A visit to the Rio favelas, the extensive slums surrounding Rio de Janeiro, might not be the first destination on your mind when you think of visiting Brazil's second most populous city. However, interest in Rio de Janeiro favela tours has never been higher, as a growing tourism industry begins to revitalize certain areas of Rio's shanty towns. For tourists interested in seeing a fuller, more complete picture of Rio de Janeiro, a visit to the Rio favelas can be a fascinating glimpse into Rio's least affluent neighborhoods.
The critically acclaimed 2002 film by Fernando Meirelles, City of God, drew international attention to the reality of the streets in Rio's favelas. Based on true events, the film follows various impoverished characters through the underbelly of the favela's system of organized crime. Today, tourists can join Rio de Janeiro favela tours to visit some of the slums surrounding Rio de Janeiro, including Rocinha, the largest favela.
Yet aside from the opportunity to glimpse Rio's socioeconomic realities, what is the attraction of the Rio favelas? Contrary to most of the slums in cities around the world, Rio de Janeiro's favelas have the best views in the entire city. These shanty towns sprung up on public land on the hillsides around Rio de Janeiro, and there are many locations in the favelas where you can see Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue, with views better than in more affluent neighborhoods. In addition, tourists can see how many of Rio's residents spend their daily lives, and buy some of the handicrafts, souvenirs and art that locals have produced for sale to tourists. Visitors will gain an insider's perspective into the local hot spots and community centers that play a vital role in community life. You may even have the opportunity to stay at an inn or hotel in one of the safer neighborhoods. Some of the money you pay for your favela tour is reinvested into the community to improve living conditions, build schools, and support other community initiatives.
As a tourist, you are relatively safe from robbery and other crime when on one of the Rio de Janeiro favela tours. The expert tour guides know the area well (many are from the favela themselves), and the tour companies have agreements with local drug dealers to leave tourists in peace. Local favela residents have a vested economic interest in increasing tourism, so crime directed towards tourists is not common. Nevertheless, as a visitor, you should exercise caution, just as you would in any slum area in any international city. Choose a well-organized tour and stay with your tour group at all times. Do not wander in the streets at night. Avoid bringing valuables with you, and avoid taking photographs unless your tour guide gives you express permission to do so.
A visit to Rio de Janeiro's favelas can be a way for you to gain a more authentic look into Brazilian life, and it's one of the most fascinating and affecting things to do in Rio. Although the economic disparity between Rio's rich and poor can be shocking, you may also grow to admire the grit and entrepreneurial spirit of many of the poorer residents you meet, and leave hopeful for the future of Rio's favelas.