Cruising Carnival Part II: Blame it on Rio

Almost two million people per day visit Carnival in Rio. 

The Sambadrome, a street made for parades. Photo: TASSO MARCELO LEAL/AFP/Getty Images


Rio de Janeiro has the largest Carnival celebration in the world, attracting around 2 million people per day to the streets of Brazil’s second largest city. Unlike Mardi Gras of New Orleans, Rio’s celebrations are concentrated on the 5 days leading up to Fat Tuesday.

Tomorrow, almost one hundred thousand people will fill the seats of the Sambódromo, a street specifically constructed for parades, complete with stadium seating. It’s just a parade though, right? Nope.

These parades feature neighborhood dance guilds (“samba schools”) that plan extensive routines for months and spend millions of dollars on costumes and floats for what they refer to as “the greatest show on Earth.”

Don’t worry- we’re going to route you around it. Unless you’re a giant, slow-moving float, replete with anthropomorphic dancing creatures. But you probably won’t be driving anyway, if this year is anything like Carnival 2014.

Carnival is working for the weekend

Last year, the Friday and Saturday of Carnival weekend (February 28 and March 1) were two of the most active days all year. That Saturday had the highest average increases in driven kilometers (83%) and total alerts (120%) all year. And after drilling down into the alert types, we see that Road Closures (320%), Traffic (126%) and Accidents (104%) were the big winners.

But much like New Orleans during Mardi Gras, average drive length and time barely change. On that same Saturday March 1, average speeds are only 1% slower than normal, and that’s the only decrease for average speed the entire weekend. In fact, February 28, March 3 and March 4 (all Carnival days) are in the top 25 days of the year for highest average speed increase, with the latter coming in at #4.

There was only one day all year where average speeds increase by 100% compared to the daily average. That day is March 5, the day after Carnival closes, better known as Ash Wednesday:


What’s going on? Seems pretty straightforward: people drive to Carnival, but they don’t drive during Carnival. 

When we examined that week closely, we found that even though active usage doesn’t drop, the amount of drives over 1km decreases by about 50% the day of the speed spike. People are still driving, but they are most likely returning to the city or getting out of it, not navigating within.

Honestly, the day after Carnival must be pretty surreal for most locals. Ever wonder what an entire city with a hangover looks like? 

To summarize our findings:

  • Most people drive into Rio Friday and Saturday before Carnival
  • People are reporting incidents almost twice as much, but most people prefer to walk around the city rather than drive
  • Unless you’re leaving the city, there’s practically no traffic on Ash Wednesday.

There doesn’t seem to be any easy fix to this- if you’re in Rio at this time, you’re likely joining the other 2 million people per day, no matter what you do.