By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A growing number of favela residents are discovering tourism as a new business opportunity, with hostels, tours and even party venues becoming more widely available. In particular tourism in pacified favelas seems to benefit from the security that the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) stations have introduced.
Many of the favela-developed hillsides of Rio offer breathtaking views of the famous beaches of Rio’s Zona Sul (South zone), Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) or Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), which make them very attractive for foreign visitors.
In addition, a visit to a favela offers a unique insight into the way of life of a big part of the city’s population. If a walking tour isn’t enough, tourists can also consider staying at hostels there, more popular with adventure-backpackers of course.
The communities of Chapéu Mangueira and Babilônia in Leme were pacified in May 2009. You can stay in a dorm-style room with abathroom there which will cost you around US$20, in a community of just 6,000 residents. “We are booked solid until Carnival,” says manager Brice Andre from the Favela Inn Hostel in Chapéu Mangueira.
Mr. Andre explains, “Like almost every other hotel in Rio, our price doubles during Carnival as well. The only difference is, that staying at our hostel is even then still cheap and you get the one million dollar panoramic view for free.”
Rio’s Zona Sul offers various options for favela hostels, they can also be found in Rocinha, Santa Marta, Talavera Bastos, Cantagalo and Vidigal. In the near future the Zona Norte (North zone) will also get one. Cultural NGO AfroReggae is planning on opening a hostel in the favela Grota.
“Foreigners really like it here,” says DJ and tour guide Thiago Firminho from Santa Marta. “They are surprised and say they heard many bad things about the favelas of Rio but that the reality is completely different from what they expected. They like our culture, food and way of life,” says Firminho.
Besides being a tour guide, Firminho also runs a party venue. Together with his brother he rebuilt the space above their home where they now host children’s parties, churrascos and feijodas with live music, DJs and drinks.
“We invested our own money into it” Firminho explains, “Then we started advertising with flyers, we got on the community radio and things just started rolling.” Firminho has organized events for tourists, locals and even for local celebrities such as singer Martinália.
The government of Rio, in an effort to stimulate these initiatives, launched the Rio Top Tour program. Its goal is to create opportunities for socio-economic development through tourism. For example, there is a trainee-program in Santa Marta which turns residents into professional tour guides.