The real Rio: favela – go or not to go?


The first thing Brazilian people told me when I started my amazing journey around Brazil, was, I quote: “Under no circumstances go anywhere near a favela.” And what do I do on my second day in Rio? Hell, yeah, I’m totally going to a favela!

It’s no joke though, that place can be not just intimidating, but real dangerous and to be honest I was skeptical at first, it certainly wasn’t on my to do list, but everything changed when I met Sally, the super adventurous and fearless American lady, who together with her son are involved in a project helping people living in the favela. She told me so passionately about the project and gained my trust and interest when she mentioned Diogo, who grew up and lives in the favela. Diogo, was going to be our guide around the favela. I decided, yes, I’m gonna go and see how is it.

So yesterday at 5 pm we met, took an Uber and was headed to experience my very unique Brazilian favela visit. Worth to mention the fact that most Uber drivers refuse to drive to the favela because of the crime and danger they may encounter there. So we were driven basically until a certain point in the favela, where Diogo met us and we continued walking around. It was unreal to think that I’m there and can see how people live their life, which is a whole different reality from mine or yours. We walked around a bit, saw the houses built next to each other, saw some people , who were harmless and they minded their own business, greeting Diogo and us as well. I felt safe the whole time, but I’m not writing this to encourage visiting favelas. I think some organized tours might be a good option, but I wasn’t going to take any of those. To me it felt safe because I knew Diogo is part of that community, a respected member, who they know won’t bring people there unless it’s for a good cause.

Fogueteiro favela
Me checking out the favela vistas

And speaking of good causes, I’d like to spread the word about the project Diogo is involved with. He is a 33 years old luta livre instructor, which is a kind of self defense sport, that he and another instructor are teaching to the kids in Fogueteiro and some other favelas around Rio. It started small, just a few kids and now had grown to almost a hundred kids from the ghetto, aka favela. The illegal housing in the hills of Rio is the place of lots of illegalities and bad examples for the kids, so the aim of this project is to show kids a way of possibly breaking out from there, teaching them the meaning of community and discipline, basically giving them the hope of opportunity. I’ve seen those kids and their innocence, there love for life and joy was incredible. I received so many hugs and even some spoke a few words in English and were curious to know a bit about me. It was honestly very touching and so sad to realize that unfortunately some of them may turn out gang members,drug addicts or delicvents just because the place where they belong to turns them into that. On the other hand, I witnessed so much potential and desire to succeed. We watched them having one of these self defense classes and they were so determined to do well. Even the youngest one had lots of energy to compete maybe with a more experienced member.

The kids at the self defense training

Some parents joined us to watch the self defense course and they were super nice, although they spoke no English. From what I heard there are lots of hard working people that have been stuck in the favela and navigate through the tough life that they have been given, every day facing possible danger.

Me chatting with the local kids

To get to know more about the project helping these kids, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/d5eg9f-favela-fighters?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer and if you can donate a bit , please go ahead , every little means a lot for a child growing up less fortunate than you.

As we finished watching the self defense training and the heavy rain calmed down a bit, we continued our way around the favela, still got soaking wet within minutes, seeing a lot up Rio from a different angle.

Me being soaking wet
The streets in the favela transformed into rivers within minutes

At some point, at the site of the Main Street we saw a guy with a massive guy just casually hanging out. Not an everyday vista, but we were safe with Diogo. As we reached a reasonably safe place, we called an Uber and left the favela. I was so emotional and touched and in the same time humbled and grateful, it was a good reminder to don’t take things for granted and enjoy the little things just like the kids enjoyed the rain. They got wet and they didn’t care, they just laughed and run around. This memory of seeing powerful on another level but still combined with joy, happiness and so much potential, will stay with me for a long while. Having had the opportunity to see this side of Rio is really a unique chance that the regular traveler doesn’t get.