Rio de Janeiro is one of my favorite cities in the world. So far, I’ve visited the city five times. As Brazil is one of the few countries still open to US travelers, I might be making another trip down there later this year.
The city’s slums are called favelas. They contain a stunning mixture of hard working people, cops, and criminal drug gangs. The article below provides a great description of what’s going on in these vibrant neighborhoods. If you like Brazilian culture, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Four Decades of Terror: Rio de Janeiro’s Never-Ending ‘Drug War’
“As informal, self-built communities, favelas exist outside the regulated city. Services like water and electricity are typically pirated from the main grid and not paid for. The persistent failure of Brazil to incorporate favelas into official society keeps them vulnerable and condemned to exploitation by criminals, police, and politicians, in many cases these working together. Although the 20th-century drug boom worsened the situation, by entrenching violence and the interests of crime and corruption, it is far from a modern phenomenon.”
I did formal favela tours on two of my trips to Rio.
The favelas are Rio de Janeiro’s low rent slums. You would be astounded at how few amenities were present in such a rich city. The favelas don’t have running water. Most electricity is “stolen” by running a wire out to a traffic signal on the “street” in front of the residents’ shacks. Most Brazilian favelas are completely controlled by drug gangs.
Some have been “pacified” by police intervention. Over the years I have spent time in both types. While “pacification” is a controversial topic among Brazilians, it was clear to me that the pacified favelas were very different than those run by the drug gangs.
On my most recent trip, I visited two pacified favelas, Vila Canoas and Rochina. They were quite safe and doing brisk (drug free) business. Unlike when I visited favelas controlled by drug gangs, there was no need to watch out for warring drug dealers or snipers on the roof. It was actually safe to take photographs in the pacified favelas. It was quite different from when I toured the same favelas when they were run by drug gangs in 2007.
If you make it to Brazil, I’d highly recommend taking a guided tour of some favelas. Don’t go there on your own. If you are especially adventurous, you can try going to a night time “Baile Funk” dance party. It is a unique cultural experience.