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By Oliver Bazely, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – For a foreigner in Rio, the search for accommodation is often concentrated on a select few Zona Sul areas. These famous neighborhoods undoubtedly offer the widest range of amenities and, for the security conscious, a less daunting stepping-stone to the rest of Rio, but with high prices and hordes of tourists, Zona Sul can quickly lose its shine, driving apartment-seekers elsewhere.

Vidigal's houses may not have the glitz of some of Zona Sul's postcodes, but reasonable prices and incredible views are just two of the benefits of living in the favela, photo by Oliver Bazely.

As a result, an increasing number of adventurous visitors and experienced travelers are finding their homes in the city’s favelas, though some are undoubtedly more appealing and convenient options than others.

The answer, according to Anwar Boyce, a Californian currently living in Vidigal, depends on the favela. “I tried Rocinha for a month or so, living with someone I met on couchsurfing.org (an online community for travelers), but for me, it was just too big, with too much going on. I decided to find a place in Vidigal, which has a small-town feel… a real sense of community.” Tracking down a place to stay is not an easy prospect, though. “I just walked up and down the street, asking everyone I saw if they had a place for rent. Everyone said no, until one guy, on the third time I asked him, said, “Actually, I do. I’m renting my place.””

Vidigal is the highly-visible favela perched on the seaward side of Morro Dos Irmãos, the hill at the end of the beach in Leblon. As with Rocinha, on the other side of the hill, the favela is currently un-pacified, and is reportedly under the control of the ‘Amigos dos Amigos’ gang though this does not necessarily mean danger and crime, Anwar assures; “Since I’ve been here, there have not been any shootings or anything.”

As well as spectacular sea views and easy access to the Zona Sul beaches, Vidigal has been a thriving cultural center since the 1980s. With a little help from Petrobras, the ‘Nós dos Morro’ (We of the Hill) theater group has grown into a major hub for acting with an international presence. The group famously provided many of the actors for the 2002 film ‘City of God’, and since then, “Lots of people come here to pursue their careers,” says Anwar. Young hopefuls can hone their craft at the bi-weekly talent show, or on the popular public-access TV station that is broadcast locally. “My actor friend came here from São Paulo” he continues, adding “Walking down the street here, you recognize faces from the novelas.”

Vidigal's spectacular view across Leblon and Ipanema and out onto the ocean, photo by Oliver Bazely.

But glitzy reputations aside, what is it actually like to live in Vidigal? For Anwar, “In my house the worst thing is the internet. It is really unreliable here. In terms of shopping, I can buy most things, although sometimes, when the shops shut early, I have to go to São Conrado. Transport up the hill is either van or moto-taxi. We sometimes get power cuts, too.”

There are not many official sources of information, but as an estimate, to rent a room will cost R$300 to R$500 per month, if you can find a willing landlord. Utilities are connected as standard, but servicing may not be as straightforward as in Zona Sul.

Beyond renting, those wishing to experience life in Vidigal have two options. Firstly, for short-term stays, it may be possible find a hammock or a mattress to call home. Andreas Wielend, a 32 year old Austrian who owns ‘Casa Alto Vidigal’ is hoping to cater for just such visitors by the end of the year. “We are planning a small guesthouse and bar, for now we have four rooms and a couple of hammocks – but we are not yet open to the public.”

A second option, for those determined to live in Vidigal, is to buy a house. “I bought two properties last year,” says Andreas, “and there are about thirty ex-pats living in Vidigal, some with their own houses.”

At the moment, integration seems to be no problem, but a phase of rapid growth is on the horizon, as many people would like to exploit the world class view and prime location. In recent years, German Rolf Glaser attempted to kick start the local housing market with an ambitious redevelopment project that included both social and commercial elements. However, his vision has yet to come to fruition, as bureaucratic setbacks have delayed the project indefinitely.

So, is Vidigal a viable option for those seeking accommodation in Rio? If you work nine-to-five and are fond of your creature comforts, then probably not. But if you are footloose, adaptable and in search of an exciting locale, then Vidigal might well be the place for you.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. The Rio Times wants to clarify we do not recommend any tourists visit Vidigal or any favela without the assistance of a local tour guide or a personal friend that lives there. While there is little specific risk to foreigners it can be a very dangerous place, not policed and governed to the extent of Zona Sul and other areas of Rio. For an update on the current state of police presence in Rio’s favelas, please see this article published in May:
    http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/front-page/favela-pacification-spreads-to-tijuca/

  2. I have a friend (Brazilian) who has an amazing two bedroom house with a deck and a small pool out front. She has lived there for years. Her son who is an artist designed a lot of it. The view from the deck goes from Sao Corado up to Ipanema. It’s about half way up the morro on the Leblon side. She was talking of selling the place a few months ago, but I haven’t seen her in a while, but if anyone is interested send me a mail and I could contact her, I’d like to help her out. I have no clue what the situation is with ownership rights etc, I reckon you’d need a lawyer you could trust.
    conor_brady@hotmail.com

  3. great so after reading this article all the gringos in Rio will probably flock to vidigal driving the prices up.

  4. if gringoes are so interested in liivng in favelas why dont they go and live in Jacarezinho or Mare? That will give them a real favela experience

  5. I don’t think Vidigal will have to worry about gentrification. People will come and visit, but after being there for a while, they will realize how difficult it is to live there. If you haven’t lived in a favela in your own country, don’t expect to come to to Vidigal and fit in.

  6. Favelas shouldn’t be there in the first place, their living conditions are unacceptable to most first would countries, which have already eradicated slums, in some cases back in the 30s.

    It would be nice though if the international community pressed in favor of a proper housing scheme for the low income population, which in turn would help to halt deforestation on Rio de Janeiro’s hills and avoid disasters caused by heavy rains as seen last Summer.

    Certainly these people deserve better living conditions and meanwhile they are glamorized nothing will be done to replace them.

  7. Why would people who lives in favelas leave them for “better and proper” houses?? .. Favelas shouldn’t exist but what are thr real benefits of living in favelas?? Firstly, why do they exist ?? .. Would people living in favelas move to a house where they have to pay taxes, electricity bills, mortgage, and far from Rio’s downtown and far from their work places?? .. What is the right incentive to leave the favelas and move away to “proper” houses with acceptable living conditions?? ..

  8. I think the idea of gringos living in the favela is patronizing – it’s something to brag about to friends back home. In the process, gringos are also driving up the rent – so that those who really do need a place to live, will suffer…

    As Jay correctly said – go live in Jacarezinho if you really want to be a tough guy with something to brag about to friends back in the First World…

  9. I am sick to death with people using the word gringo and to see how tough a foreign tourist is. People visit favelas to experience how locals live. Gringo money is supporting the local economy instead of paying to the Hiltons, Marriots, and the Sheratons!!
    You guys really need to get ya head out of your rectus.
    While I stayed in Vidigal during the world cup, I was told by a white guy to ‘go back to my country you gringo’. its ignorant people like him make me laugh everytime!!

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