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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Carnival in Rio: Plan 2016 now
by Jeff Guaracino
2015-04-29

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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 estimated that almost 1 million tourists joined local revelers at this year's at Rio de Janeiro's 2015 Carnival. It's best to plan early.

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 between clubs who develop their own themes. Young and old, hundreds of Brazilians in official Sumba clubs compete and spend millions on elaborate costumes, entertainers and music. Clubs are complete with drag queens in fabulous outfits.

Carnival ends with the Champion's Parade—essentially the best of Carnival. In addition to the Rio Samba Parade in the Sambodromo, there are 456 blocks parties and parades and several official balls—including an LGBT-focused one—around town. Local experts say that smart visitors will not miss the Champion's Parade. Hotel rates drop and minimum night stays end after Ash Wednesday.

Just before Carnival officially begins, there is a final rehearsal at the Sambodromo. Jose Marcelo Martins and Newton Mendonca Filho invited local hospitality leaders ( and me ) to a preview their original Sambodromo creation—a 16,000-square-foot VIP lounge called Folia Tropical. Four hundred revelers and celebrities are whisked into a fantasy environment complete with massage, 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 the Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer is visible from the LGBT beach. The beach is free. For those interested in the nude beach, Abrico is located about one hour outside of Rio. You need to hire a driver.

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, which Sofitel manages, is centrally located and has stunning ocean view rooms, varying price points and a friendly, English-speaking staff. Caesar Park—rumored to start 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 are fluent in several languages. A rooftop infinity pool and bar make the perfect place for a romantic dinner or an evening nightcap. www.miramarhotelbywindsor.com/br

If you are looking for luxury, boutique hotel located off the main strip, visit Mama Ruisa in the nearby charming neighborhood in the hills Santa Theresa. Commanding views, charming close-by shops and restaurants. However, the neighborhood requires a cab ride to most popular visitor attractions. www.mamaruisa.com

Plan ahead and safety

Your hotel concierge is a resource to use. Luis Cesar Rodrigues, the 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 GLBT group tour to Rio's Carnival with reputable tour operators including Zoom Vacations www.zoomvacations.com

Rio is a big city and very gay-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 amount of Brazilian Real ( the dollar ) and a credit card is sufficient. Keep an eye on smart phones and try to blend in. A good idea is to take a cellphone 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 Grinder, Scruff and Tinder fans, "hosting at your hotel" may require that you register your guest.

Must-sees

One of the greatest city icons in the world is the Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer. Christ's famous hands stretch out over the city, welcoming visitors from all over—so it is best to get tickets in advance and go in the morning. No matter how you slice it, it is a four-hour adventure and worth it.

There are several ways to visit the sanctuary—named so because of the chapel at the base of the statue dedicated to the Black Madonna. ( No, not that Madonna! ) The best way is the train to the top of Corvado. The train, which offers some spectacular views if you sit on the right hand side. Ask your hotel concierge to reserve your tickets. www.cristoredentoroficial.com .br

The Museum of Art of Rio is a worthy visit—especially if arriving by cruise ship. The museum is dedicated to artists of Brazil. It has a lovely rooftop restaurant and the exhibitions are modern leaving you with a definitive appreciation for the country. www.museudeartedorio.org .br

For gay nightlife, Zero Zero is the Sunday "must-do." It is a fun multi-venue club with a smallish dance floor and a spacious lounge area. Felice is a charming gay restaurant in Ipanema, and Galeria Café is near Felice and is popular on Friday nights. On Rua Farme de Amodeo, you will find many gay-friendly bars and restaurants. For an authentic Brazilian meal and live entertainment, try Restaurant Rayz on Farme de Amodeo.

Beyond Carnival

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 the incredible natural beauty of Rio with its iconic beaches and mountains, the city offers a robust collection of LGBT bars and restaurants and the iconic beaches. A trusted resource is the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau's website. www.rcvb.com .br

Jeff Guaracino is the author of Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.


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