The revitalization of the Rio port area is striving for something grander than simple urban improvement, taking the opportunity to also strengthen the cultural activities in the region while creating a comfortable environment in which visitors can enjoy one of the city’s most emblematic expressions: the samba circle. According to journalist João do Rio, it was here at the port that Carnaval first began in the early 20th century. And even today it is one of the top places in the Capital to enjoy the best “sambistas.”
Along the Rio port, Trapiche Gamboa is one of the big samba stars, attracting a loyal audience ever since 2004. Trapiche is a humble bar that serves fantastic snacks, cold beers, and some of the best caipirinhas (Brazilian cocktails) in the city, as well as hosting some astounding contemporary samba. Groups like Galocantô, Sem Telha, Sururu na Roda, Semente, and Razões Africanas consistently bring the house down. And show times are friendly: Tuesdays to Fridays at 6:30 p.m. for the working crowd, and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. when the show kicks off in style.
Trapiche is also near the Ladeira do Valongo, Largo da Prainha (where the Escravos da Mauá samba circle takes place), and the Largo João da Baiana, along the Morro da Conceição where you find the most traditional samba spot in all of Rio, the place known as Pedra do Sal (translated to “rock salt” in English). The name comes from a time when salt was used as a currency and unloaded from cargo ships close-by. After work, the area was one of the main meeting grounds for the dockworkers who gathered to sing and hear samba. The tradition is still alive and well to this day.
Remnants of the slave market are still here as well, which is why the region is often referred by its nickname, Pequena África (Little Africa). Here there is still a large African-American population, and the spot was once a quilombo (a colony of escaped slaves) and where candomblé, a syncretic religion was commonly practiced. Today, the open-air location is home every Tuesday to one of the most democratic samba circles, replete with booths selling soups and snacks, and where everyone is invited to sing whatever they please. You might also catch a graffiti performance by such renowned artists as Tomáz Viana or Toz, or simply grab a bite at the highly recommended Angu do Gomes. Cold beer and a cheap bite, good music, and a laidback environment make you feel like a true Carioca.
In the Carioca port region, they’ve also constructed the Cidade do Samba, a theme-park-like monument to the samba of Carnaval, with shows and workshops, as well as the brand new Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR). Before making your way to the traditional sambas of Gamboa, you can still explore the exhibits at the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos, a space that recounts the history of slaves who were buried in the region. At the Galpão Gamboa, if you’re looking for even more samba, you can consult the schedule of shows, which always feature emerging talents of the genre.