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If you thought you missed the big party in Rio de Janeiro last summer, when the city hosted South America’s first Olympic Games, take heart: you still have a chance to go to Carnaval, which culminates this year on February 27 and 28 after a few weeks of build-up. And for what it’s worth, Carnaval is the biggest, sexiest, most exciting party in Rio — even when you compare it to the Games. That wasn’t always the case. "Outside of a few great parties and the main events at the Sambadrome [or Sambódromo, where the dance competitions take place], Carnaval used to be pretty subdued," said Martin Frankenberg, a Brazil specialist at travel company Matuete. The Carnaval one sees in movies is a recent reinvention. "It’s what Carnaval was originally about — street parties, free love, free everything. We’ve seen a huge resurgence of that. Now the street parties take over the city in a huge way, whereas 10 years ago, it used to be pretty subdued." He calls the current version "food for your soul...

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