Would You Like to Tour a Poor Neighborhood in Rio?
By Emily Grund
For many, going to Rio de Janeiro means going to the beach and enjoying the Brazilian nightlife. If you are looking for a more authentic experience with the locals, try exploring a favela with Favela Adventures.
Favelas are hillside communities built on the outskirts of large Brazilian cities. They are also referred to as shantytowns, which are impoverished communities with crowded housing and often have a bad reputation associated with crime and drugs.
Zezinho, the founder of Favela Adventures, a Brazilian tour operator, aspires to diminish these negative stereotypes by giving travelers a personal trip through his hometown Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas.
“I like to show the cultural programs and life here. That life here may be difficult but we manage and we are happy people. The work I am doing here is to empower people who live here and to show and explain our community to visitors,” Zezinho said.
According to their website, they are the only favela tour company owned and operated by favela residents. Unlike other tours, their funds go directly back into the favela community and as the company grows they hope to use their income to build a community center for the arts.
“We have visits every day of the week, year-round,” Zezinho said. Booking is as simple as sending him an e-mail that has the dates you plan to be there and the kind of “tour” you would like to go on. Zezinho prefers the word “visit” over “tour” because he encourages guests to interact with the community and avoids superficial overviews of the city.
For the sake of familiarity, Zezinho has named his website Favela Tours in hopes that people come across his website in a search. While reading about the kind of tours available, you are redirected to the word “visit” once again.
Twenty-two Points of Interest
Visits can be as short as three hours or more than six for a group of eight people, depending on the number of time guests have. Their most popular visit is Rocinha Visit 6+ Hours which includes “22+ points of interest, two or three different roof views of the community, visit to Zezinho’s family and friends, eating in Rocinha, Tio Lino’s nonprofit art studio visit and much more.
”At the cost of 85 reais (48 USD), this visit is quite the bargain. For five extra reais, you can also include a Funk party or Samba performance in your visit. With a long testimonial section boasted on the website, Zezinho finds his visitors to always be interested in the culture. “I think most people are fascinated and like to see how the community was formed and the crowded housing.”
Zezinho also offers customized tours for 100 reais (56 USD). These tours are directed towards travelers with an unlimited amount of time to explore, strong interest in the history and culture, or special requests during their visit.
“I had a group of Australian women come to visit and one of them had been all over the world. Her thing to do was to jump rope in every place she visited. She even jumped rope at the Great Wall of China. So, I set it up for her to jump rope at the highest point in the favela, overlooking the whole community. I have a friend who has an awesome roof view.
I like special requests like this because it adds to the experience of the visit. She will forever remember her visit and jumping rope at the highest point of the hill with a 360 degrees view of the community. And through their whole visit these women were always smiling. I think they loved visiting Rocinha.”
If guests want to have a longer stay in Rocinha, Favela Adventures also leads adventure and cultural programs or can suggest organizations to volunteer with.
“Tours are usually day or night visits to the community. The cultural programs are opportunities where foreigners can come stay in the favela and learn a skill, sport, or language from somebody who is an expert in their field, but who is from the favela.
It’s a cultural exchange, just as you may be curious about the favela, the residents want to know about the outside world too. As far as volunteering, we have access to many NGO’s in Rocinha. Usually, after the visits, I get requests from people wanting to return to the favela to help out in some way.”
Although it is a small company, run by two guides, Zezinho, and Iranildo “Nildo” Correia, the company is growing. In 2008, Zezinho started marketing his tours on the internet and eventually was able to afford a website of his own which launched six months ago. Zezinho said most of his customers come from word of mouth, internet searches, and social media.
“Most is word of mouth and things like Facebook. I think most people do searches through Yahoo or Google, and for those who want an intimate visit, they find us. I am just contacting people through the web and letting them know the work we are doing. We are certainly open to anybody who could help us with marketing.”
These visits often include a lot of walking so Zezinho suggests guests wear comfortable shoes but welcome all ages. “I would say the average age is between 21-40 but I have had visitors up to 67 years in age and as young as five.”
So if you are the kind of traveler that gets bored with laying in the sun, tourist shops, and crowded nightlife, slip away from Rio de Janeiro for a day or two to experience the vibrant culture of the favela people in Rocinha.