Should we take a favela tour in Rio? Is it ethical? We don’t want to walk around gawping at people and shoving a camera in their face. Is it safe to go into a favela, even with a guide? We had lots of questions before deciding to take a tour of the Rocinha favela in Rio.
In our extensive online research, many companies seemed to offer tours to different favelas, day trips with guides that had never lived there and the reviews were mixed, but a name that kept popping up was Zezinho who runs Favela Adventures. The company employs only local guides that are residents of Rocinha and the profits go towards funding community projects such as the Spin Rocinha DJ school. We were intrigued and booked up for our last day. Unsure of what lay ahead, went to meet our guide at a hotel in Ipanema.
Guilherme met us and the other four people on the tour and we took a bus up to Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio and home to 300,000 people.
As it was a Sunday there was a great atmosphere, Brazilian funk music blaring out of speakers from shops and houses, while people drank and and socialised. Colourful houses with families gathered round cooking BBQs on the rooftops. There was a real community feel to the place.
We walked through the wider streets and then through the tiny alleyways, with the houses precariously perched on top of one another – no building laws here, as soon as it’s standing it’s good enough!
We stopped at an arena where locals play football and practise the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. The guys were super friendly and did an amazing demonstration of kicks, flips and spins before getting us all to join in!
Where we ate
Towards the end of the tour we went to Zezinho’s house, met him and his beautiful cats and he explained a bit about the DJ school and why he started the company.
We all headed out for lunch together and went to a buffet restaurant where you pay by weight. Good quality food at a great price, simply load up your plate, weigh it on the scales then pay at the end. The waitress will mark down any drinks on your ticket.
Life in Rocinha
The tour lasted around 5 hours and Guilherme and Zezinho walked us to the bus stop and payed for us to get back to Copacabana.
Nothing felt voyeuristic about the experience at all. Though some people do visit Rocinha by themselves, we felt like this was a much better way of seeing the favela, as although people were very friendly the sheer size and scale of the place could easily become overwhelming. Apart from there being areas you wouldn’t want to wander into alone, the network of alleyways would make it extremely easy to get lost! Being with a local that knew a lot of people and his way around definitely put us at ease.
A fantastic day and a real insight into the great community of Rocinha and way of life for the every day people and families that live in a favela.