Search

Loading...

Favela Tourism: visiting Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Praça Cantão (Cantao Square), well-known for its colorful houses as part of he Favela Painting Project of Hass and Hahn.  Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
Praça Cantão (Cantao Square), well-known for its colorful houses as part of he Favela Painting Project of Hass and Hahn. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
Pin It

Visiting the Favela or Shantytown of Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

by Nohelia Sanchez

I've been to Rio many times, the first time being in 1999, when I was scared at the very thought of entering a favela. However, several years have passed since then, and seen the pacification of many favelas in Rio. I have to confess that even so I was skeptical about taking a favela tour. I'm originally from Colombia, a country with no fewer social problems than Brazil, and I was lucky enough to be able contribute to different types of social projects from different perspectives there. I think one has to try some things themselves in order to obtain more knowledge of a particular subject, so I decided to visit Favela Santa Marta and try out a guided tour through a pacified slum in Rio.
Santa Marta favela has an impressive view of the Corcovado and Rio's exotic nature. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
Santa Marta favela has an impressive view of the Corcovado 
and Rio's exotic nature.

The first thing I learned is that everything depends on the view of the traveler. I saw a lifestyle that has a lot to do with the way Brazilians are, not because of their infrastructure conditions, but because of their personalities: their friendliness, their relaxed style and their happiness despite all their problems. Cariocas are full of kindness and charisma.

Favela Santa Marta is located on the hills between Botafogo and Laranjeiras, two medium-high class neighboorhoods in the Zona Sul. The favela tour that took us there began with a short trip through Tijuca, Forest, where we had the chance to see wonderful views of Rio. No amount of admiring Rio’s beauty is ever enough.

First impresions of Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
First impressions of Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We started from above, where we had a commanding view over the favela with its little houses, Corcovado and the famous beaches of Copacabana & Ipanema in the Zona Sul. The first thing we noticed were a cable car that had recently been built in order to facilitate transportation within the favela, and a wall with gunshot scar from the time when crime prevailed in the neighborhood. It was in 2008 that the police took control of the favela and placed what is called a Pacified Police Unit there. Still, having such a tangible image of the gunshot scar gave me a sensation of vulnerability mixed with helplessness. I could not fathom what had happened on these streets and knew that it was likely I’d never find out.

I was very curious about how the inhabitants of the favela would receive the tour especially after

reading all the forum posts about favela tours. I
A colorful wall with bullet holes welcomes visitors to the Santa Marta Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
A colorful wall with bullet holes welcomes visitors to the
Santa Marta Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
believe the resident's of the favelas were just as curious about us as we were about them. Especially the kids, who seemed very used to receiving visitors. I felt almost invisible. We were very respectful and tried not to be too intrusive, after all, it was a walking tour like any other, whereby you visit and admire their way of life, their communal areas, and learn about  their customs. Visiting the favela made me admire their strength, and made me realise that those who have so much more appear to do far less with their lives. We visited the community centre and met with some of its leaders. They explained how they work with the community and about the challenges and the accomplishments of those living in this favela. I then realized that no matter how few resources you have, with the right amount of help, effort and positive ambition, you can achieve your goals.

Santa Marta’s narrow streets: many stairs and small windows in the favela. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
Santa Marta’s narrow streets: many stairs and 
small windows in the favela.
After this cultural experience I can say that the most exciting moment for me was seeing the wall Michael Jackson signed when he recorded the video for They Don't Care About Us and the statue which was put up a year after the singer died. To me this was a sign that Michael was seen as a ‘king’ in Rio too.

We continued our favela tour through the narrow streets to reach Praça Cantão (Cantao Square), well-known for its colorful houses as part of the Favela Painting project of Haas & Hahn. These two Dutch artists had the idea of creating public works of art in the favelas in Rio. The project was carried out with the participation of the community’s youth. It is now the centre of the social and commercial activity of the favela. We also had the chance to visit also their samba school Mocidade Unida do Santa Marta, which is located at the base of the favela.

With many thoughts in our heads and newly embraced feelings in our hearts our driver picked us up at the entrance of the favela to return us to our our unreal hotel reality in Rio.
Nohelia Sanchez poses with a statue of Michael Jackson in Santa Marta Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo copyright Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com for www.TravelBoldly.com
Nohelia Sanchez poses with a statue of
Michael Jackson in Santa Marta Favela
 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Happy travels!
Nohelia Sanchez / www.rdj4u.com

Email Subscribe

A map of our BOLD readers