Initially we were reluctant to take a ‘Favela Tour’ apparently some people consider it to be voyeurism or ‘poverty tourism’, we were also concerned about our personal safety.
After speaking to several people on the matter we decided to take the trip booking with Marcelo Armstrong the founder of Favela Tours who gives a percentage of his profits to help a school project in the favelas. Or maybe I am just excusing the fact that intrigue got the better of us?
Lonely Planet claims that many residents in the Favelas are pleased that people take an interest in their lives as they so often feel forgotten. We also have visited many neighborhoods in Rio now, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon all of which are affluent areas where I have not seen one house or apartment block that isn’t safely tucked behind tall gates with camera’s and/or a security guard (but only a very short distance from favelas). Should tourists only visit the the wealthy areas when 20% of Rio’s population actually live in Favela’s and only give our money to swanky shops and restaurants? I personally don’t think so. Whilst we were with a guide and I am sure we only saw the tip of the Favelas I didn’t feel unsafe at any moment I actually felt welcomed by friendly people.
We also learned some interesting information such as the big Samba Schools that are responsible for the carnival are based in the Favelas so basically without the Favela’s there would be no carnival, therefore the people of the Favelas contribute millions of pounds to the economy. I wonder how much of that money those communities actually get back?
The guide also discussed with us the infrastructure and pacification of the Favelas, it was fascinating. We also bought the strongest caiprinhas we have drank so far for 5 reals (a medium McDonalds drink is 6) and souvenirs for a fraction of the price in comparison to Copacabana.
The Favelas are built high up on the mountainside therefore the views are some of the best in Rio. In La Rochina the largest Favela in Rio with an estimated population of 120,000 we looked out from a balcony across the favelas, it was an incredible sight but also actually really shocking to see how many buildings therefore just how many people live in such a small space so close together. We could hear the sounds of samba playing in the distance, school children in the playground and buses driving past as the tour guide explained to us the Favela’s are a city within a city but it seems like the Favelas are a city from a completely different country compared to the one we have visited this week.