“Tourist shot dead after straying into favela.”
“Violence seeps back into favelas after Olympics.”
It’s headlines like these that leave you somewhat fearful to even be in close vicinity to a favela in Rio de Janeiro or elsewhere in Brazil. I never thought I’d step foot into a favela, but here I was. And I was shocked. A good type of shock.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen with stunning views. But it is also home to an estimated 1000 favelas, making up roughly 24% of the city’s population. But not all favelas live up to the stereotypical dangerous, drug gang communities portrayed to the world. I entered the tourist friendly Vidigal favela which was the entry point to climb the Dois Irmãos mountains to get the best sweeping view of Rio.
To my surprise, the tourist information office supported entering the favela stating it’s relaxed for a favela and is controlled by Police, despite all the warnings to stay clear of favelas by other authorities. But after reading reviews about Vidigal online and the fact the tourist information said it was okay, I knew everything would be alright.
Vidigal was not what I was expecting, lined with restaurants, tourist accommodation, bars and even EDM parties. Rising up, the mountain was overcrowded with poor housing, an indication of a favela. On the ground though, you wouldn’t even realise you were walking into a favela. Vidigal borders a beautiful beach while the entrance has a social atmosphere similar to a bohemian neighbourhood.
Near the entrance was a parked Police car with a motortaxi station, taking tourists and locals up the windy hills. I jumped on the back of one for one of the craziest motorbike rides I’ve ever been on, whipping around corners and narrow strips. Eventually making it safely to the top, the driver was kind enough to instruct where to start the climb – something I was not expecting.
It was a typical sunny day, weather over 30 degrees Celsius as we made our way through the uphill climb. Not the best idea to climb a mountain in such hot weather! There were a few other tourists too doing the climb. Along the route were absolutely stunning views of the enormity of the favelas with a breathtaking view of Rio from the top. It was nice to just sit there and take it all in.
Rather than taking a motortaxi back to the entrance, we decided to walk back down and explore Vidigal. The locals were honestly some of the nicest people I have ever met! It was the genuine, nice type of people too who go out of their way to make you feel welcomed. They greeted us with big smiles and made small conversation even though they didn’t have very good English and we didn’t have very good Portuguese. I bought an acai bowl (my weakness in Brazil) from the loveliest elderly lady and it was so cheap. Everyone was welcoming of tourists and happily going about their day – if you are respectful, there’s no need to feel unsafe.
I’m so glad I went to Vidigal. It has changed my preconceived view of favelas. Although majority aren’t safe, it was nice to experience a different type of favela to what they are mainly portrayed as and leave with an open view.