What’s the greatest party you’ve ever been to?
I feel lucky to say it’s a tough question for me to answer — I’ve been blessed to attend fabulous festivals, join in colorful celebrations and enjoy wild nightlife all over the world. But there’s no question that the playground-for-grownups Tomorrowland would make it somewhere near the top of the list. My four days at Tomorrowland Belgium were one of the highlights of my year in 2014, and so when my fellow festival lover Heather tossed out the idea of attending the Brazilian version in 2016, in the end I just couldn’t say no.
In fact, I planned an entire six week trip around it.
Not familiar with this fancifully named festival?
The original Tomorrowland in Belgium celebrated its twelfth anniversary this year and is consistently ranked as one of the most lusted after festivals in the world based on ticket demand. Its success inspired two spin offs, the Georgia-based Tomorrowworld USA, which has been suspended indefinitely after a three year run, and the Brazil-based Tomorrowland Brasil, which we attended in its sophomore year.
While some aspects felt comfortingly familiar, the difference in setting between Europe and South America is obviously a vast one not just geographically but culturally, and we had wildly unique experiences at each.
A few common threads? A wonderland-like environment, endless hours of music, and thousands of people trading digital devices for dance floors, if just for one weekend. Festival joy is universal!
We certainly couldn’t go back to pitching a tarp after the unrestrained luxury of our last Dreamville experience, so for the second time we splurged on prime festival property — a little Dream Lodge to call home for four nights. As this particular aspect of Tomorrowland is shrouded in internet mystery and a frequent topic of desperate queries on raver message boards, I’ll again be dedicating a full post to an MTV Cribs-style behind-the-scenes tour of our personal glamping playground. Spoiler alert: it was ótimo.
That said, our Dreamville experience, like Tomorrowland Brasil as a whole, was not without snafus. Tomorrowland Belgium was frankly a pretty faultless event, and so we were taken aback by some of the organizational disasters, language barriers and general frustrations we encountered in Brazil. I’ll get into more details as my coverage continues, but suffice it to say the more festivals I attend — especially different years or versions of the same event — the harder it is not to compare them.
While a very smart person once opined that comparison is the thief of joy, the number one question I got over and over again upon returning from Tomorrowland Brasil was, “how does it compare to Belgium?” Considering the substantial cost and effort required to attend a festival like this, it’s a fair question to ask — and I’ll do my best to answer. (Likewise, I’ll get into comparing the differing Dreamville experiences in that upcoming post.)
Let’s start with the setting. The beautiful weather and gorgeous natural setting were one of the major plusses of Tommorowland Brasil over Tomorrowland Belgium. We had a fairly cloudy, muddy few days in Boom, and by contrast Itú couldn’t have been sunnier. And with rolling mountains and verdant green in every direction, we truly felt that we were in South America.
However, nature also doled out one of our unexpected frustrations of the festival, which was an insanely early sunset time of 5:45pm. Combined with poor lighting in the campground, it made logistics a little tricky — we vastly preferred the summer Belgian sunset time of 10pm, but I’ll get more into those details in my upcoming Festival Survival Guide.
On the man-made side of things, Tomorrowland Brasil is around half the size of Tomorrowland Belgium, with six stages as opposed to twelve. The Seussian stages, environments and design details of Tomorrowland are unmistakable. I can’t imagine how much fun it would be to bring this festival to life!
We talked to a few other festival goers who had attended both version and found the smaller size disappointing, but personally we didn’t mind the more compact version — for two girls who like to do and see everything, it was almost a relief and a little less overwhelming! As for the stages themselves, a few we recognized from 2014, as they are shipped over and reused from the Belgium festival.
Tomorrowland Brasil was delicious. We spent the long weekend checking off an endless to-eat and to-drink list of local treats and goodies — which were surprisingly well priced, for festival food! I’ll be doing another dollar for dollar full price breakdown of the festival just like I did for Tomorrowland Belgium, but one thing we both noted was how much more affordable food and drink felt at the Brazilian edition. It was very much appreciated, as it made it a little easier to splurge guilt-free on things like a nice breakfast at the Dream Lodges and champagne toasts at The Gathering.
