When visiting Rio de Janeiro there are plenty of tourist activities to do throughout the city. One activity that is not listed in the guide books as an option is a tour of a Favela! A favela is Brazil's version of the United States slums. If you have ever seen the movie, "City of Gods," then you know what I am talking about when I mention the word favela. Favelas are built upon the hills of Rio De Janeiro, and are home to some of the poorer people in Brazil. Favelas are notorious for being ran by drug lords, and having huge gang wars break out between rival gangs over territory and drug trade. Most of the time the police have a hard time controlling what goes on inside a favela.
Despite the violence in the favelas the residence feel that their is safety inside the city. Some residents in the favela are pushing their children towards education and having them learn as much as they can. Favelas are now starting to have ammenities like electricity, cable, and even Internet connections some places. The favelas are very famous for their samba schools. These schools teach and practice samba year round for the chance to compete and win the Carnival parade that is held every February.
To get a tour of a favela you will need to ask a local tour agency if they know any guides in a favela. Some agency will tell you there are tours and some will tell you there are no tours. When you book a tour, a mini van will come and pick you up at your hostel/apartment. The driver will drop you off at the edge of the favela, and wait until you are met by a local guide. This local guide, along with one other person, will then lead you through the favela. When I was on my tour I was shown the samba school, an elementary school, local shops, play grounds, and restaurants. There are not too many roads in the favela, but a lot of paths that lead in all different directions. This is because the homes where built almost on top of each other with all kinds of different material. When it rains there are problems with landslides which could destroy some peoples houses.
The tour usually lasts about 2 hours give or take. During the tour you are specifically asked not to take any pictures until told so. This is because if you take pictures the drug lords or any other criminals think that you are working for the police! I would respect this request, because it is another world in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro where the drug lords do what they please. There will be specific times when you will be able to take pictures.
I think that you will be surprised if you are able to take a tour of a favela, because the people are so friendly. Even if they do not speak English they still try to make you feel welcome. Don't get me wrong, you will still hear people shouting "Gringo/Gringa" in your direction! This is a great tour that is very educational, and open your eyes on how some people live in Rio de Janeiro!