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.

The stunning view that tourists can enjoy from Santa Marta, photo by Marcos Benjamin.

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.


  1. I live right by here and it seems like no locals are actually benefiting from this tourism project. On one hand it’s nice that tourists want to acknowledge the favelas and their residents… but on the other hand, do the residents really want gringos gawking at them and treating them like specimens in a zoo..? It’s a controversial subject. But from what i see at least, the tourists take the elevator to the lookout at the top… take photos of the Michael Jackson statue, but don’t really interact with the locals or buy anything from their stores and businesses…


  2. Favelas pose a unique and interesting visiting point that Dona Marta can use to generate commerce and $ for the local residents. Tourism brings in big big money. The locals can produce food, souvenirs and entertainment, all a rich part of Brazilian history.

    Many favelas also have the best views of Rio not often seen by a Gringo.

    I am a Gringo from Canada, who has been to Rio many times. If I knew that I would be safe, I and thousands of other tourists would be willing to part with our money to enjoy the culture.

    The Gringo’s are not gawking, but rather taking in a culture with a new experience.

    Tourism $ is there. Like I said, keep em safe, keep em entertained and you’ll enjoy a boom to the community.

    Ed B

  3. Yeah, but on your trip to Santa Marta – how much money did you, or any of the other tourists, actually spend in the favela..? So therefore, what advantage is this form of tourism bringing to the people..?

    And all those ‘jeep tours’ are run by external people from outside the favela…

  4. Hi all of yu.
    I was born and still live in Santa Marta, the community where both of you had the opportunity to get to know about the Tourism program made by the government.
    We are trying to develop this activity organized by it own residents.
    So, if you want to support us, please tell people about it and contact us for guiding and services made by the residents and not groups or agencies from outside.
    my email:
    I live close to the samba school.
    Warm hugs and thanks for participating with your ideas, thoughts and critics.

  5. Hi Diego

    I have never been to Santa Marta and I’m not interested in a jeep tour. But what would interest me would be to mix with the locals, have a meal, watch some entertainment by the locals and enjoy the culture.

    For that I would spend money in the community with the locals.

    The caveat is that I would have be safe.

    If you do these things, then it benefits the favelas greatly. The harsh reality of life my friend is that money goes where it is most welcome and safe.

    Best Regards
    Ed B

  6. Olá sou andreia miranda moradora do santa marta a 30 anos e monitora de turismo da comunidade digo que conhecer e tanto caminhar dentro da minha comunidade e muito seguro ,muitos ja vierão e ficarão maravilhados obnrigada.

  7. Hola a todos En unos días viajo a Rio y me interesa conocer Santa Marta por el importante trabajo social realizado, mi intención es entrar en contacto con la gente, su cultura y el proyecto a traves del servicio de turismo que prestan los propios residentes. Por favor podrían indicarme a que oficina y dirección debo dirigirme.Gracias. Adriana de Argentina

  8. A todos los que queiran saber y conocer un poco mas e visitar la comunidad pueden entrar en contacto con: ou que es el proyecto de turismo comunitario desarollado en Santa Marta.
    El proyecto trabaja con las personas de la comunidad e tiene como objectivo el desarollo local.
    If you want to visit and get to know about Santa Marta the same time you support local development just contact me. My name is sheila and I live in Santa Marta. I am developing a project called Brazilidade (BRAZILIDADE – Tourism and Experience in Community) that works in partnership with local projects.
    Sheila – Santa Marta – Botafogo – Rio de Janeiro – Brasil


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