Pantanal Escapes

Carnaval de Corumbá

The Pantanal town of Corumbá, in Mato Grosso do Sul, hosts the most spectacular carnaval in central-west Brazil. Although smaller than Brazil's major carnavals in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, you'll have more opportunity to get close to the action, and even take part.

The Carnaval in Corumbá dates back at least as far as the late 19th century, when soldiers from Rio de Janeiro were posted to guard the frontier in the aftermath of the Paraguayan War. These, along with successive military personnel stationed in the town, have imported elements of the Rio Carnaval here to Corumbá.

As with carnaval elsewhere, it occurs prior the start of lent - a period in the religious calendar covering the six week before to easter. Since lent is traditionally a period for for fasting and solemn reflection, the carnaval provides the opportunity for a final big celebration. This occurs in late February or early March. The carnaval event is a competition between the town's samba schools (escolas), with each group generally representing suburb. Their presentations are scored based on costumes, carnaval floats, music and choreography which are coordinated to represent their chosen theme. The group with the best overall score is then crowned as the champion for that year. The competitive element means that costumes and floats remain closely guarded secret until the big night

Pre-carnaval events include selection of the king and queen. Here, would-be queens and princesses are asked to prove their samba skills.

The main carnaval parade is run over two nights, and occurs along Avenida General Rondon overlooking Corumbá's historic riverfront. The first night is for the "minor league" groups, whereas the second night is set aside for the more spectacular "major league groups". A third night is then run for the "cultural carnaval", which celebrates the town's history, local community groups, and children. There's also a week of pre-carnaval events including the the competition to select the official carnaval king (Rei Momo), his queen, and princesses - who form the royal court (corte real) which opens the parade and welcomes each samba school into the arena. Other pre-carnaval events include open-air music shows and block parties.

Image Gallery - Carnaval de Corumbá 2017

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Unsung Heroes of Carnaval

Although the main event lasts only a few nights, and the performers gain much of the kudos, the events such as Carnaval would be possible without a dedicated army of workers and volunteers working behind the scenes. Those working in the samba schools need to spend months preparing - planning what will be presented, designing costumes, running fundraising events, making costumes, making carnaval floats, and coordinating the samba school's entry and performers.

Funding is crucial to ensure that the carnaval can take place, and needs to be available well in advance to buy the necessary materials for costumes and floats, rent for workshops, and to help pay a wage to local artisans who spend months designing and making everything used in the samba schools' presentations. Some funding is available through the town council - but getting access to that funding can be bureaucratic, and the funding sometimes isn't finalised until just a few weeks before carnaval. Even well-intentioned requirements ,such as the need to provide receipts for all materials and payments (for compliance with the local government transparency rules), can create issues as many part-time local artisans simply don't have the mechanisms or business experience to issue receipts or document their own activities and costs. The inevitable funding shortfall needs to be covered through finding sponsors, running fundraising events such as shows, and through use of volunteers. In short, carnaval is serious business and depends on dedicated organisers and volunteers within the local community.

Above:Telma, working with samba school "A Pesada" is one of a dedicated crew of organisers and workers who spend months ensuring that everything is ready on the night.

Below: Carlos Henrique is a creative director for "A Pesada", and is seen here making headresses for performers a few days before carnaval.

Order of presentation

Although the block parties (blocos) are a local tradition, they're probably best avoided by visitors since they're mostly just an alcohol-fuelled opportunity for people to let their hair down - with a reputation for getting messy.

List of the samba schools

Major League (Group 1):
  • A Pesada
  • Marques de Sapucai
  • Mocidade Nova Corumbá
  • Vila Mamona
  • Império do Morro

Minor League (Group 2):
  • Unidos da Major Gama
  • Caprichosos de Corumbá
  • Acadêmicos do Pantanal
  • Estação Primeira
  • Imperatriz

The third night of carnaval includes a parade of classic vehicles. This is a great chance to see some rare vehicles which were only ever produced in Brazil, such as this 1970s Volkswagen SP2 sports car, and Chevrolet Opala.

Carnaval of Culture

The third night of carnaval is set aside to celebrate the town's citizens, culture, and community groups - with the competitive element being set aside. On this night you'll see much more involvement from local kids, cultural and educational groups. The town's car enthusiasts also make use of this opportunity to trot out their prized cars with a collection of vintage trucks, jeeps, and sports cars. For visitors, this is a rare chance to see historic vehicles - some of which were only ever produced within Brazil.
Security Note:
Although the Carnaval is generally safe and friendly, visiting tourists should avoid presenting themselves as an obvious temptation for thieves.
Don't carry passports, large amounts of cash, passports, or be flashy with big cameras when joining festivities. The crowd (and distraction) can provide opportunity for pickpockets.
Multimedia Links
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Toyota Bandeirante jeep in the Pantanal
Amazon kingfisher in the Pantanal
Sunrise in the Pantanal
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Banner image: Contestants for Corumbá Carnaval Queen 2017 (Andrew Mercer)
Footer images:
Andrew Mercer

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