Like many other festivals around the world, Tomorrowland has gone contactless and we loved the simplicity of tapping our bracelets for each transaction instead of hassling with tokens.
One element I loved at both Tomorrowlands and have yet to see at other festivals I’ve attended around the world are the character actors who appear at random moments and in sporadic tableaus. Their costumes, makeup, and dedication to never breaking character were nothing short of fabulous.
The crowd at Tomorrowland Brasil is — and I hope this won’t shock anyone reading — heavily South American. Yes, we did meet festival goers from all over the world, but the vast majority were from Brazil and neighboring countries.
We loved getting to know Brazilians we might otherwise not have had a chance to meet on our trip, like the group of doctors camping near us from Minas Gerais, or the young couple in our neighboring tent from Brasilia. Overall, we found that the people we met at Tomorrowland were more likely to speak some English than the general population of Brasil (logical as it’s an expensive experience that those who have also had a bilingual education are more likely to be able to afford), which was a treat for two helpless non-Portuguese speakers like ourselves.
However, as with the rest of our trip, we did often flounder with the language barrier. We often struggled to find staff with whom we could communicate, which made it difficult to gather basic information or get simple questions answered. Speaking Spanish did help, if I was able to find employees willing to humor my conversational Español. Maybe this is my English speaker privilege showing, but for an internationally marketed — and priced! — festival, we were disappointed in how difficult it was at times to figure out what was going on.
As usual, I arrived for a festival with a suitcase full of elaborately-planned and enthusiastically executed costumes. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the culture, but Tomorrowland Brasil attendees seemed slightly more into dressing up than their Tomorrowland Belgium going counterparts — so clearly, we fit right in.
One unique feature of Tomorrowland Brasil we were super excited about was the Fusion Pool Stage, based on a fabled pool party at the exclusive VIP area of Tomorrowland Belgium.
It was the only stage that had an enforced capacity, and we made the tactical error of waiting until the final day of the festival to tackle it and almost missed Mary Olivetti, the Brazilian DJ we’d come to see, entirely while waiting in line. Still, we had a blast once we got inside — and nabbed some much coveted matching sunglasses to boot. Mary’s set at Fusion, as well at Yves V’s late night set at the V Sessions stage, were my favorite from the weekend.
In contrast to Tomorrowland Belgium, due to the early sunset time in Brazil there are more nighttime festival hours than daytime ones. The closing night’s sunset over the mainstage was magical, as were the firework shows that wowed us each and every evening.
As usual, we found that while we ran around like crazy people over every corner of the festival grounds by day, after dark we focused most of our time on the main stage. On the final evening we even splurged on a VIP upgrade, which allowed us stunning views and the perfect vantage point to enjoy tributes to fallen artists Prince and David Bowie. The soulful Purple Rain renditions heard as the DJs onstage absorbed the recent death of a legend were some of my favorite musical moments of the weekend.
Musically, Tomorrowland Brasil features many of the same headlining artists as Tomorrowland Belgium. However, the musical styles were surprisingly different! I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to the music world and thus don’t tend to comment too heavily on this aspect of the festivals I attend, but in general feel confident stating that Tomorrowland Brasil was far more pop oriented and less hardcore EDM than its European cousin. For us, this was actually preferable. While we never had our “Kygo moment” at this festival — referring to seeing one our lifetime favorite artists live in 2014 — we overall preferred the music at Tomorrowland Brasil and found it more accessible and easy to dance to.
Final verdict? I’ll forever be grateful to Tomorrowland Brasil for bringing me to this beautiful country that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long. When Heather first proposed the trip I balked at the cost and hesitated over whether or not it was the right time to go. But looking back? I’ve got no regrets.
Festivals are a celebration of creativity and of connectedness, and those are to things I can never get enough of in my life.
Stay tuned for posts on budgeting, camping, and surviving at Tomorrowland Brazil!