New Orleans Mardi Gras vs. Rio Carnival: A Battle of Hedonistic Holidays

February 23, 2017

It seems like 2017 just started about six hours ago, but somehow we’re already getting close to springtime—and with springtime comes Lent, a yearly practice of sacrificing vices like alcohol or dispensary goods as an homage to self-will…and then eventually settling on something like chocolate or soda instead. Before all of that begins on March 1st, however, there are roughly two weeks of pure, unadulterated hedonism. If you’re from South America, maybe you know it as Rio Carnival. If you’re from North America, it’s New Orleans Mardi Gras. How do they compare and differ? Which is better? Let’s take a look at three details of these two impending inebriation conventions.    


Both Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans are partially defined by their flamboyant parades. New Orleans in particular loves a good parade—Mardi Gras or not. During Mardi Gras though, you’re definitely going to have a much harder time not finding a parade than finding one. In fact, there are more than 60 parades listed on the official Mardi Gras site alone, all of which have their own niche raison d’etre, or “krewe.” If you had to pick just one to experience on purpose, then try to catch either/both Bacchus and Endymion, Mardi Gras’ most popular and culturally significant parades.

In Rio, it’s a different story altogether, since the Rio Samba Parade is basically the LeBron James of all parades (in other words, arguably the best parade in the world). The Rio Samba Parade is basically a constant Cirque Du Soleil performance that just happens to be moving progressively in one direction, and it’s the kind of thing that makes even the most artfully minded Burning Man attendees look insignificant by comparison. Every outfit (or lack thereof) is beautiful, colorful, and designed to accommodate dexterity, since the parade is basically a celebration of samba culture and dancing.



Music is a massive part of both Mardi Gras and Rio’s Carnival, not just because each multi-week event is one wildly stimulating party, but because each lays claim to a specific musical identity that sits as part of the cultural foundation of the region. In New Orleans it’s jazz, as well as the genre’s close relatives (blues, ragtime, etc.). New Orleans is considered the home of jazz, so Mardi Gras is as much a celebration of horns and complicated key signatures as it is a preface to Lent.

In Brazil, it’s all about samba. In fact, samba, both as a dance form and a genre of music, has such a synonymous relationship with the Brazilian Carnival, it’s become an iconic part of Brazil’s national identity. Like New Orleans jazz, samba’s style derives from West Africa, in large part due to the West African slave trade. However, while you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear jazz during Mardi Gras, Brazilian Carnival basically IS samba. The music of samba is just one of the many cultural tentacles in which the concept of samba itself is manifested during Carnival.

WINNER: Carnival

General Weird Factor

To truly enjoy both Mardi Gras and Carnival you need to be…how do we say this…open-minded. That’s not to say you’ll be put in compromising situations in either festival, but again, both Mardi Gras and Carnival are celebrations of hedonism leading up to Lent. How do they compare to each other in terms of general weirdness? Well, that all depends on how you define “weird,” we suppose. Are you into nudity and the clothing of Liberace? Do a Google image search of Brazil’s Carnival, and you’ll see that body paint and feathers are its preferred “clothing” (and we use that term loosely). Granted it’s all baked into a bigger cultural narrative about Brazilian culture, but if you’re afraid of naked-ish people, you’re going to be afraid of Carnival, too.

However, the overall weird factor of Mardi Gras is where New Orleans really excels. With both open-air bars and open container lawlessness, Bourbon Street is a strange adult playground to begin with. Of course, you can’t mention Mardi Gras without at least recognizing the fact that cheap bead necklaces you can buy on Amazon for literally 15 cents apiece suddenly become the only currency necessary for college girls and motorcycling stepmoms alike to momentarily lose their dignity. Add a penchant for voodoo, really intense funeral processions, and a whole bunch of Americans on vacation, and you’re in for an objectively strange (and enjoyable) experience.

WINNER: Mardi Gras

Do you have plans to visit Mardi Gras or Carnival?