Rio’s New Year’s Eve party on the beach

Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. Copacabana. Beach. Sun. Sea.Praia de Copacabana by Rodrigo_Soldon. Creative Commons Attribution licence

Location: Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Date: 31 December

Level of participation: 5 – party with the beautiful people

The second best way to see in the New Year is to join the party on Rio’s mighty Copacabana beach, where the spiritual and the secular come together for one amazing night. Rio’s biggest holiday after its spectacular and rowdy Carnaval sees around two million people pack the sands to welcome in the New Year – you won’t be laying out a towel and throwing a Frisbee on Copacabana beach this night.

Within this huge party there’s the subplot of the Festa de Iemanjá. This Candomblé (a religion originating in Africa) festival celebrates the feast day of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea. Participants dress in white and place their petitions on small boats, sending them out to sea. If they’re carried away on the current it’s a sign that the goddess is pleased. If the petitions return, the prayers will not be answered. Along with the petitions, celebrants send candles, perfumes and talcum powder to appease the blue-cloaked orixá (spirits or deities).

From about 8pm, top bands perform on stages strung out along the 4km-long beach, pumping out a variety of Brazilian and international music. At midnight, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the night sky for up to 20 minutes. The hardiest of revellers keep things going all night long, then watch the sun rise the next morning.

So big has the New Year’s Eve party on Copacabana grown, however, that many Candomblé devotees have begun to seek more tranquil spots, such as Barra da Tijuca or Recreio dos Bandeirantes, to make their offerings. The essence of the Festa de Iemanjá remains, however, with New Year’s revellers on Copacabana customarily wearing white, and many throwing flowers and other simple offerings into the sea hoping for a little of Iemanjá’s largesse.

Essentials: Go easy on the valuables – Reveillon is a boon for petty thieves. After Carnaval, New Year’s Eve is the second-biggest season for Rio hotels, so expect silly prices, especially in the hotel strip along Copacabana beach. Hotels may also demand minimum stays of up to four nights.

A couple of other ways to view the Reveillon party are from a boat off the beach, or from one of the parties that are held in the hotels lining the beach. These are top-dollar affairs but, if you’re uncomfortable in crowds, it does at least mean you won’t have to share the moment with two million other people.

Local attractions: See Rio’s full beauty from atop Sugarloaf Mountain, or from Corcovado and its famed Christo Redentor statue. You can see the city’s underbelly on a favela tour.

More info:

See other festivals in December here.