The massive parades held in Rio de Janeiro’s arena known as the Sambadrome are the most recognized symbols of Brazilian Carnival around the world. In 2020, Carnival will begin on Friday, February 21 and run through a wild extended weekend to Tuesday, February 26.
However, visitors and locals alike can tell you Rio’s smaller blocos da rua (street block parties) are much more fun … and much gayer! Almost every bloco is infused with a small amount of playful sexuality and gender fluidity. But, a handful of blocos are widely recognized as gay-friendly (or GLS, the Portuguese acronym for gay, lesbian, and sympathizers.)
Bring your camera as pumped up boys and extra-fabulous drag queens are plentiful. You will also find loads of visual arts, live music, and satirical social commentary. In 2020, expect to see many costumes satirizing issues that may go over your head as a foreigner (expect lots of parodies of current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.)
To navigate all of these blocos (and find bars, clubs, restaurants, and gay-friendly hotels) use this link to the VamosGay Google Map of Gay Rio 🌎
Banda de Ipanema
The biggest of all of the GLS blocos, Banda de Ipanema is as colorful and gay as the neighborhood they call home. Founded in 1964, this banda boldly marched at a time when flamboyance was truly dangerous. Banda de Ipanema blocos are extremely popular, so be prepared to drink and be merry with thousands of other revelers.
Bloco da Preta
The daughter of Brazilian music legend Gilberto Gil, and an extremely popular musician in her own right, Preta Gil is the mistress of ceremonies for one of Rio’s biggest pre-Carnival blocos. Preta’s gay following is massive, and months before Bloco da Preta there are pre-bloco parties held at nightclubs across Brazil. The city of Rio de Janeiro estimates Bloco da Preta attracted nearly 40,000 revelers in 2017.
Banda das Quengas
In Portugues, quenga means “whore,” although because so much of the sex is free, maybe “slut” would be a better translation. The dress code for a bloco das quengas draws inspiration from cheap street hookers. Here’s a photo gallery to give you a better idea. The atmosphere is liberada – free from the rules of society, free from what anyone thinks.
These quengas are fun, but not organized enough to set up a website. So, we’ll let you know where to find them as Carnival 2020 approaches
Cordão da Bola Preta
This is the best reason to break out of the gay tourist bubble of Ipanema/Copacabana! This well-established group has a massive presence in Centro (downtown) which is mostly straight, but gays are always welcomed. Check the Bola Preta website (in Portuguese) for their full agenda of blocos for 2018 (and congratulate them on their 100 year anniversary!) Outside of Carnival, Bola Preta’s feijoada parties with live musicians are a great way to start a Saturday night.
Simpatia é Quase Amor
Back in the heart of Ipanema, the group Simpatia é Quase Amor has more of a hippy vibe where gays are part of a gigantic rainbow where everyone is has a good time. Join Simpatia é Quase Amor before Carnival, and during Carnival week. Both events take place in Ipanema’s Praça General Osório.
Bloco Toco Xona
By the girls, and for the girls … Bloco Toco Xona is famous for its female bateristas (Carnival drummers.) Gay boys are welcome too!
Bunytos de Corpo
This is a very camp, humorous, performance art group whose aesthetics are based on physical fitness craze of the 1980’s. Leotards, leg warmers, headbands, athletic shorts, and more! Get physical with Bunytos de Corpo as they run (and drink) through Praça Tiradentes.
Drawing inspiration from ancient Egypt for both their fashion and their decadent approach to celebrations. Agytoê gets little press outside of Brazil, but you will recognize them (and their devotees) when you see them in downtown Rio on the final night of Carnival. Dressed in black and gold, they express their art through music and dance, drawing in everyone who passes by.
Bars & Clubs
Aside from the blocos in the street, there are more formal bailes (balls.) The official baile is the Scala Rio Gay Ball.
One last cheap-and-easy option to just drop by any gay bar during Carnival. Use our list of gay bars and clubs of Rio to find the right one for you. And, if you haven’t booked your room for Rio yet (hurry up!) and use our list of the city’s gay-friendly hotels.