Favela Tour – Visit Another World
Why would you go on a favela tour? Isn’t it just like a safari to see poor people? Well, these questions usually come from people when they hear about them. The fact is that it has nothing to do with showing misery at all – it is rather an attempt to show this alternative society for what it is, the reality for so many people in Rio. The street cleaners, waiters and maids you meet down in the city, most of them live in so called favelas.
What is a Favela?
The first favelas started in the late 19th century, but it was in the 1950’s they really started to grow. Hundreds of thousands of people have come and keep coming to Rio in search of work and a better life. These people are mainly from the poor Northeast of Brazil. Most taxi drivers and shop assistants today have their roots maybe in Ceará or Bahia. One of the problems from the start with this migration was that most of the jobs were in Zona Sul, where the price of living was really high; so high that the salary they got from these jobs could never afford an apartment in Copacabana for example. The solution? On the hillsides, people started to build their own houses – all illegal and without any infrastructure. With time, these favelas grew more organized and nowadays you even have schools there. In Rocinha (the biggest favela in Brazil) you have banks and a McDonald’s.
Crime and the Favelas
The drugtrade had a firm hold of most of these favelas until a few years ago. It started more innocently when the then small time drug dealers joined cause with the dictatorship politically oppressed socialists. It was easy to hide in the winding alleys and it made it hard for the police. These gangs usually protected the ordinary people living in the favela from very abusive police at the time. With automatic weapons and more money involved, it escalated into something very different, where innocent people got killed in shootings almost everyday. It was the police against the criminals and criminals against other criminals Recent “pacifying” projects have supposedly had big effects. One of the favelas considered to be safe is Cantagalo, located inbetween Copacabana and Ipanema. So is Rocinha and most other Zona Sul favelas. If you visit one of these pacified favelas nowadays, it is easy to see that the drug trafficking is still there, however it has definitely improved security wise. But be aware: shootouts still happen from time to time.
The big majority of people living in the favelas were never criminals, they are hard working people that get up early every morning to go to work. People are, in genera,l poor and, like in so many other places, that leads to social problems. Many problems like teen pregnancy and neglected children are dealt with by different social projects. Most of the time, these projects are run by people from that particular favela.
Why a Favela Tour?
You will get the opportunity to see how these societies work. You visit social projects and get to see how these communities are warm and welcoming. The absolutely stunning views together with the improvised absolutely unique buildings is an attraction itself. These tours bring money to the favelas everyday and also gives the visitor the opportunity to observe the reality of so many Brazilians.
How to get on a Tour to a Favela?
All hotels and hostels offer these tours, they vary in scope and content a little bit, but in general they are the same. In all the guide books you have recommended tours.
Caminhos Language Centre is a Portuguese course and social program in Rio de Janeiro that offers a great Favela Tour to Favela Dona Marta in Botafogo — one of the safest communities in Rio. They like to emphasize that their tour is ‘educational’, rather than ‘exploitative’. Their guide will take you through the community and explain important things, such as how and why the favelas came about in the first place, how people receive their mail, how to buy houses in the favela etc. They also take you to a few social projects there. It’s a nice tour.