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By Nicole Eberhard, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Favela tours in Rio de Janeiro are a controversial subject. As the Rio has been working to pacify many of the communities with the UPP (Police Pacification Units), tours have been on the rise as curious travelers leave the beach to explore another perspective to the city.

Debate Continues Over Favelas Tours in Rio, RDJ4U, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Favelas in Rio, such as Santa Marta with its colourful walls, attract curious tourists, photo curtesy of RDJ4U.

With around 22 percent of Rio’s population living in the sweeping neighborhoods locally terms ‘favelas’, they’re a reality that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Those who pioneered the first favela tours, such as Marcelo Armstrong, the man behind the Favela Tour to Rocinha and Vila Canoas, sought support for the initiative from the residents.

The idea behind the tours, according to Marcelo, was “to raise awareness and broaden tourists’ cultural knowledge of Brazil.” Through tourism, locals hoped to break down the stereotypes and fear of the favelas.

However, favela tourism is still fiercely debated. Poverty tourism, or slum tourism, is a controversial topic in all countries where such tours exist, from South Africa, India and Mexico, to England, where visiting slums in London gave rise to the term slumming as far back as the 1880s.

The main argument used against this type of tourism is that it treats poverty like an exhibition. Detractors say that the favela tours are a voyeuristic act and worry that these kinds of tours do not benefit residents, and infringe on their privacy.

These arguments raise important concerns and draw attention to the fact there are different ways of approaching tours in favela communities. There are many tours that overcome the issues mentioned, running sustainable and respectful tours in small groups that allow tourists to engage meaningfully with local residents.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News, favela tours
The view from the hillside of Rocinha, one of the most visually stunning favelas in Rio de Janeiro, photo curtesy of RDJ4U.

However, there are different ways of approaching tours in favela communities and nowadays many companies have overcome the issues mentioned, running sustainable and respectful tours in small groups that allow tourists to engage meaningfully with local residents.

Many companies operating tours in these communities were supported by the government, such as Rio Top Tours, and are run directly by residents of the favela, keeping the money in the area. Other companies support projects in the favelas, such as schools and community centers, to ensure that the tourism generated from the tours has a positive impact.

One such tour is run by local resident, Zezinho. He emphasizes the need for tours that are run by locals and that interact with the community, and says, “I can speak for most here in the favela when I say, that if you come on a tour here, please make a walking tour … When you walk through the community, you show that you embrace our community without fear.”

By opening up these previously closed spaces, favela tourism has the potential to break down harmful stereotypes of these communities as drug and crime ridden. Instead, they show visitors what life is actually like for locals who live here, dropping the invisible curtain between the rich and poor in Rio de Janeiro.

This is a sponsored article written by Nicole Eberhard​, English Content Editor for Rdj4u.com

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