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Favelas - Rio's poorer neighborhoods

A Bit of History

Named after the flowers that grow on the hills of Rio, the first favela began as a squatter town for homeless soldiers at the end of the 19th century. Later, freed slaves illegally made their homes on these undeveloped government lands. The favelas flourished and expanded in the 1940s as the population in Brazil shifted from a rural-based to an urban-based one. In the 1970s, during the military dictatorship, the government moved favela dwellers into public housing projects.

Rio's Largest Favela

Rocinha is Rio's largest and most developed favela. Between 150,000 and 300,000 people reside in this well-developed community (there are three banks, a nightclub, and many shops and small markets). Brace yourself for a variety of smells, both good and bad: you'll find savory-smelling, grilled churrasquinho (meat skewers) sold in the street, and any number of delicious aromas drifting out of nearby restaurants. On the flip side, residents dump their trash on the side of the road (in designated areas) and in some places, raw sewage flows in open canals.

Exploring

The main thoroughfare, the Estrada da Gávea, begins in São Conrado and ends on the other side of Rocinha, in Gávea. Anyone can take a stroll up this street, and visitors are likely to hear English being spoken. If you're feeling intrepid and want to explore Rocinha on foot without a guide, be aware of the following: In 2012 police wrested control of Rocinha from the drug faction Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) as part of an ongoing citywide pacification project. Though UPPs (Police Pacification Units) have largely kept the peace since then, shoot-outs between police and faction members are not unheard of. Crime against tourists in the favela is rare, but unguided visitors stand a real chance of getting lost in the maze of streets. By far the safest way to visit Rocinha or other favelas is to take an organized tour.

Updated: 2013-09-12

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