By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Sitting high on the hilltop favela community of Cantagalo, the recently opened Tiki Hostel offers guests stunning views of the city, including its two most iconic beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana. The hostel is the culmination of a two-year project by New Zealand expatriate in Rio, Dale Smith, also a long-standing member of the Rio Rugby Club.
Located just a short walk from the Cantagalo elevator, conveniently situated between both Ipanema and Copacabana, the hostel is ready for the Rio 2016 Olympics. “After two years of building,” Smith shares, “I can finally say that construction at Tiki Hostel is finally finished. This means that we will be able to start hosting more events.”
The hostel offers nine rooms, and a rooftop terrace and bar with a 270 degree view of the city. The Tiki’s interiors were designed by Pernambuco designer Maria Callou, who incorporated elements of both Carioca and Smith’s New Zealand cultures, specifically the Polynesian Maori culture reflected in the hostel’s name, Tiki.
The Cantagalo neighborhood was one of the earliest favelas to be included in the Rio de Janeiro UPP (Police Pacifying Unit) program, which provided various services to the Cantagalo/Pavão-Pavãozinho communities such as increased security and a free elevator connecting residents to the General Osório metro station.
For Smith, it was the draw of the Cantagalo community itself, which first sparked the idea of opening a business in the area. “When I moved to Rio in 2005, I joined the Rio Rugby club. At this time it had some real talented athletes from the Cantagalo community. Over the years I would visit the community for birthdays or other celebrations. This gave me the confidence to consider a project.”
For any startup business, the learning curve can be steep, but as Smith discovered, building a hostel in the hilltop favela community, provided its own unique but welcome challenges. “My biggest challenge to date has been learning how the community operates. For example its really important to build relationships with neighbors. There is a good neighbor policy locals call ‘Boa Vizinhança’.”
To that end, the Tiki Hostel regularly hosts events throughout the year to help improve the community. Since opening its doors, it has already hosted the first Morro do Cantagalo Jazz Festival as well as the Rio Rugby Club’s New Year’s Eve event, which passed all the event’s proceeds to the club’s various charitable activities.
With the Olympics rapidly approaching, Smith is planning several more projects to both improve the Tiki Hostel guest experience, and the Cantagalo community. “Tiki is about to start an art pathway running from the UPP building to the hostel. The idea is that guests will be greeted with a happy and colorful environment. It also enables us to give something back to the community. Local artists such as ACME have signed up and we aim to finish before the Olympics start.”