I hired a favela tour guide on bealocal.com which bears the tagline, “Be a Local – Don’t Be a Gringo!” I had mixed thoughts about venturing off into a favela by myself and not be on a strict schedule. Due to the recent news about violence in the Rio favelas, I decided to go for a hired guide for R$70. The price includes pickup and drop-off from your hotel. Since I was staying at the Sheraton Rio and there is a huge change in traffic, the driver could not pick me up. Instead, the driver told me to walk 5 minutes to the Z.Bra Hostel in nearby Leblon. From pick-up to drop-off, the whole tour lasts about 3 hours which was an incredible value for R$70 ~ $32.54 USD. A large portion of this goes back into the favela community.
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My guide, Eddie picked me up in shared van and drove up Gavea to reach the top hill of the Rocinha favelas.
He explained that the Rocinha favela is currently one of largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. It even has schools, a police pacification unit, and a water purification building. Eddie says that the Brazilian government is slowly investing money into the Rocinha favelas due to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 World Olympics. The Brazilian government is trying to take control of the favelas that are ruled by drug lords and make the image of Rio safer in terms of tourism. There are over 1,000 favelas in Rio de Janeiro and the government is just trying to take over the ones that are nearby the touristy places.
Eddie proceeds to tell our group of eight that it is not okay to take pictures of people without permission. He says that in some instances, he will tell us to put away our cameras. That instantly gave me chills! At this point, I didn’t know what I signed up for.
Eddie led us to very narrow passageways in the favela.
He knows everyone in town and he took us up to a favela home where the rooftop views were just jaw dropping.
He explains to us how favelas came into existence. Basically, the poor people of the Northern and Western parts of Rio invaded the land and started building shantytown houses. The Brazilian government was overwhelmed by the amounts of crime and drug lords ruling the favelas, so they left them alone. Properties on the favelas pay no rent or property tax to the Brazilian government. The owner of a favela can sell their roof to someone so they can let them build a favela on top of their building. There is actually a huge real estate market in the favela economy and apparently it’s booming.
Eddie explains that favelas are slowly getting modernized in Rocinha with full running water, postal mail, electricity, and most recently, satellite TV dishes were given away for free. You can see in the pictures below that some favelas have satellite TV.
Favela homes have very small, uneven, and windy staircases.
Trash is a big problem in the favelas since people just throw things everywhere. All throughout the tour, it smelled like the sewer.
As you can see, favela life is tough for residents as it is very poverty stricken.
Eddie takes our group to the rooftop of another favela building, but this time from the ground looking above. This was the best view of the Rocinha favelas.
As you can see, there is a small fire from a distance which is a signal to the drug lords that a shipment has arrived.
Eddie proceeded to tell us where the lookout spot was for the drug lords since there is a great vantage point to see when the cops are coming.
Eddie concludes the tour by telling us how the residents of Rocinha trick the electric meters so that they don’t pay for electricity.
It was definitely a fun tour as Eddie knew everyone along the path as he does this tour twice a day. Not once was I scared if I was going to be shot, robbed, or kidnapped. I did not see anyone carrying any weapons, but Eddie did warn me not to come by myself to a favela since I am a “Gringo” and stand out. He then pointed to an American in our group and said “You can pass as a Brazilian- you would be fine”.