Bullet holes, drugs and machine guns: The Favelas of Rio

Rio is a place like no other.

The favelas house some of the most crime ridden streets of the world.

I went inside.


As a tourist you are told not to go in the favelas. This is not like one of those holiday reps telling you the locals will harass you if you go out of the hotel grounds, this is more like-you might actually be killed if you go in there. But when opportunity knocks on your door, you have to open it right?

Rio has an obvious split between the rich and the poor; the rich live by the coast in nice houses, the poor live up in the hills in hand built, unsecure and dangerous houses- these areas are called the favelas. Tourists don’t generally stray from the ‘rich’ area. However being the inquisitive and explorative person that I am I was very interested when I found out a worker in my hostel had ties in the favelas and could take us to see parts of it.

So there was a group of about 10 of us. We were briefed before we went in to be on our guard, not to stray away from the group leader and not to take photos when he said so. At the time I was rather uneducated about the whole favela situation and was beginning to feel rather nervous after all the warnings we were given before we went in.

So we began to climb the incredibly steep streets into the favelas. All of the houses and shops are built on the steep hills. Traditionally each generation would add a new level onto their family house, so as you can imagine some of these buildings didn’t look too stable at all! Everything is made by the people that live there, so many of the houses will not have been built by professional builders or wired by electricians etc.

Favelas of Rio

As we walked through the streets people stared at us. An eerie, almost evil feeling stare. It really felt as if we were intruding. It made me feel uncomfortable.

The walls were graffitied and buildings were falling apart. Some buildings were unfinished and people seemed to be living in them. This place was an absolute contrast of the Rio I had just left, could not be more different.

Exploring the favelas

The views from the favelas are spectacular. You can see the entire city, the coastline and the countryside in the distance. Absolutely stunning.

Views from the favelas

First of all we passed kids playing football. You see this everywhere in Brazil so this was nothing unusual. The kids were happily playing, it comforted me a bit.

Favela football

We reached a large, dark building and went inside. It felt cold inside, abandoned. I felt like bad things had happened here. It didn’t have a good atmosphere.

We were informed that a few years ago the government had begun building a 5 star hotel, however they stopped and it was never finished. This was the shell of that hotel. It looked like it had been used for other things by the local inhabitants, for example one room resembled a school classroom and was decorated with colourful paintings etc on the walls. .

However it didn’t look like it was being used for anything much now.

I was shocked to see bullet holes in the walls of this building! It really brings home the terrible crime that this area must witness. I pictured fights taking place in the room I was standing in and guns being fired. It was a scary concept. I didn’t feel very safe here at all.

From here we wondered through the streets of the favelas some more. We looked at the mish mash of locally built houses and the small shops that were scattered throughout the streets. Above you are hundreds of power cables, some of which had shoes hanging from them! Apparently it is for good luck or something?! I thought it looked like some poor kid had been bullied and had their shoes stolen and hung up where they couldn’t reach!

Shoes in the air?!

I saw men walking around the favela with huge machine guns strapped to their shoulders, and I saw one woman sniffing cocaine off of a wall without a care in the world. This place was another world, it really was.

We were told that even the police wouldn’t enter the favelas, instead, if they were chasing a criminal they would hover overhead in their helicopters and fire shots at the criminals from above. Scary stuff.

After being in the favelas for around an hour or so, I was well and truly ready to leave. It was getting dark by this point and after all that I had seen I was beginning to feel a bit concerned for my safety. Although the guy that we were with knew people in the favelas, there would be nothing he could do if one decided to turn on us. I had been taking photos throughout the tour but was told it was no longer safe to take pictures, which made me even more concerned.

When I reached flat ground again I took a sigh of relief. I was alive. I was fine. What an experience that was!

I learnt a lot from this tour, and was glad to have done it, however it did frighten the living daylights out of me!! It just goes to show that there is sooo much the tourist eye doesn’t normally see….

To the people of the favelas- thanks for having me, but I’m not sure I will be returning any time soon!