Why would you go on a favela tour? Isn’t it just like a safari to see poor people? Well these questions many times 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 bank clerks, 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 people have come and keep coming to Rio in search of work and a better life. These people are mainly from the poor Northeast, today most taxi drivers and shop assistants 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 never could afford an apartment in say Copacabana. 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) you have banks and a McDonalds.
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 during the dictatorship politically oppressed socialists. It was easy to hide in the winding alleys and it made it hard for the police. These gangs many times protected the ordinary people living in the favela from the at the time very abusive police. With automatic weapons and more money involved it escalated into something very different where innocent people got killed in firefights almost everyday. It was the police against the bandits and bandits against other bandits. 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 Cantagalo and most other Zona Sul favelas. If you visit one of these pacified favelas these days it is easy to see that the drugs are still there, however the guns are not so it has definitely improved security wise.
The big majority living in the favelas were never criminals, they are hard working people that get up every morning to go to work. People are in general poor and like in so many other places that leads to social problems. The many problems like adolescent mothers 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 for 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. The pioneer was Marcelo Armstrong with his Favela Tour. An alternative and less commercial tour is offered by Isabell Erdmann. She takes groups to Cantagalo where you get to know the community. Find out more by mailing her: isabellerdmann|at|gmail.com, you can check her Tripadvisor Reviews here.Tripadvisor Reviews here.