For many, Brazil’s name resonates with the drum beats of the world’s most famous Carnival. Yet in a country that takes up almost half of the South American continent, you can expect a plethora of festivals and celebrations in all shapes and sizes. So even if you’re not keen on loud drums and half naked dancers, read on! On this page, you’ll find plenty of inspiring options if you prefer the more authentic, less crazy, but very cultural festivals throughout Brazil. Hopefully something will coincide with your trip; or take it a step further and choose your Brazil travel dates to squeeze in one or more of these cool festivals.
Big festivals vs traditional celebrations in Brazil
True enough, the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the biggest festival of the year in Brazil. It’s a huge and colourful week-long affair sometimes called ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’. But carnival isn’t only a Rio thing luckily, so party-goers can have fun (almost) wherever they are in the country. In every city, the vast, mixed crowds and the cachaça turn the celebration into a wild street party.
We’re personally more attracted to the variety of very interesting, authentic and cultural festivals throughout Brazil. They can teach visitors a lot about the diverse Brazilian culture, each showcasing a particular aspect of this heterogeneous society.
A word of warning about those ‘small’ events though. Since Brazil is a very populated country, even smaller gatherings may seem large to those accustomed to their local ‘Chestnut Fair’. Each one of Brazil’s state capitals is a huge city, several of them counting millions of people. So even a feast that takes place far from the great metropolises can attract a sizeable crowd.
Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the most authentic Brazilian festivals throughout the year.
The Washing of the Bomfim steps (Lavagem do Bonfim)
This is the biggest religious festival in Bahia state and the second biggest celebration after carnival. According to tradition, the street march goes from Conceição da Praia church to Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church – a sheer 8-km procession. Once there, participants walk up on the church stairs and literally wash them with buckets of water.
This is an homage to Oxalá, an important character in the local religion called candomble. Candomble is a mixed religion with afro-american roots that is typical to the state of Bahia. This is a very traditional and sacred celebration, quite different to the loud Carnival.
|Where:||Salvador de Bahia (state of Bahia)|
|When:||Second Thursday of January|
|Useful tip:||If you want to fit in among locals, wear white clothes. White is the colour that Bahian people traditionally wear for this festival.|
Carnival is an important celebration in many cities throughout Brazil. After many months of preparations, it translates as a big party invading the streets with colourful costumes, parades and loud music.
Rio de Janeiro carnival
The carnival in Rio de Janeiro is an impressive show. Samba schools and chariot makers prepare all year long for this one week of celebrations. What makes it so special is the warm happiness of the party-loving cariocas (people of Rio de Janeiro) and samba, one of Brazil’s typical dances.
There’s a very spectacular parade with sparkling and elaborate costumes, gigantic carousels and hundreds of samba dancers from professional samba schools who compete for the title of the best dancing group.
To attend the festival you need to buy a ticket – there are both seated and standing places.
|Where:||Rio de Janeiro|
|When:||February or March, depending on the year|
|Useful tip:||Since the carnival is really popular worldwide, book your accommodation and transportation months in advance. By months I mean half a year at least!|
Rio de Janeiro isn’t only magical in carnival time, but at any time of the year.
Read our post about our favourite things to do in Rio de Janeiro based on our 2-week stay in the ‘Marvellous City’.
Carnival is celebrated throughout the country and is different in each city. Salvador, Recife and Olinda in the northeast of the country also have a big carnival tradition, so they could be good alternatives. In those cities, carnival is more participatory; in Salvador, samba is often replaced by axé, a mix of African and Brazilian pop music.
The carnival in São Paulo is the most similar in size and style to the one in Rio but is usually cheaper. A cheaper option still, but in a more chilled atmosphere, takes place in Florianópolis, on the Santa Catarina island. The northern city of Fortaleza also hosts a carnival which is more focused on culture and art.
In all those places, you’ll immerse in many days of street party and flamboyant costumes!
São Paulo Gay Pride Parade (Parada do Orgulho LGBTQ)
Brazil isn’t famous for being particularly gay friendly (see the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro in 2018). Yet what we have here is said to be the most flamboyant Pride in the world, and it attracts millions of people each year on the streets.
Since its first edition in 1997, it became such a huge event that it made it to the Guinness World Records as the biggest Pride with 2.5 million attendees. Besides the day-long street party and parade, there are readings, discussions and other events related to the whole LGBTQ community.
|Where:||São Paulo (state of São Paulo)|
|Useful tip:||São Paulo has dangerous neighbourhoods, so be vigilant and ask at your accommodation which areas to avoid.|
If you missed the carnival in February, Festa Junina –the June (midsummer’s) festival– is a great opportunity to party with Brazilians. Also called Festa de São João, it’s basically a street festival with costumes involving much eating, drinking, music and dancing; it’s forró music here instead of samba.
