Rio de Janeiro Feature
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
A Bit of History
Named after the flowers that grow on the hills of Rio, the first favela began as a squatter town for homeless soldiers at the end of the 19th century, and later, freed slaves illegally made their homes on these undeveloped government lands. The favelas flourished and expanded in the 1940s as the population in Brazil shifted from a rural-based to an urban-based one. In the 1970s, during the military dictatorship, the government moved favela dwellers into public housing projects.
Rio's Largest Favela
Rocinha is Rio's largest and most developed favela. Between 150,000 and 300,000 people reside in this well-developed community (there are three banks, a nightclub, and a plethora of shops and small markets). Brace yourself for a variety of smells, both good and bad: you'll find savory-smelling, grilled churrasquinho (meat skewers) sold in the street and any number of delicous aromas drifting out of nearby restaurants. On the flip side, residents dump their trash on the side of the road (in designated areas) and in some places, raw sewage flows in open canals.
The main thoroughfare, the Estrada da Gávea, begins in São Conrado and ends on the other side of Rocinha, in Gávea. Anyone can take a stroll up this street, and visitors are likely to hear English being spoken. If you're feeling intrepid and want to explore Rocinha on foot without a guide, be aware of the following: Rocinha has been controlled by the drug faction Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) since 2006. The gang is heavily armed with handguns, automatic weapons, and grenades. They use these arms to protect the drug trade, which is a thriving, though illegal, business. It's clear who the gang members are, and drugs are sold in plain sight. The drug dealers don't hustle, they don't call out visitors or people on tours, and they will assume that foreigners are either on a tour or working for one of the many NGOs stationed inside Rocinha. Do not take pictures of the police or of armed men inside the favela. Favelas are not safe when the police are invading; firecrackers and a police blockade are the most obvious signs of an invasion. Normally, there are a few patrol cars stationed at Rocinha's entrance, and a police cruiser tends to circle the block in front of Rocinha, stopping individuals to check for drugs.
If you're interested in exploing Rocinha or other favelas, but don't want to go it alone, we recommend the following tour operators.
Favela Tour. Favela Tour, led by Marcelo Armstrong, takes tours twice daily through Rocinha and Vila Canoas. Marcelo has an impeccable reputation and offers tours in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German. 21/3322-2727 or 21/9989-0074. www.favelatour.com.br. R$70/person min 2 people.
Be a Local. Be a Local offers walking tours of Rocinha with various stops inside the community. They accept donations of clothes, food, and medicine. They also offer a favela funk party tour on Sunday (R$50) that includes entrance and admission to a VIP area. 21/9643-0366. www.bealocal.com. R$65.
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