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Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas: Why Tourists Are Flocking To Stay Here During The Olympics

Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas: Why Tourists Are Flocking To Stay Here During The Olympics

Favelas have been a huge tourist attraction for many years, and are now set to gain even more tourism as visitors for the Olympic games are choosing to book their accommodation in these favelas. The Slum tourism, which was once a small business, is now hugely popular. In fact, Slum tourism in Brazil is so popular that it is now one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world. People visit every year to get to know one of the poorest places on earth.

Before 2008, not many people would consider visiting the favelas. They were uninterested, or scared about the stories they had heard about the goings on within these slums. Now, going to the favelas is one of the most popular attractions in Rio de Janeiro. Survey data shows that almost 42,000 tourists visit the favelas each year, and this number looks to continue to rise as over half of Rio’s potential tourist would book a favela tour during their stay. As the Brazilian government realized the tourist pull of the favelas they decide to help to increase this number. In January of 2013, the Ministry of Tourism made an agreement with Rio de Janeiro’s state’s government to encourage favela tourism, especially to get the tourists to visit and stay in the year 2016 for the Olympic Games. The tours will be led by tour operators, offering packages that last from two to four hours.

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There is some controversy around the business of Slum tourism. It is essentially a way to take wealthy people to see poverty, and to show them how great their life is in comparison to the lives of these poor people. The rise in tours did initiate concerns about the cost coming in from these tours, claiming that the operators take the money but giving nothing back to the community that they thrive on. However, tour operators claim that their business is beneficial to the communities, as it brings awareness of the social and economic realms that they are living in and showing people firsthand that poverty still exists in Brazil. Also, the operators encourage visitors to spend money on goods and merchandise that they can purchase within the favelas. However, 60% of the 3,500 visitors a month says that they paid $40 USD for a three hour tour, and only paid $3 or less on goods from the locals within the favelas. Still, the situation is changing. The issues have been alerted to tourists and they have become aware of the situation, and now more tourists are looking for tours that advertise that they do invest back into the community, rather than taking the money for themselves.

Tourism within the favelas continues to rise, and the first edition of a tourist favela guide was launched only two years ago, in July of 2013. Created by Angecia de Noticas das Favelas, the guide provides a short overview of each favela and how to get to the favela using public transport. The first edition was printed with over 55,0000 copies and given out for free in hotels and kiosks around the city.

Why the favelas?

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Why do so many people go to these favelas? Well, unlike staying in a hotel, the favelas provide a real and authentic flavor of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is a city that never sleeps, full of crazy parties and beautiful situations. For those visitors who are booking to stay in a favela rather than a hotel, it is all about the experience. They can be sat at the top of a mountain, taking in the breaktaking views across the city and really living in the heart of all the action. Although these are the poorest areas of the city, they have the best views in the whole city- much better than the view of the beach from the expensive coast hotel. The visitors will be surrounded by artists and locals, able to live like a true local during their stay rather than a tourist.

One of the greatest attractions of the favelas, is the parties. Many tour operators offer you tickets to a ‘Favela Party’, and this is the chance to really get in with the locals and join the real youth of Rio. They will introduce to you the sounds of Rio, the favela funk or funk carioca.

The experience really is something else- a huge space, with a tiny bar selling mostly ‘caprioskas’ and with everybody dancing. There is no room for images here- no standing around, wanting to look good with your friends and trying to keep your hair in place, this is a place for partying. Expect to be immersed on a cramp dance floor as the locals all show off their routines and party the night away.

Tips for favela tourists

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If you are thinking of staying in a favela for the Olympic games, or simply visiting a favela for a few hours, there are some things that you should be aware of before you set off on your adventure.

To begin with, do not enter the favela alone. Although you may not want to be part of a tour group looking around a poor area, it is not at all recommended that you go alone. The favelas are large, sprawling land masses of streets and alleys. Whilst the tour guide knows the way it is easy for you to get lost in amongst this maze. Many of the buildings look the same, so the local businesses look like the local houses and you do not want to be wandering in and out of houses by mistake!

Several teenagers play soccer in Rocinha, the biggest shantytown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 26, 2012. Initiated in 2008, the UPP, short for Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (in English, Pacifier Police Unit or Police Pacification Unit), is a new system of community policing in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas once run by drug traffickers. While many believe that UPPs have helped quell violence by opening the doors of the favelas to public services such as legal electricity supply, garbage collection, education, public works and social assistance program, others see the pacification program as a temporary cover-up to security problems in Rio de Janeiro.

Several teenagers play soccer in Rocinha, the biggest shantytown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 26, 2012.

Secondly, be street smart. If you are with a tour group then you do not need to be worried about using your expensive camera, no-one will take it from you- although you will get plenty of people wanting you to take a photo of them! But know when it is time to take a photo, and when it is time to put that camera away. The favelas are known for gun-violence, so if you see someone with a gun, though it may make a great photo to display your cultural experience on your trip the owner will not appreciate it. So know when to stand down and put the lens back on the camera.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 8: A gang member also known as “Trafficante” poses with his weapons in Villa Allianca, one of the many non pacified favelas of Rio de Janeiro. February 8, 2014. (Photo by Sebastiano Tomada/Reportage by Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – FEBRUARY 8: A gang member also known as “Trafficante” poses with his weapons in Villa Allianca, one of the many non pacified favelas of Rio de Janeiro. February 8, 2014.
(Photo by Sebastiano Tomada/Reportage by Getty Images)

The kids of the favelas are cute. They are friendly, playful, and will love to interact with you and have their photos taken. They may want you to play with them or buy some of their art, and some children will sit around all day waiting for you to come by so that they can give you a performance on their drums made of upturned plastic containers. Have fun with them- they want to have fun with you. However, there are some children that do not want to play. They will be the children sitting on top of buildings, looking out across the favela. They are the lookouts for drug cartels, waiting for rival members or police so that they can set off their fireworks. It is rare that you will see them light the fireworks, but if you do see or hear any then leave as quickly as possible.

As the favelas are sprawling and climb up the side of the mountains, the easiest way to get around is by mototaxi. A mototaxi is a small motorbike taxi, and they will take you on the back of their bikes for an extremely cheap price of around two reals. Just make sure that you hold on tight- the men love to show off and race against other drivers!

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Finally, be safe. Safety measure have been upped in the favelas, with police pacifier units being placed in the slums of Rio as a result of the increase in local tourism. It is highly unlikely that you will witness any violence when you visit the favelas. Still, the violence across the city as a whole has not decreased, with robberies and shootings still happening, and in 2013 a German tourist was actually shot twice in the favela of Rochina after he had seen a man holding a gun and began to run. So go in a group, and be smart about what you are doing and saying.

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Jessica Hall Author

Jessica is a world travelling, food loving, content developing and people loving gal from Toronto, Canada. She works as Living 360's "Cultural Curator" and runs all aspects of the blog's vibrant social media platforms. Her passion for writing combined with a strong addiction for irresistible online content makes her the perfect ambassador for this blog.

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