Taking time out from parties and parades some big name international celebrities visited the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro. Hollywood star Will Smith, singer Kane West and girlfriend Kim Kardashian, who is expecting their first child, took a tour up to one of the notorious favelas, Vidigal.
Only a few years ago Vidigal was one of the most volatile favelas in Rio, with a constant fued between the neighbouring favela of Rocinha, said to be the largest in Latin America. But in January 2012, as part of a city-wide programme, Vidigal was ‘pacified’, a police unit (UPP) established inside the favela with the aim to abolish drug trafficking and the armed violence related to the trafficking.
Now Vidigal, a colourful labyrinth of simple brick houses climbing the peak of Dois Irmãos at the end of Ipanema beach, one of Rio’s most recognised postcard scenes, has become one of the most sought after addresses in the city. This favela has one of the best views of the city, stretching across the golden sands and Atlantic waves, all the way to the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain and its cable cars transporting over 2000 people a day, and of course the ultimate landmark – Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado. Amenities such as water and electricity are being regulated and land rights being given to residents who pay their utility bills. There is even a 5* hotel being constructed on what was once a precarious hillside.
But the favelas are not all as privileged as Vidigal, while some stand side by side the wealthy neighbourhoods, the majority cover large sprawling areas a long way from the city’s glamour and lacking even the most basic of facilities. But it is these favelas, or illegitimate communities, living beyond the reach of the authorities, that house over 20% of Rio’s population and make up an important part of the culture associated with Rio and Brazil.
This is why they have become one of the top-ten visited sites in the ‘Marvellous City’. It is here that tourists can happen upon a capoeira roda taking place, be inspired by the creative and often political street art, and hear some Samba or Rio Funk beats blasting out. Many of the residents have moved to Rio from other parts of Brazil, self-constructed their homes and built a liveable community around them. Now that these communities are no longer governed by drug-trafficking gangs, the residents warmly welcome visitors who will appreciate and support the community they have created.
Many of these favelas have NGOs in which people can volunteer, but the easiest way to support and discover more about life in the favelas is by visiting with an organised tour which uses local services and generates income in the communities, without intruding into the personal lives of residents. Brazil Wild Adventure are a hiking company who offer a nature trail to the peak of Dois Irmãos passing through Vidigal using local transport and then stopping for lunch in the community on their way back down. The views are fabulous and it gives you a totally different perspective of the contrasts of this dazzling city. Ask us how to incorporate this into your trip to Rio de Janeiro.