Rio de Janiero, like most of Brazil, is riding a wave of economic prosperity that makes more developed nations sigh with envy. Last month, Brazil eclipsed the UK to become the world’s sixth largest economy—larger than the rest of South America combined. The favelas, or urban slums, that famously cling to the hillsides overlooking Rio proper, have historically been home to the poorest of the poor. But as this city rises to international star status, even these neighborhoods are being integrated into the festivities.
Crime has been cut almost in half since November 2010, when the UPP (Urban Pacification Police) Program began patrolling particularly gang-infested favelas. With crime under control, businesses have finally been able to invest in Rio’s favelas, home to at least 1.2 million people. For instance Brazil’s largest cosmetic company, Natura, has set up stands throughout Favela Complexo do Alemão, population 100,000, “offering women the chance to get their make-up done, have a free massage and sign-up as reps.”
While tourism was once limited to a few enterprising local guides offering adventure tours, mostly for backpackers, into the favelas, today even international operators, including Viator, offer licensed favela tours with trained local guides. Some travelers even roam the less sketchy favelas on their own.
Conventional wisdom categorizes favela visitors as perhaps prurient poverty tourists, people who like to gaze unflinchingly at harsh reality. The favelas, however, sit atop what is becoming prime real estate, close to beaches and shopping districts, where you can gaze across Rio’s magnificent Guanabara Bay without a care in the world.
Thus, a new wave of investors is moving into some of the better favelas. Pousada Favelinha, also in the Santa Teresa District, is in a true favela, Larajerias. It is the first favela guesthouse geared to foreign tourists, but not the last. Pousada Favela Cantagalo, in Favela Cantalago, and Casa Alto, in Favela Vidigal, are also earning accolades.
Will the trend continue? No one knows. But the city expects 3 million more visitors this summer (January through March) than over the same period last year, and the resulting 90% occupancy rate for the city’s hotels suggests that more lodging has to open somewhere. Perhaps high in the hills above the Marvelous City.
Discover the hidden beauty yourself with a Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro
Planning a Trip? Browse Viator’s Rio de Janeiro tours and things to do, Rio de Janeiro attractions, and Rio de Janeiro travel recommendations, or book a private tour guide in Rio de Janeiro for a customized tour!