By Nathan M. Walters, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Prior to the pacification of Vidigal in November 2011, a visit to the favela was usually only made by adventure travelers, or those who had friends to escort them. The idea of a foreigner owning real estate and starting a business in the area was reserved only for a special group of forward-thinking entrepreneurs, those who saw the potential of a hillside that enjoyed one of the most stunning views in Rio.

The view from Vidigal includes Leblon and Ipanema beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The view from Vidigal includes Leblon and Ipanema beaches, photo by Nathan M. Walters.

Now, just a few weeks after the favela officially received its own Police Pacification Unit (“UPP”), more investors are looking to the hill questioning what the future of the area will hold.

Setting up a guesthouse (or pousada) in Vidigal prior to pacification was uncommon because it would only appeal to a very specific target market. Now Vidigal has been primed for this type of investment, with a distinct culture and close-knit community, quick access to Leblon and Ipanema – and those postcard views.

Austrian-born Andreas Wielend, owner of the Casa Alto Vidigal guesthouse, saw the potential. “I was looking for something other than the mainstream Rio experience,” he recalls.

Since arriving in Vidigal, Wielend has expanded his presence in the area by purchasing more properties and updating Casa Alto to accommodate more guests. Now open for two years, Casa Alto is enjoying increased popularity.

The guesthouse is booked solid for Carnival and have seen a steady increase in visitors – particularly Brazilian guests who had avoided the area prior its pacification.

Today UPP signs are prominently displayed and surveillance forces regularly cruise the streets of Vidigal. In a short time Wielend has seen the benefits the UPP’s presence has had for local businesses including his own. “UPP makes Vidigal look safer. In the long-term the UPP’s presence can be a good thing.”

It is still premature to declare the UPP’s installation a resounding success for all. Some, including Tito Braga, owner of Favela Vidigal Guesthouse, believe the UPP have brought “more frustration” with them, perhaps referring to the constant police presence and a corresponding sense of order.

The UPP presence has made Vidigal appear safer and more accessible, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The UPP presence has made Vidigal appear safer and more accessible, photo by Nathan M. Walters.

Yet the interest in Vidigal as an area with the potential for development preceded the pacification and UPP, and is certainly no less appealing now. Although, as with all urban development projects, controversial issues arise.

Living in Vidigal has cost a fraction of other locations in Zona Sul, and new development has the potential to drastically increase rents and real estate prices, pushing long-time residents out. In short, gentrification.

For now there is only speculation of what the UPP’s arrival will bring, though trends in other pacified favelas provide reason for optimism. Wielend seems enthusiastic about the new found interest in the area, “There is something happening everyday. Right now we have a group of professional graffiti artists redecorating the guesthouse and we are starting our weekly ‘After Beach’ party on Sundays. Every day is a busy day here!”


  1. The curmudgeon asserts, here and now, that by the 2016 Olympic Games, Vidigal will have become the high rent district, with fantastic views and not a single “favelado” left in the bairro. Sort of like Park Slope and other places in Brooklyn with great views.

  2. As a hospitality major focusing on real estate, I thought the favelas in Zona Sul could eventually have significant real estate value. The history of the favela, its demographic, and characteristic of life for those who reside there is unique from the rest of Rio de Janeiro. With that said, I would like to know what others think about what kind of an impact increased real estate development might have on this type of community in the long run. As Brazil’s economy surges ahead, some people profit greatly and then others get swept up and left in its wake. I wonder what others think about this issue of gentrification as a cost to potential long-run economic growth. And ideas around the issue of balancing wealth in the country between the middle class and the poor.

  3. There is instability in the hillside base soil, which is clay and other material that tend to slide when wet. However, there must be stone deep underneath. That is a minor problem compared to the feelings a developer will create when they take the land away from the people (if they stay nearby). You could envision crime-spree scenarios against the new residents.

    I’m never comfortable on the streets of a favela, even the small edgy one that borders LAPA, unless police are within sight. UPP is a great idea. However changing a few laws to allow people to fight back is also good.

    It amazed me too that the hillside and hilltop land was given away and the wealthy kept the valley. It’s not a normal strategy compared to what you see in the USA. Here the poor are “given” slum areas of the city. Actually in the US a wealthy few own the buildings in the slum areas and work through the democratic party to channel the money back to themselves in the form of HUD housing funds wire deposited directly into their fat bank accounts. Make no mistake – in the US the democrats are equally in bed with their candidate as the republican.

    Back to Rio – Barriers from foreign home ownership: the laws about not having a gun to protect yourself, No reciprocity for conceal-carry permit holders in the USA, local children immune from laws (yet robbing people in gangs), and pricing that only the ultra-weathy like Donald TRumph having ability to buy into, 3 week long and expensive VISA processing, $1000USD airline tickets, violent crime patterns only BOPE seem to control for temporary periods, and the language are the biggest barriers. That said – I’m glad for most Brasilians that the fat, demanding, rude north-eastern people of my country (USA) are not descending on you like they do here in FL. Be glad that you have a culture left. Don’t trust US business people that have not demonstrated fairness consistently – ask their workers, many will tell you the truth if you talk to them. Don’t learn our ugly english language, keep your beautiful Portuguese going strong.


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