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