Perhaps it was the film “City of God” or the World Cup and Olympics that were instrumental in breaking down the socio-economic borders of Rio de Janeiro, but the city’s favelas have taken on something of an absurd romanticism. The result is a plethora of tours through these deprived neighbourhoods, which in turn have brought new revenue streams from tourism right into the heart of poorer areas of the city once deemed too dangerous to set foot in for outsiders.
The number of Brazil’s favelas is not exactly known, but continues to rise, with some estimates putting the figure as high as 1,000 distinct neighbourhoods. Rio has a good proportion of the best-known of these, and up to 600,000 thousand people are thought to inhabit the city’s favelas. That being said, a guided tour is often the best way to get educated on, and fully understand, the unique culture and lifestyle of these zones, as well as the places that are best to visit, as much as avoiding those that are perhaps still a little off-limits to tourism. Here’s the TravelMag round-up of the top five favela tours.
FROM: $42/per person
Two key things that define all the tours we have chosen for this list are safety and respect. The latter is perhaps the most important one here, as simply gawping at how people live in poverty is not a way to win friends. This Rio favela walking tour is particularly mindful of both of these maxims. Explore Rocinha favela in a non-intrusive way and do so in the knowledge that part of the fee you pay goes directly to the local community to build a better future. Local guides help illuminate the culture and lifestyles within the favela.
From $38/ per person
Another of the big favelas that has become much more open to the idea of curious visitors is Santa Marta. Queen Elizabeth II is said to have even visited Santa Marta. With a local guide who is well versed in the favela’s culture and history you will get to explore the winding streets and find the best photo opportunities from viewpoints that take in some of Rio’s finest monuments, like Sugar Loaf Mountain. There will be plenty of opportunities to witness daily life here, while also visiting local shops found around the favela selling works made by local artisans.
From $93/ per person
Rio de Janeiro, and its favelas in particular, are assembled on rolling hills, often with steep sides. Reaching the favelas is not always an easy task, so a jeep tour makes things much more accessible. With pick-up and drop-offs at select hotels, the jeep will convey tour members to the Rocinha favela. From there it’s only possible to advance on foot, taking in some of the neighbourhood’s institutions, such as the Academicos da Rocinha samba school and, on certain days, bustling street fairs selling crafts and local food.
From $43/ per person
Another popular walking tour of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favela, this local guide-led trip is aimed at giving people an insider’s perspective on the daily life and ongoing challenges that locals face constantly. As with these other tours, a monetary contribution to the community comes out of the fee. See murals and hillsides covered in ramshackle buildings. See local commerce in action, as well as the efforts of local organizations to improve living conditions in the favela. There is an option to take this tour privately, or as part of a group.
From $39/ per person
With the aim of debunking myths and breaking down stereotypes, this four-hour walking tour in Rocinha is another one run by a local resident that aims to be respectful and non-intrusive to other residents. This tour takes you to meet locals who are happy to tell their own stories about life in the favela, while keeping group sizes limited to a maximum of 10 people. This is one of the most highly rated favela tours in Brazil and offers the chance for a view of the cityscape from a good vantage point.