If you can’t get to Rio  for Carnaval , you can still experience an authentic slice of the action by taking part in the ensaios (rehearsals) every weekend by Rio’s various escolas de samba. Aside from getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the makings of a successful desfile (parade), you’ll get to soak up some authentic neighborhood atmosphere while listening to terrific samba.
Since most schools are in the Zona Norte , sometimes close to favelas , you’re best off taking a tour or a taxi. Below are a few of the most traditional samba schools. Mangueira and Salgueiro are the most popular for tourists, with the best infrastructure. They are also the closest to the Centro .
As Carnaval approaches, the escolas de samba hold dress rehearsals at the Sambódromo , which are open to the public. You can also catch them at the newly opened Cidade de Samba (Rua Rivadávia Correia 60, Gamboa, tel. 24/2213-2503, www.cidadedosambarj.globo.com , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., R$10), a vast complex created out of Rio ’s abandoned dockside warehouses.
Here the Grupo Especial escolas have ample space to store materials, sew costumes, build allegorical floats, and display their talents to the public — usually on Thursday nights, when a combined show and buffet costs R$150. Since this area is only starting to be revitalized, make sure you take a taxi here.
For more information about escolas de samba and ensaios, contact the Liga das Escolas de Samba (tel. 21/3213-5151, www.liesa.globo.com ).