The Olinda Carnival together with the carnival of Recife, the city next door, is the absolute favorite of the Brazilians. They say these two are the best places to party and travel long ways from all parts of the vast country to be there on the big day.
And it’s worth it. The Unesco World Heritage listed old town of Olinda makes a perfect setting for the street party that lasts for a week and even longer.
In Olinda everybody participates, young and old alike. The carnival is in February but soon after Christmas they start preparing decoration and costumes since they just can’t wait.
Both young and old join the Olinda Carnival in Brazil
We went to see how Olinda prepared for their yearly Carnival arriving already a few days before it should start – only to see that the party was already going on! They couldn’t wait.
So that was how they prepared. We stayed in the area and also saw a real Carnival day enjoying the big party and Olinda’s massive parades. Later the same day we took a taxi to the neighbor city Recife to see what it was like there.
Olinda, a jewel in Brazil
The city of Olinda has the right name: Olinda means sweet or beautiful. Olinda is an old, historic city, founded in 1537 by the Portuguese. Today the Portuguese quarters still stand there making the city look like an open-air museum.
Olinda Old Town (Cidade Alta) is full of old colonial homes in all colors. The atmosphere is light and very relaxed, and it’s a real pleasure to stroll along those cobbled streets.
As the place looks like that it’s no wonder Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site.
Olinda is famous for its colonial houses, pretty gardens and beautiful Baroque churches. There are 20 Baroque churches and many pretty chapels in addition spreading all around the old town. But there’s one more thing that makes Olinda famous in Brazil, the Olinda Carnival.
Olinda, Brazil on the Map
The location of Olinda and Recife on the map
Olinda is located in the state of Pernambuco on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, only 6 km north of its bigger neighbor Recife. Together they make a twin city both of which have famous Carnivals. The population of Olinda is 400 000.
Preparing for the Olinda Carnival
Carnival decorations on a door
The reason we were visiting Recife was for business and had long working days and then, two days before the Carnival there was a chance to take an afternoon off.
Sp we took taxi to Olinda and spent a sunny afternoon in the World Heritage city. The taxi brought us to the top of the tree-covered hill above the city. The hill is a part of the Old Town. This turned out to be a perfect way to get oriented as there was a gorgeous view of the city.
Visiting Olinda, Brazil
We spent some time in one of the many sidewalk cafes on the hill, and walked around looking at all Carnival decorations that were installed, just waiting for the party to begin. Then it was time to walk down the hill to the lower part of the Old Town. The best way to explore Olinda is on foot.
Views of Olinda, a Portuguese city in Brazil
The Old Town of Olinda
Here are some street views of Olinda Old Town. Most of the houses have been restored but they have always kept the original style.
Even if the city itself is a lot older most of the houses are from the 18th century and after. The reason for this is that in the 17th century the Dutch came and destroyed parts of the old city. So it has not always been as quiet and peaceful in Olinda as on this day before the Carnival.
Painting the house gate in yellow
This man is painting both his house and house gate yellow, maybe for the Carnival. He was not the only person at work in Olinda. In fact all house owners seemed to be preparing their houses for the big day when Olinda gets crowds of visitors.
More than 2 million people come and visit the Olinda Carnival each year. That makes Olinda the third most visited carnival in Brazil, after Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.
And what makes Olinda’s carnival still better, there are the two different parties, both in Olinda and Refice. The sister city Recife also has an immensely popular Carnival, also in the historic old town of the city.
The Olinda Carnival’s Giant Puppets
Giant puppets of the Olinda Carnival
A special thing about the Olinda Carnival are this kind of giant puppets. You can see puppets prepared by artists everywhere in the old town.
Giant puppets sit on windows, some of them are wave at you from there and others stand in house gates. And more puppets appear in parades and those ones are still much bigger.
The carnivals of Olinda and Recife are said to be the most traditional that exist in Brazil and this kind of puppets are an old Brazilian tradition.
Having lunch with locals
We found a simple eatery where a lot of locals were sitting having their lunch so we decided to join them. The lunch from paper plates was very good and we liked the local atmosphere in the small garden restaurant – and we liked the Brazilian music we heard from somewhere.
Where did that music come from? We had to find out that and walked towards the music, and there was a park where hundreds of boys and girls, probably school children where having fun.