Different regions celebrate it differently, according to the region’s own character. In the northeast of Brazil, Festa Junina is the most similar to Carnival as we know it.
|Where:||Everywhere in Brazil, but for the craziest parties, head northeast to Campina Grande (state of Paraiba) or Caruaru (state of Pernambuco)|
|Useful tip:||To get to Campina Grande and to Caruaru, travel from the city of Recife.|
Parintins Folklore Festival (Festival Folclórico de Parintins)
A very different and very local festival at a special location, right in the mythical Amazon rainforest. This folk festival takes place in the bullhead-shaped stadium of Parintins where two traditional characters (impersonating a blue and a red bull) argue about beauty and other such matters. These characters perform a show of 2.5 hours each which involves traditional Brazilian rhythms and dancing. Seemingly a strange festival, it’s loved by many locals and it’s sure to be a very interesting experience indeed.
|Where:||Parintins (state of Amazônia)|
|When:||End of June|
|Useful tip:||Travel to Parintins from Manaus. Manaus is the largest city in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest with an exquisite opera built in French style.|
Barretos Pawn Festival (Festa do Peão de Barretos)
This is a relatively new, countryside festival in the interior of São Paulo state. The festival is still forming and growing. Right now it lasts for 10 days during which there are rodeo, live concerts, blowing horn competitions, rodeo queen coronation and other traditional shows.
The main event, which usually attracts a large crowd, is held in a stadium that was designed by the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer.
|Where:||Barretos (state of São Paulo)|
|Useful tip:||Take a night bus from São Paulo to Barretos to save on accommodation.|
On another note: the town of Barretos is reasonably close to one of the most stunning national parks in Brazil.
Cachaça Festival (Festival da Cachaça)
The name Cachaça sounds to our untrained ears like yet another of Brazil’s sensual dances; it’s actually the hard liquor that’s used in Brazil’s famous caipirinha cocktail. This festival is great for anyone who wants to taste a real caipirinha made with good quality cachaça. Visitors can try different varieties – and get reasonably drunk in the meanwhile.
It’s held in the picturesque town of Paraty at the end of August. Apart from the drink, you can enjoy samba, forró and reggae music, along with dance shows and food trucks.
|Where:||Paraty (state of Rio de Janeiro)|
|When:||End of August|
|Useful tip:||Paraty is a beautiful historical town with beaches and the jungle nearby, worth exploring beyond the festival.|
Procession of Nazaré (Círio de Nazaré)
If you’re surprised not to see any sort of Holy Week celebration in the Brazilian festival calendar, here you go with a large catholic celebration. This procession pays homage to Our Lady of Nazaré (one of the names of Saint Mary) with a massive picture of her carried from the Belém Cathedral to the Nazaré Square. During 15 days, believers can pray on this particular point and ask their wishes.
It’s a very popular event in Belém, a city in the northeast of Brazil, where around 2 million people take part annually.
|Where:||Belém (state of Pará)|
|Useful tip:||In fact, there are several processions taking place at different points of the city. These include processions on a boat or motorcycles. So plan your schedule wisely!|
This is a very interesting folklore festival that originates from Angola and Congo and goes back to the African origins of part of the population. It’s the idiosyncratic result of African religion mixed with Christianity. During Congada, a procession accompanied with music and dancing meets at a church where 3 important characters are crowned.
This festival is celebrated in many parts of Brazil and the patron saints are different everywhere. Congadas are often celebrated in the month of the patron saint, so the date depends on the region. For example, in the state of Minas Gerais, where the procession is the most vivid, it’s in October.
|Where:||Ouro Preto, Uberlândia, Serra do Salitre (state of Minas Gerais) or Lapa (state of Paraná)|
|Useful tip:||Travel to Ouro Preto, Uberlândia, Serra do Salitre from Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte, and to Lapa from Curitiba.|
The town of Blumenau, which was founded by German settlers at the end of the XIXth century, stays true to its roots with beer flowing everywhere (figuratively) in October. There’s everything one ever wishes from an Oktoberfest: traditional lederhose trousers, sausage, dancing, music and, of course, beer.
Part of the population in Blumenau and in other towns scattered through the Brazilian Southeast speak a dialect that mixes Portuguese with German. A real home away from home for all our German-speaking fellow travellers!
|Where:||Blumenau (state of Santa Catarina)|
|When:||October, of course|
|Useful tip:||Travel to Blumenau from Curitiba or from Florianópolis.|
By the way, South America’s population is a big mixing pot. We found this fascinating and wrote a post on the European roots of South American population.
To find out about more festivals and events that take place during your visit, browse this Brazil’s festival calendar (in English). And if you are planning or dreaming about visiting Brazil, you should definitely check out our Brazil backpacking guide and our Brazilian itinerary as an inspiration.
Are you planning a trip to Brazil? Which of these festivals will be on your list?
Tell us in the comments section below!
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