Living in a favela is an art










Selaron, Lapa Stairs


Visiting the favelas has been one of the main objectives of my stay in Rio. I`ve never seen peope living like this before, so I wanted to experience the atmosphere in these kind of neighborhoods from an urbanistic/architectural point of view, as well as from a sociological and psychological one. I`ve read on a blog that visiting a favela can be compared to visiting a zoo with poor people, but for me it`s about seeing how other people live. The layout of the houses and the relief influences people`s lifestyle and the relationships between them, so I had to see for myself.

Favelas are notorious for being dangerous, but all the favelas I`ve visited seem to me safer than Lapa, the party district. Because the World Cup is close, the police started pacifying the favelas. So far I`ve only visited pacified favelas (favelas pacificadas). I`ve always been accompanied by people who were obviously non-brazilian, but I`ve never had any problems and I`ve always felt safe.

Favela Santa Marta


Santa Marta was the first favela I visited. I wasn`t used to the Brazilian lifestyle, so it probably had the biggest impact on me. I was with a Croatian girl, a guy from Latvia and another one from Scotland. It was really easy to see that we are tourists, but we didn`t have any problems.

Michael Jackson filmed the video of “They don`t care about us” in here. In order to immortalize this moment, a life size statue of MJ stands in a market in this favela. There is an info point at the beginning of the favela. A guided tour costs 50 R$/person, but the guy assured us that it`s a safe neighborhood, so we went up by ourselves, There is a train that takes you up the favela free of charge. This is an image captured from the last train station. You can easily notice the difference between the buildings in the background and the ones on the front. This association between extremely rich neighborhoods and slums is typical for Brazil. There is a saying here that with every new mall that is built a new favela is created.


I`ve always had this impression that only shady people live in the favelas, but the people waiting in line for the train seemed decent and kind. I couldn`t tell the difference between the people that you usually see on the streets and them, so I understood that the image I had about favelas was completely wrong. Normal people live in the favelas.

This is the smallest favela I`ve seen. The mountain is steep, so the houses are very crowded. There are not actual streets, just paths stairs where only one person can walk. We took several wrong turns and ended up in people`s houses. You couldn`t tell which the main stair is. I don`t know how we found the MJ statue, we were very lucky because the stairs form a miniature labyrinth. It was raining and the water was flowing under the houses. It was the perfect weather to visit this place.


Favela Aleman



This is a favela that no tourist would have visited a few years ago, but now the area is pacified and there are tourists everywhere. They set up a teleferico that takes you over the hills. The price for locals is 1 R$, but as a tourist you pay 5. Probably the best idea is to take the teleferico on the way up and to get back to the train station.

It`s interesting to see the houses from above. Unlike Santa Marta, this favela is crossed by large streets. On the last hill a land slide occurred, so it`s difficult to get to the train station.

Aleman means german in Portuguese. The name of the favela comes from the former owner of a farm that existed here before the favela, but the ironic thing is that he was actually polish.

When I went there I was accompanied by an indian guy and an english guy that was wearing a dirty T-shirt, so it was easier to mingle. There was an akward moment when we`ve reached the dead end on the street blocked because of the landslide as there were some people gathered there, but they didn`t mind us.


Favela Vidigal


In order to get up to the Dos Irmaos Mountain (Two Brothers) you have to cross this steep favela. There are five hostels in this favela, so it can be considered pretty safe. There are many moto-taxis that can take you up the hill, but there are also vans that cost half the price. This favela offers great views towards the ocean and it shows great examples of street art. Other than the fact that it`s isolated from the city, I think this is a great place to live.

I was accompanied by two swiss girls and two german guys, all blonde with blue eyes. One of the girls carried an expensive camera, but nobody tried to rob us.

Favela Rocinha



Favela Rocinha is the biggest in South America. It has between 150 000 and 500 000 inhabitants (they don`t know the exact number), so it`s huge. There are a few buses that cross it from one end to the other, so if you don`t feel it`s safe enough to walk here you can try this option.

When I watched the movie “Cidade de Deus” (City of gods) I thought the story was overreacted. But after seeing the favelas, I understand that the scenario can be real. From the top of the hill we`ve seen many kites and I remembered the scene from the movie where they explain that this is a sign that the police aren`t around. We saw a guy on a motorcycle stopped in the middle of the road that was flying a kite, so I believe the story is true.


From Rocinha you can also get amazing views towards the ocean and the Dos Irmaos mountain. No matter how normal you dress, no matter how dark your skin or your hair is, it`s gonna be so easy for the locals to notice that you`re a gringo. We started our trip on the south part of the hill and we went all the way up to the top. On the other side there was a panoramic point from which you could see the statue. We didn`t even arrive there when the guys who were standing there started showing us the statue and a guy who was selling souvenirs arrived. It was the first time when locals actually talked to us and we started making fun together. It was the first time it occur to me that maybe they respect people who go there without a guide.


On the way back I actually made friends with two girls. It was the perfect timing because they showed us the main street and they took us to a market and after  1 hr we took  the same bus towards Copacabana. I asked them if they think Rocinha is a bad neighborhood and they said it`s safer than Lapa. But they also said it can go crazy in the night and that they don`t go out by themselves after dark. They both work in Ipanema and they said they sometimes spend 4-5 hrs/day to get there and back. One of them saw me carrying one cup of acai and  invited me to come to her fast food on the New Years Eve to try the acai they make for free. I think I`m gonna visit her when I go to Copacabana on the New Year`s.


I think that every person who goes to Brazil should visit a favela. Go to a pacified favela, don`t go looking for trouble. There is a famous story about a german tourist who got killed in Rocinha, but he photographed dealers exchanging drugs, so he was sort of asking for it.

Forget about guided tours, pacified favelas are safe as long as you don`t go there with expensive cameras and you`re not being disrespectful. Go there and try to mingle, try to imagine how people live there. Think about the fact that most favelas are isolated and they are situated on steep mountains and then try to imagine how it would be like to climb mountains every day. Think about how it`s like when it`s raining and how it`s like when it`s hot. Remember that the communities are closed and imagine how it would be like to be a part of such a community.

20% of Rio`s population lives in favelas. Ipanema and Copacabana represent one side of Brazil, but favelas are also a reality. I thing the best way is to experience both sides.


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