A Parade before the Olinda Carnival
Ready for an Olinda parade
The boys and girls and their teachers were busy and it looked like were all preparing for a parade through the city.
And look at their clothes! You can tell they have put a lot of effort on the dresses. Now the orchestra started playing most typical Brazilian music called frevo and the march began.
Brazilians say that Olinda gives you a real taste of carnival. Olinda Carnival is very different from the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro. In Olinda (like in Recife) anybody who wants is free to join the parades called blocos. Blocos stand up without any planning when groups of people just begin to march and dance together. More people join and it becomes a parade.
So we were witnessing our first Brazilian bloco, and it was a school bloco! This is how life should be. Children learn about traditions and are ready to keep them in the future .
Olinda girls ready to dance through the city
These Brazilian children have much speed, joy and excitement in them and there’s so much joy in their family members, friends and all other locals that walk with them through the Old Town of Olinda. Incredible! You just have to see this to believe.
The Olinda dancers had umbrellas that they were waving and brass bands and drums were following them all the way.
Young musicians having fun
Olinda on the Carnival Days
On Carnival days Olinda’s street get packed
The locals we talked to when watching the children said we should come and see the Carnival in Olinda at daytime and then go to Recife at night. So we did that.
We came back to Olinda on the first day of the Carnival which was the Carnival Friday. Already on Friday all streets were packed with people, and the party was to go on for 6 days, until Ash Wednesday.
Carnival: the Brazilian way of celebrating
During the 6 days of the Olinda Carnival there are hundreds of groups performing and music performers and dance shows throughout the old town. And above all, there are hundreds of spontaneous blocos.
To see the Carnival in Olinda you don’t pay for entrance. Everything happens in the streets right where the people are.
Brazilians in all ages having fun together
Some people dress up and others wear their normal clothing but the main thing is that it looks like everybody has a lot of fun. First after I had seen how people partied in the streets I understood that to understand Brazil you have see the Carnival.
What you should know is that Olinda streets get even more packed towards the night and people drink more and get wilder. As so many people are coming and going and touching you in the crowd, you have to keep your money, credit card and cell phone safe. For this reason we didn’t take our camera to Carnival streets and had to take all our photos with phones. And our money and valuables we carried in travel money belts.
The Recife Carnival
Later in the afternoon we left Olinda to see what the Carnival of Recife is like. It was a huge effort to get a taxi as everybody else, too, was going to Recife at the same time.
We spent the rest of the day in the streets of the Old Recife, Recife Antigo. That is the place where most Recife people come and party.
Enjoying the Recife Carnival with a drink
Following many others we took seats in a street cafe in the old town, and to get closer to the parades we chose one of the smaller side streets along which all parades pass. This turned out to be a very good idea: we could see all the parades right in front of our table!
Watching Recife Street Parades
And we sat in this same place for hours, watching the great spectacle that went on and on. Blocos with giant puppets came after each other and between them there were spontaneous groups of women and men in different ages, small and older children, parades of really old people who were also dancing to the music.
So we saw it’s true what they say about Recife and Olinda, in these cities anybody is free to join the party and have fun together in the streets. But what we missed were all the concerts that were held around the old town. There was absolutely no chance to go and see them and get a cafe seat later in the evening. We chose to sit in the same place and not leave our table.
Recife Carnival seen from street cafe table
The cafe surprised us. They kept bringing us super good Brazilian snacks, small meals and cold drinks during the whole night. That was a new experience that added to the a magic night. I won’t forget the Recife evening and the day in Olinda was an unforgettable experience as well.
The Carnival Goes on for Days
In Recife, too, the Carnival goes on for days. In fact here, too, they say the carnival begins soon after Christmas with preparations and pre-Carnival parties. People just have to start as it’s too hard to wait. Gradually they start taking colorful clothes from their wardrobes and buy stuff to create new clothing.
The official start in Recife is on Saturday Sábado de Zé Pereira, and that morning is the carnival parade Galo da Madrugada with a huge rooster. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the Galo da Madrugada parade is the biggest carnival parade in the world.
I will end this post on the Olinda and Recife Carnivals with these happy street dancers in Recife Old Town Recife Antigo:
Street dancers at Recife Carnival, Brazil
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