Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

A tour in a favela: To take it or not to take it? That’s the question!

You are not sure about taking a tour in a favela in Rio? Learn about favelas first then.

Rio de Janeiro Favelas in Numbers

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - View of the favela Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - A church in a favela

It is said that there are already over 900 favelas in Rio de Janeiro and they are still growing in number and in size. Dozens of new favelas are born every year and those that are already there keep growing vertically and horizontally. It is difficult to keep people from expanding in favelas because, first of all, there aren’t enough patrols to monitor every favela 7 days a week 24 hours a day. Secondly, many new comers or old-time favela residents build an extra floor or even a small house over a weekend when there are no government employees patrolling the area. Thirdly, a favela is a labyrinth. Depending on the favela and on its size, many locals can even get lost by exploring parts that they haven’t been yet since many streets have no name. A favela (Portugueese word for slum) is a net of alleyways of different sizes and width. These are just a few reasons why favelas keep growing. You can learn others during a favela tour.

Rio de Janeiro Favelas Residents

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - Chatting outside home Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - Playing soccer in a favela

Who lives in a favela? Most people living in Rio favelas are actually hard-working people with some educational background who work easily 40 hours a week.  In a favela you find:

  • People who work legally in a Rio company (can be in your hotel!) on minimum wage (roughly 500 Reais/285 USD/200 Euros) a month!
  • People who are self-employed as plumbers, taxi drivers, electricians, bricklayers and others who earn slightly (or considerably) more than a minimum wage.
  • People who find a way to make money selling cookies, candies, chocolats at Rio de Janeiro traffic lights.
  • People who walk Rio de Janeiro beaches back and forward selling drinks, beach gear and other products.
  • People who have their own small business in the favela itself (bar, grocery store, hair salon, restaurant, Internet café, hardware store and others).
  • People who owns one or more houses in the favela and collect the rent from tenants.
  • Students who study at elementary shools, high schools, universities (including students taking master degrees and above!)
  • People working for nothing or not much at NGO, orphanages and other social-related institutions inside and outside the favela.
  • People involved in drugs, robbery, car-jacking, etc (fortunately they represent a tiny minority of the favelas population).
  • And many others you will come across with during your stay in Rio de Janeiro since roughly 20 % of Rio’s population live in a favela.

Rio de Janeiro Favelas Safety

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - View of Sugar Loaf from a favela Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - walking down the favela1

Much has been heard about safety in Rio.  The truth is that you will find Rio de Janeiro way much safer that what you previously heard. The way the media writes and broadcasts the news gives an impression that Rio is extremely dangerous, which is, actually not.  To understand the basics of safety in Rio please read Rio de Janeiro Safety Tips.

What about Rio de Janeiro favelas? How safe are they?

There are three main occasions when favelas are not safe and they can happen any time:

  1. When Rio de Janeiro Police has a mission and walks in looking for the drug lord and his army. Usually, the Police is received by bullets, not hand-shakes. At this moment, tension rises, shooting scares locals and by-passers and, not unusually, an innocent dies. The media arrives!
  2. When a drug gang from a rival Rio de Janeiro favela walks in also looking for the drug lord and his army in order to eliminate them and take control of profitable drug business in that favela.
  3. When Rio de Janeiro Police walks in to end the shooting between two rival gangs.

Apart from these moments, most favelas are actually safe places. Bear in mind that usually the drug lord forbids robbery, mugging, pick-pocketing, sexual assault and other minors crimes in Rio de Janeiro favelas. Another reason is that some favelas have no drug business, no drug lord and no army. In fact, some favelas are the safest place in Rio any time of the day or the night. Read below the diffence between favelas.

Rio de Janeiro Favelas Profiles

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - TV satellite dishes in a favela Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - Contrasts in a favela

Very Small Favelas with no Drug Traffic

The vast majority of the very small favelas have no drug traffic (or very little).  These favelas have anything between 500 and 3.000 residents.  So, in this case there is no hidden drug chief, no army, no drug or guns warehouse and, therefore, no police walking in to catch them since these ‘badboys’ are hidden in the bigger favelas (it is safer for them). Since most people know each other in these very small favelas they actually become communities of acquanintances and camaradarie (despite of frequent gossip and some jobless people). Robbery is naturally out of question in these favelas turning them into one of the safest places in Rio!

Mid-sized favelas with drug traffic

The majority of the mid-sized favelas do have drug traffic. These favelas have anything between 5.000 and 20.000 thousands inhabitants. These favelas are not safe during conflicts between the favela armed gang and the police and/or an external rival gang.

Big-sized favelas with drug traffic

Most big-sized favelas do have drug traffic. Some of the big favelas have as many as 60.000 inhabitants and more.  With such a size and such a drug sales turnover these favelas are frequently on the news for the worse reason.

Mid- and big-sized favelas with no drug traffic and permanently monitored by the Police

There are a few Rio de Janeiro favelas where the drug lords and their army have been forever eliminated by the police. In these favelas, the police has set its foot permanently with a troop of several policeman. The atmosphere in these favelas is peaceful and its residents are no longer afraid of getting a lost bullet during a conflict.  This Rio de Janeiro State project is to eliminate the drug bosses and their gang from dozens of favelas until Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games in 2016.

These favelas and the very small ones are without a doubt the safest favelas to live in and to visit.

How favelas residents see tourists visiting their comunity?

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - Roof of a house and Rio further down Favelas in Rio de Janeiro - walking down the favela

Brazilians in general, and specially Cariocas (natives of Rio), are extremely friendly with foreigners and favelas residents are as friendly as the other residents of Rio. One of the things that you will not forget after your depature from Rio de Janeiro is how well locals treated you in this city regardless of the area they live in.

Do you want to know more about favelas?
Take a walking tour in one of the safe favelas with Madson, your tour guide in Rio.

For things to see in Rio click on Tours in Rio
Click here to learn How to get around in Rio
Understand the importance of a Rio de Janeiro Private Guide during your stay