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Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

Colour, vibrance and a good-time atmosphere unrivalled anywhere else in the world - it can only be the Rio Carnival.

Brazil's lively, colourful capital, Rio de Janeiro is the party capital of the world during its annual Carnival festivities.

Taking place at the height of summer in Brazil, Carnival attracts thousands of visitors from across the Globe each year, with four days of celebrations held across the city.

Starting on a Saturday and ending on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi-Gras, the Sunday of the Carnival is always seven weeks before Easter and the festival marks the start of Lent.

One of the highlights of the Carnival festivities is the legendary Samba Parade, which started in the 1930s and has grown into a vast event that is broadcast around the world. Taking place at the Sambodromo, it is well worth purchasing tickets for the parade, in which 14 group schools (associations of people from individual neighbourhoods) march from 9pm until daylight the following morning.

A tough competition, participants in the Samba Parade rehearse throughout the year and the contest takes place throughout the four nights of Carnival, with a single samba school declared the winner. Some of the most important schools include Portela, Beija-Flor, Mangueira and Mocidade Independente.

Each school comprises between 3,000 to 5,000 members and the parades feature elaborate floats and costumes, often adorned with the best looking men and women from the community wearing body paint and very little clothing.

Parades, in which groups, or blocos, dress in themed costumes and march through the centre of Rio de Janeiro to accompanying music and percussion instruments also take place during Carnival, with costumes, masks and floats all made from scratch each year.

Street parties are held by blocos and samba schools in their respective neighbourhoods, often favelas, or working class areas in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, and these are free to watch and even participate in.

Other interesting features of the carnival include the election of a fat man as Rei Momo, or king of Carnival, the appearance of stock characters in the parades, the fabulous balls held in clubs before and after Carnival, and the samba bands.

Dating back to 1723, records of Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro were originally started by Portuguese immigrants from the islands of Acores, Madeira and Cabo Verde, the carnivals started as huge water fights with buckets of water and limes, with everyone from the poorest residents to emperors taking part in the festivities in later years.

In the mid 19th century, music started to play an integral part in the Carnival, with drums, whistles, pans, flutes and tambourines used by participants, and parades were organised with elaborate costumes, masks and flowers.

Carnival in Rio is the biggest in the world and the four days of parties, balls, parades, music, dancing and celebrating provide an unforgettable experience for anyone lucky enough to visit the city during the festivities.