My travel partner is always one for alternative travel. She has a big concern for social and environmental issues and is constantly investigating hostels with recycling programs and ecological tours. One of the new day tour concepts in Rio de Janerio is touring the local Favela’s, and she was all for it.
For those who don’t know what a Favela is, it is essentially a slum. Rio and other major Brazilian cities are surrounded by them, as large portions of the population have been displaced due to unequal distribution of wealth in the country. Favela’s are growing as more people are unable to make a good living with an estimated 20% of Rio’s population is currently living in Favelas. While Favela’s are often occupied by hard-working citizens, many are run by drug lords which make the areas prone to violence with a lack of police control.
So why would anyone want to go into a Favela you ask? That was pretty much my response to my friends request to join a day tour to one. I felt that it seemed unsafe and unethical to take a tour of someone’s poverty, but I now regret not taking the chance to visit one.
My friends joined the original “Favela Tour” program and upon returning from the trip, had nothing but good things to say about it. They visited Rocinha (one of the biggest Favelas) and Vila Canoas, where they saw a school which is financed by the tour and a handy craft market. The program directly helps promote education in the community and provides income for the people. As for the safety aspect, they replied that the whole tour felt very relaxed and safe. The communities know to expect tourists and work to protect them from harm so the program can continue.
Ironic isn’t it that they were safer in the Favela than I was on the beach that day? The same afternoon that they were on the tour, I while laying about on Copacabana beach. A commotion began and a crowd of people started running and screaming because someone had a gun further down the beach. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have taken the Favela tour.
To see and experience a big part of Brazil that remains hidden from most tourists, and to take the opportunity to support a community that needs it doesn’t come along very often. When booking a Favela tour make sure you book with a reputable company that puts the money back in the community. There are several tour companies who offer tours but the best one we have found is the original Favela Tour by Marcelo Armstrong.