This week I took a tour into Rocinha, one of the favelas (or shanty-towns) that lurk in the hills in Rio.
I’m not sure how I feel about Favela tours. Some companies are still doing the safari-style Favela tours, where they pile you into a jeep and drive you around to gawp at all the poor people, and obviously I didn’t want to be involved in that. However I was interested in seeing a Favela and I certainly didn’t want to go wandering in by myself either.
So I was glad to find this tour, which made the visit more of a social experience. We went on a walk through the favela, guided by two Rocinha residents, who talked about the history of the favela and how life is for the people there.
Rocinha is the biggest Favela in Brazil, built on a steep hill next to a forest.
It has better infrastructure than many favelas: there is electric and water (some of the time anyway), some basic plumbing and internet/cable TV. It also has many businesses: shops, medical centres, banks and even a branch of the Subway sandwich franchise. It is, in fact, a city within the city and residents never need to leave the favela.
Several bus lines drop people next to the favela and from there residents can walk or take one of the numerous motorbike taxis up the steep hill to their home.
A Favela is an urban slum, or shanty-town in Brazil. Favelas have existed since the 19th century, as home to former African slaves and to people who were thrown out of tenement blocks in the city centre when buildings were demolished. Also people started to move to the cities from rural areas to find work, and living in the favelas was often their only option. The Favelas grew from there.
You are never far from a Favela in Rio. There are more than 600 of them and it is estimated that around 6% of the population of the city lives in one. Residents are often discriminated against in the workforce because of negative perceptions of the favelas and of the people who live there.
The police normally stay on the outside of the favela and the inside is controlled by drug lords and mafia-style organised crime, although things are slowly changing.
*The tour I took with Brazil Expedition cost R$90, that’s about £21/US$27. I would definitely recommend the company.