I can safely say I was extremely uneducated when it came to Favelas. I literally had no idea what I was about to experience. I was a strange mixture of excited, nervous and totally terrified!!
It was our last day in Rio and we were left to decide whether we really wanted to take the Favela Tour. Is it safe? Is a Favela really a tourist attraction? Will I be able to bring my camera?? (Obviously that last question was absolutely essential! :-P No Camera = No Go!)
A favela is a Brazilian shanty town or slum. Rio de Janeiro has almost 950 Favelas (YES! you read correctly! NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SEPERATE FAVELAS!!) It is estimated that 20% of Rio’s entire population live in Favelas!
Visiting a Favela can be a controversial subject. Some people believe that companies are taking advantage of the situation and creating ‘Poverty Tourism’. I believe this is a valid point and should definitely be considered by anyone who is thinking of visiting a Favela in the future.
The people who live in Favelas generally have no problem with tours IF the companies supplying the tours are helping their community. For this reason we chose a company called Favela Tour. This particular company finances a community school within the Favela. A large percentage of the cost of the tour goes towards giving the local children computer skills and arts and craft skills, as well as a safe place to play after school. (As a part of the tour they take you into this school! It was wonderful to see the kids playing soccer, painting and teaching each other how to use the computers)
*Little Tip* The children in the school and their parents have their artwork hanging up inthe school which you can actually purchase! How awesome is that? :) All of the proceeds go towards the schools facilities. I bought this beautiful painting for just 35 R$ (which is approx 13 Euro!) What a beautiful thing to have as a memory from Rio!
The company collected us from Copacabana Beach in a mini bus with two other tour-goers waiting inside. We then picked up two more people and we were on our way! They started off by telling us a bit about themselves and about our two destinations; Rocinha and Vila Canoas. Just talking to our tour guides I felt safe already!
Rocinha is the largest Favela in Latin America with approx 160,000 people living their! You can check out the amazing view from some of the houses in Rocinha in the photo below! (Mind-Blowing stuff!)
They brought us to a local terrace that overlooked the Favela. I had never seen anything like it before in my life! As I stood in this city within a city, my ears were filled with the sound of laughing children from a school below. All I could see was houses. There were no roads to be seen, just tiny tiny alleyways that intertwined between the thousands and thousands of homes.
I couldn’t believe it, It was nothing like I had imagined at all!
The tour guides told us that the local university supplied the entire Favela with free WIFI?! And the reason for all the wires that hung dangerously throughout the Favela was because the people robbing electricity! They told us so many crazy facts that I just wanted to stay there all day to hear more :)
Unfortunately drug trafficking and very high levels of crime are still a huge problem in Favelas, so deciding on which tour to take should be very well researched before your trip. Nevertheless, It was an amazing experience, and one I will never forget! I am so glad that we decided to take the tour on our last day in Rio, as it opened our eyes to a whole new world within the city.
There is so much to know about Favelas, I couldn’t possibly write it all down in one blog post! Please, do yourself a favour, pick a good company that benefits the Favela community and go out and see it for yourself. I can definitely recommend the company we toured with. If you decide to go with them in the future, tell the The Gap Year Guru sent you ;)