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Visitors To Rio De Janeiro Explore Favela Tourism

Reported by Elma González

Photo caption:

Photo by Tatiana Barbosa and Matt Morris

San Diego resident Tatiana Barbosa poses during a tour in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro's largest favela, April 2016.

Visitors To Rio De Janeiro Explore Favela Tourism


Ryan Goode, professor of geography, Cerritos College


Hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to Rio de Janeiro for the summer Olympics. While many will head to the city’s main attractions like Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana beach, others will tour what some may call the seedier side of town: Rio’s favelas.

These neighborhoods are working-class communities historically neglected by the Brazilian government. For many people, favelas are synonymous with poverty and violence. Yet these communities draw nearly 50,000 tourists every year, with most tours happening in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio has more favela residents than any other city in Brazil, and an estimated 40,000 tourists visit them every year.

Dr. Ryan Goode, professor at Cerritos College, researched favelas as a doctoral candidate at San Diego State University.

He said many tourists are seduced by the thrill of danger associated with favelas.

“One thing I noticed with tourists is this idea of wanting to engage in riskless risk and build a sort of cultural capital for themselves,” Goode said.

He said some tourists see real value in snapping pictures inside a favela to post on their social networks.

Erik Martins lives in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela. He began guiding tourists inside his community when he was 17 years old. He first did it informally and then through an external agency. He said the agency always encouraged him to pump up the risk factor.

“Some companies exploit the poverty and the violence and make this interesting for the tourists," Martins said. "I understand that some people, some tourists search for this.”

San Diego residents Tatiana Barbosa and Matt Morris traveled around the globe before landing in Rio and taking a tour last April. While they were not exactly looking for an adrenaline rush, they were expecting a risky scene.

“Going into it, I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” Morris said. “I just heard bad things about it, like it was the slums, kind of like you will get robbed, there’s gangsters all over, there’s a lot of gun shootings.”

But neither Barbosa nor Morris felt unsafe during the tour.

“It was really calm when we were there,” Barbosa said. “Actually we felt pretty safe inside a favela than anywhere else in Rio de Janeiro.”

Photo caption:

Photo by Elma Gonzalez

A view from Morro da Babilônia in Rio de Janeiro, May 29, 2015.

Nearly one-fourth of Rio’s population lives in a favela, and data shows about 65 percent of its residents are middle class families.

Martins recently co-founded Rocinha by Rocinha, a tour agency run by residents of the favela. He said local guides can give a more accurate representation of the community.

“We have a fight,” Martins said. “Favela communities have a fight to make people understand that we are a part of of the city.”

Goode said in economic terms, local tour agencies benefit communities more than an agency run by outsiders.

“If you are taking a tour with a local guide, the vast majority of the money you are spending on the tour will be reinvested in the community through the local guide,” Goode explained. “A lot of the local agencies have excellent, excellent programs where they are donating a lot of the profits from these tours back to the community.”

Goode also pointed out walking tours with local guides can be more respectful to the community. A tour inside a van or a jeep keeps visitors away from interacting with the residents and gives the impression of a safari excursion, he said.

Despite that, a recent study conducted in Rocinha found 84 percent of locals are happy to have tourists visit.

“Favelas in Brazil are so stigmatized by Brazilians not living in favelas that actually the local residents are endeared that you want to visit them that you value them that you value their community,” Goode said.


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