doesn't disturb you, be aware of diseases spread by kissing. The Brazilian Ministry of Health recently issued an alert pointing out the risk kissing poses in the transmission of diseases such as herpes, mononucleosis and syphilis.
- Be wary of Carnival flings.
Consider the great risks of bringing strangers you met in Carnival events into your hotel or vacation rental, or of finding yourself alone with someone you don't know well in a strange place. Even if a Carnival encounter feels safe, don't indulge in unprotected sex.