By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – One of the most popular activities for visitors to Rio de Janeiro are the controversial favela jeep tours. While guides often contribute a percentage of their fee to projects in those communities, as yet the people in the locals themselves have had little opportunity to be actively involved in the process of satisfying tourist curiosity in favela life. Rio Top Tour, a government initiative in Dona Marta (one of the first and most publicized communities pacified by the U.P.P.s) is aiming to change that by creating a tourism structure within the favela itself with the first stage now in place.
Launched on Monday, August 30th by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rio Top Tour was initiated in May by the State Secretary of Tourism, Sport and Leisure and TurisRio with the aim of improving favela tourism by giving residents the training and tools to show their neighborhood and offering the tourist a more meaningful insight into the culture and life of the community.
As Monica Rodrigues, co-ordinator of the project, says; “It’s about saying to tourists that there in Botafogo, in Santa Marta under Christ the Redeemer, there’s people. Not just a statue of Michael Jackson with his arms open. We want to show that Brazil doesn’t just have hereditary culture. Here there are samba and capoeira groups, Northeastern traditions, typical cuisine, people doing trails at night, the stunning viewpoint at the top. There exists a city inside the community that needs to be discovered by foreigners, Cariocas and Brazilians alike.”
From this week there will be a stand at Praça Corumbá with bilingual attendants and free bilingual Portuguese-English map brochures featuring all the points of interest. Clear signage with the project’s distinctive branding indicating landmarks and routes are being installed, and training programs are underway for residents to become guides. After the course, trained guides will be either be employed by the project to attend the various tourist points or become self-employed tour guides.
Andrea Miranda, 30, has lived in Santa Marta her whole life and is taking the tourism training course. “There’s already a form of guide, the jeep tours, that come into the community” she says, “but why isn’t there a project located in the community? We want to interact with tourists and show the story of our community”.
Through tourism, the government aims to stimulate and maintain the economy of the community which was pacified by the U.P.P. last year. Monica explains, “We believe that tourism is a way for the resident to earn their own money, generate wealth for the community and sustain what is happening here”.
Paulo Roberto, 42, who runs the bar Buteco Tatiano next to the quad in Dona Santa Marta is also positive about the initiative. “It’s the community moving forward and bringing different people in” he says. “My hope is that it improves business in the area… We’re fighting for the development of the community and this is the start”.
A December launch is planned for the completed project with trained guides and a fully installed structure to receive tourists, with a big New Year’s Eve event to follow, however in the next few weeks the first elements will be put in place with maps, interest points and a telephone information service in English, Portuguese and Spanish available for visitors.
Following Santa Marta, Rio Top Tour will be initiated in other pacified communities, with the next one to receive the project being Providência in the center of Rio.
For more information visit TurisRio website or call the freephone 0800 2822007 with tourist information available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, Monday to Friday 8AM to 8PM.