Curious about visiting Rio de Janeiro’s famous (or infamous) slums, known as favelas? In recent years Slum Tourism has its place in travel for the voyeuristicly curious, partially sparked by films such as “City of God” and “Slumdog Millionaire”. While it’s a controversial alternative to staying within the tourist center of Rio, there are some safe and creative partnerships that bring business and business opportunities to people living in the slums while also giving tourists a chance to see another side of Rio.
What to expect
There are 750 or so separate favelas surrounding the city that house around 20 per cent of Rio’s population. Most inhabitants are poor – many work in the city as cleaners or builders or bellboys for Brazil’s tiny minimum wage and a lot are unemployed.
Some of the bigger favelas now have a main road, working shops and occasional rubbish collection. But the majority are simply collections of shack-like houses built by the inhabitants, who add another floor every time a family member gets married.
The stark contrast of wealth in Rio is especially visible when visiting the favela of Rocinha. Next to the favela is Rio’s wealthiest residential area, Gavea. Electric fences and security cameras protect the gorgeous houses and immaculate gardens.
Taking a closer look…
Favelas are blamed as the source of the city’s reputation for violent crime—but there is another way to look at them. On a safe tour, you’ll see how, despite the lack of official legitimacy, the local communities work as efficiently and strictly as those in the city centre. It true that he leaders are the drug barons, but they are often far less tolerant of petty criminals within the community. In Rocinha, there is a small bank which two military policemen once attempted to rob. They were caught and thrown out on the orders of the drug lords. It’s just another example of how a closer look at life in Rio reveals how things are not always what they seem.
Favela Tour offers twice daily minibus tours to the large favela of Rocinha and the smaller nearby community of Vila Canoas. Three-hour tours are in English or in other languages by arrangement and are run by knowledgeable guides. You and your camera will be perfectly safe, and you’ll have the opportunity to buy original paintings, jewelry and crafts produced by residents of the favelas, some of whom are undertaking courses as part of social welfare projects. One such project, Para Ti, provides extra schooling and support for children living in the favela of Vila Canoas. Other projects help residents use recyclable material to create useful or beautiful objects – bags and belts made from ring-pulls off drinks cans, for example.
For information on vacation rentals, contact Rent in Rio.