Carnival in Olinda is part of a unique Brazilian experience which, to many people, can only be considered complete if paired up with Carnival in Recife.
While Carnival in these sister cities, separated by less than five miles, may have a lot in common - such as a passion for frevo and the fact that both festivals take place in historic districts - there's a unique feel about Carnival in Olinda. For starters, Carnival in Olinda is best during the daytime, while Recife is also great at night.
Carnival in Olinda takes over the streets of the colonial district, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Some historic buildings are fenced by IPHAN (the Brazilian Institute for National Historic and Artistic Heritage) during the wild festivities.
Even if you've never been to Brazil, you may be familiar with the giant puppets of the Olinda Carnival.
Giant puppets represent from traditional Carnival characters to current celebs, Brazilian and international. Artists create them in paper maché and fabric. The person carrying a 15-foot tall puppet endures temperatures in the 100s.
Giant puppets open and close the festivities. The Midnight Man comes out as soon as Sábado de Zé Pereira (Carnival Saturday) starts. The absolutely packed parade led by the Midnight Man has opened every Carnival since 1932 and it's mostly followed by locals.
There are a few stories to explain the origin of the Midnight Man. According to the president of the Midnight Man Club, one of the stories says the creator of the puppet was inspired by a man he used to see in the Olinda streets at night, jumping windows to be with local ladies. The man would usually dress in green, and so does the Midnight Man.
The Meeting of Giant Puppets, a very popular event featuring dozens of these colorful characters, takes place on Fat Tuesday.
Carnival in Olinda is not as structured as in Recife and it's not cordoned like Carnival in Salvador either. What makes the Olinda Carnival happen is the presence of Carnival associations - there are at least 500 of them - and about 1 million people dancing in the narrow streets.
When to Plan Your Olinda Carnival
Many people start making plans for Olinda Carnival one year in advance. But many hotels in Olinda won't have Carnival prices available on their websites before July or even as late as October.
Recife is always an option for travelers who want to spend Carnival in Olinda. There are transfers between the neighboring cities, which are less than five miles apart. But if you want to stay in a Olinda hotel, start looking at the available alternatives months in advance, as there are fewer hotels than in Recife.
Excesses and Safety Issues
Carnival in Olinda is not for everyone. Police force is never enough to control excesses. Every year, residents complain about blatant sexual encounters, forced kissing, the amount of people who urinate in the colonial streets no matter how many portable toilets are provided by the city administration.
Revelers should try to stay with a group, avoid taking more money than necessary for each day's expenses and never wear any kind of jewelry.
Olinda, as a major Carnival hub, has also had to crack down on child sex tourism. Pernambuco State has taken great strides in the fight against sexual tourism, but there's a permanent need for more awareness programs and more involvement from hotels, residents and travelers in reporting criminal activity.