The ongoing implementation of pacifying police units (UPP) in Rio favelas have made the neighborhoods a safer place for tourists to visit, which makes favela tours more feasible. Favela tours are quite popular in Rio, where companies, often led by locals, show tourists around the favela.
Is this a simple way of facilitating community integration, improving business in the neighborhoods and a necessary approach in order for tourists to fully understand Rio? Or does it treat the residents like animals in a zoo while inanely exposing tourists to unnecessary danger?
Both sides can be contended, but if there’s one thing you should know before doing the tour, it’s this: all of the articles you will read about the favela tours say that the money is going towards helping the community, when in reality, it’s going directly to the traffickers (read more about the problem of drug trafficking here). The one exception to this is the favela tours of favelas that have UPP (pacifying police officers) in them, since there are no longer any traffickers in these neighborhoods.
But favela tours without UPP do not actually improve business, as all of the money goes to the “owner” of the favela, which is the head drug trafficker. The favela tour is essentially an agreement between the drug trafficker and the tour guide; one carioca friend informed me that if someone in the favela so much as hurts one of the tourists, the “owner” and his gang will kill that person in a heartbeat. Since drug leaders reap all of the benefits from such tourist action, they are also likely to force the residents to speak highly of the favela tours, in order to increase traffic and make more money. The residents truly are like “hostages.”
So if you decide to go on a favela tour, make sure it’s one with UPP, so at the very least, you know your money is actually going to a good cause. Just remember: favelas, even those with UPP, are never immune to random invasions and sudden violent attacks.
If you are still unsure about the favela tour, this video might help you make up your mind on the matter: