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By Martin Kocandrle, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – There is an unmistakable vibrancy in the air as one takes their first steps into the community of Rocinha. It is the largest favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro with some estimates reaching 150,000 residents, located in the South Zone, just one kilometer from the beach.

The view from a rooftop in Rocinha, photo by Martin Kocandrle.
The view from a rooftop in Rocinha, photo by Martin Kocandrle.

Motorcycle taxis zip by with passengers while music blares from the many bars that dot the landscape in this fascinating neighborhood. Despite the energy and unique visual appeal, for many, Rocinha still has a rough reputation.

When asked about life in Rocinha, those that have spent time there will often provide a view contrary to the popular vision espoused on television or in the media. While there is an understanding that there is a potential for large-scale violence between the police and drug gangs, everyday life in Rocinha is painted similar to that of an average district in Rio.

Jose who runs the Casa dos Voluntarios Cachopa for The Two Brothers Foundation elaborated on the lives of Rocinha’s residents, explaining, “the majority of residents are hardworking, not consuming drugs or contributing to the crime in the area, despite the fact that they co-habitate with the infamous ‘traficantes’ or drug dealers.”

Whether you are attracted by the location, price, or seeking to understand the neighborhoods and residents that contribute so much to the diversity and reputation of the “Cidade Maravilhosa,” there are many rental options that may enrich your travel experience.

For those wanting a short term lodging of less then a month, options in the city range from pousadas and hostels. The Maze Inn resides in a unique location in the district of Catete and offers live jazz night every first Friday of the month. Favelinha, which is located 5 minutes from Santa Teresa, provides a view that few of the five star hotels in Rio can boast.

For those that want to be closer to the attractions of Leblon and its beaches there is the Favela Receptiva. Part and parcel of staying at these accommodations is the philosophy that they imbue in terms of responsible travel, one can leave knowing that a portion of their payment has gone back to the community.

Accomodations at Favela Receptiva, photo courtesy of Favela Receptiva.
Accomodations at Favela Receptiva, photo courtesy of Favela Receptiva.

If long-term lodging is on your horizon then you may consider renting an apartment in a favela. It can be difficult to rent an apartment without a reference though. One landlady explained ever since she unknowingly rented to undercover police, which later brought unwelcome ramifications from the ruling drug gang.

If you are without references then you can enlist the help of Favela Adventures, which will help to find habitation that suits your needs. An option open to those volunteering is to seek a flat through their respective organizations as they are usually closely connected to the community.

Rocinha resident, Igor Barbarosa Da Silva, explains; “real estate value in Rocinha differs according to location and size, a small apartment with no amenities further from roads and attractions can cost R$250 a month while more spacious rooms with kitchens and showers can cost up to R$500 monthly.”

Depending on the agreement you may need to make a security deposit, or stay for a minimum period of time. Similarly your agreement may include utilities such as gas, electricity or water. If you are in the market to buy, a one or two bedroom apartment in Rocinha may cost anywhere from R$20-30,000, although certainly other favelas can be much less.

While staying in a favela is an enriching experience, it is not for the weak of heart. There are both formal and informal rules to follow in these communities and one needs to be aware of them. Also, one must be realistic about the goals of your travel and the type of amenities that you require.

The biggest factor remains security though, and while violence and crime can happen anywhere, the government’s ability to police Rocinha, or any favela, is notoriously minimal.

Correction: January 29, 2010
This article was first published on January 26th with the wrong information about The Maze Inn, which offers live jazz night every first Friday of the month.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Very well-written article! Provides a succinct overview of what can be a very challenging endeavour – understanding life and the rules of the game when considering life in a Rio favela!

  2. I really wish gringos would stop glamorizing favelas which 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.

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