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Which Favelas are Safe to Visit in Rio?

July 18, 2015

In recent years, favela tours have risen in popularity. As favelas become less off-limits for visitors — and as we looked at offering a favela tour for our guests — we had to wonder, which favelas are safe to visit? What sets them apart?

The Turnaround

Until 2008, you wouldn’t have set foot inside a favela. In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, authorities wanted to clean up the city.

It was the beginning of a turnaround for Rio. Gangs were evicted and police set up permanent bases inside favelas to monitor and prevent crime. It was called Rio’s pacification project.

Make no mistake: this pacification project — implemented in 19 of Rio’s approximately 600 favelas — has been controversial. (Some have called it a “military occupation“.) However, in the end, a number of favelas have rendered more safe and suitable for tourists.

The Visitor-Friendly Favelas

We’ll talk about the top 5 visitor-friendly favelas: Complexo do Alemão, Rocinha, Santa Marta, Tavares Bastos, Vidigal.

Complexo do Alemão

Panoramic view of the Complexo do Alemão
Panoramic view of the Complexo do Alemão. The image shows the gondola lift lines between the stations (from left to right) Palmeiras – Itararé – Alemão – Baiana – Adeus. Bondinho do Complexo do Alemão Panorama by Mariordo.

Area: 2.96 km²
Population: 69,143 (2010)
Translation: Complex of the German

Transport is the shining feature of Complexo do Alemão, a 70,000+ strong community of 13 individual favelas in Rio’s North Zone. A cable car system operates 152 gondolas across six stations. A ride from the first station (Bonsucesso) to the last (Palmeiras) takes 16 minutes. This transit system is a boon for residents, who are entitled to two free tickets per day.

Complexo do Alemão Safety: 3/5. Being outside the zona sul (the south or “main” zone), many Cariocas perceive Complexo do Alemão as an unpleasant trip. But with the heavy police presence and breathtaking gondola views, we believe Complexo do Alemão is a safe and worthwhile destination.

Rocinha

Rocinha favela
Rocinha favela by Chensiyuan

Area: 1.43 km²
Population: 69,356 (2010)
Translation: Little Farm

Rocinha is the most populous favela in Brazil, located in the south zone next to Vidigal, another favela on this list. It’s a city within a city. Rocinha is located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea.

Rocinha safety: 3/5. Rocinha is one of the most developed favelas, with a comparatively secure infrastructure that includes banks, medicine stores, bus lines and local TV channel.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta favela
Santa Marta favela by David Cardoso

Area: 54,692 m²
Population: 8,000
Translation: Saint Martha

One of the steepest neighborhoods in the city. Santa Marta was the location of the well-known Haas&Hahn favela painting project.

Santa Marta safety: 4/5. Santa Marta was the location of Rio’s first PPU in 2008. Supposedly, this favela has been free of drug trafficking since 2008.

Tavares Bastos

Tavares Bastos favela
Tavares Bastos favela by Britto

Translation: Named after its main access road, Rua Tavares Bastos

Since 2011, it has housed the training center for the Pacifying Police Units (PPU) in Rio. Tavares Bastos was a setting in The Incredible Hulk (2008), as well as a number of Brazilian films. Tavares Bastos is best known for The Maze, an iconic jazz bar run by Bob Nadkarni, former BBC war correspondent nicknamed O Grande Bobé by locals.

Tavares Bastos safety: 5/5. It is sometimes referred to as the safest favela in Rio.

Vidigal

Vidigal favela
Vidigal favela by Chensiyuan

Don’t miss the hour-long trail to the top of the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountain. Vidigal has embraced gentrification and now hosts a healthy dose of tourist-friendly guesthouses, bars and restaurants.

Vidigal safety: 5/5. It’s Rio’s most foreigner-friendly favela, sometimes compared to Rio’s bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood.


For more information about favelas in Rio, see our post Favela Insight or explore our Rocinha tour.

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