Rio's Carnival festivities reached their crescendo late Monday with a final night of samba school parades, part of a contest appropriately dubbed the greatest show on earth.
A performer from the Beija Flor samba school parades during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: AP/Felipe Dana
The top dance schools showcased elaborate floats decked with scantily-clad beauty queens writhing to the beat of samba music blasted from giant speakers on flatbed trucks.
The showdown at the city's Sambodrome was to compete for the coveted title of Carnival champion, and the 72,500 spectators that managed to get a ticket for the event cheered their favorite schools with the same passion reserved for soccer in this football-mad country.
"It's beautiful, marvelous! I love carnival, it brings out everything that's good in life!" gushed Maria Concepçao dos Santos, 71, who came from southern Brazil to see her favorite school compete.
The Sao Clemente samba school opened late Monday with an homage to Brazil's most popular soap operas, and included a float with a giant TV set.
Unlike the ubiquitous Carnival street parties that are open to all, the Sambodrome parades are mainly for the wealthy and foreign tourists.
The final day of partying is the culmination of a blowout that began in Rio 15 days ago with some 700 street parties that sent residents of this city of six million out to dance.
Dubbed "the greatest show on Earth," the Rio Carnival officially got under way Friday, when the legendary King Momo received a giant key to the city from Mayor Eduardo Paes.
Carnival is Brazil's most important festival and is celebrated with equal gusto across the country.