In the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro

When you are in Rio de Janeiro, people told you that you shouldn’t go in favelas, it’s impossible, it’s too dangerous! I went there three times in three days so I loved it! Talking with people, discover the “other” Rio, the one that nobody talks about. No it is not difficult to enter in a favela, you only have to choose the right one!

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Before telling you, I would like to explain what a favela. Not the one that we know through the media, unflattering, but rather it is causing.

Initially, a favela is a kind of shantytown on the flanks of the mountains, where the poor have created a house of fortune and live in community. Every inhabitant building his own home with what he could find or recover. It is then in these suburbs “precarious” that the authorities have rejected all excluded from the city. This population was quickly developed, surviving piracy electricity, water, the water drainage system, etc …

The government does not yet know today how many people live there and it is impossible to count the total number of actual inhabitants in Rio for example. In the 60s, the drug trade has become the main favela youth and crime, often associated with this turf war then transformed the favelas in a dangerous place into the 80’s. Police, corrupt, never tried to stop the drug dealers, murderers become true within the favelas. Moreover, the golden rule within the community is to never say anything about what is happening.

Change is only possible if it comes from inside, if the communities living in the favelas themselves decide to end of violence.

The favela of Santa Marta is one of the first in late 2008 to become a pacifist favela. Today, it is possible to go there alone, even for outsiders. Volunteers guides organize tours to explain the history of the favela and show you the key places but you might as well go alone.

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After I went there once with my friend who lives in Rio and after I have seen the smile and welcome of the community, I decided to go back there the next day to take pictures and videos while remaining respectful of people and their homes because they are often open and visible from the outside.

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This is where I met Lucas, 12 yo, in the cable car to the favela, who showed me everything there was to see, like a real little guide, without even asking me something.

Then this favela, we talk about it?

Santa Marta has existed for 70 years and is peaceful since late 2008.

The favela is located on the flank of the hills of Botafogo and must take the cable car to climb on the top. This one, yet community, is free.


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The people are involved each day for young and old to grow and open to the outside. So we find a cultural center with computers, a library and radio. Young people can also train in boxing and capoeira. A band of percussion includes ten youth 7-14 years old who play every day. There is even a village hall where large parties are organized. Cariocas (Rio residents) are welcomed to come.

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There is a church, a hairdresser, a small supermarket and of course a football stade! We are in Brazil, isn’t it?

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On one of the small squares at the top, there is a statue of Michael Jackson who turned his video “They Do not Care About Us” in 1996 in Santa Marta favela. A year after his death, the people wanted to worship him and have created a beautiful mosaic and a bronze statue. The goal also is to attract a bit more tourists and prove that a favela can be quiet and live in peace.

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What impressed me is the breathtaking view that we have on Rio and its white buildings, much like a king who would rule over his kingdom for his castle. Yet this other part of the city, so close, seems really far away, another world!

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Strolling in a favela is like the blind navigate in a maze. There is no straight street, stairs everywhere and so narrow places, we wonder how we can spend. Wooden planks keep everything we don’t know how and some homes are even completely collapsed.

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Fortunately, kids are there to tell you where to go! There are some waste everywhere despite the space dedicated to garbage and electrical son everywhere. Organized jungle!

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Corcovado seen in the distance perched above. Storefronts houses are painted in bright colors, blue, yellow, orange, very joyful.

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There is of course the typical Brazilian garlands floating in the wind. TV satellite dishes adorn the tin roofs and dryer on son stretched between each home.

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How to go to Santa Marta favela?

Either by walking or by bus. In terms of the city it is indicated by the name of the hill Dona Marta Moro (the other name of the favela). It is accessible via Corumba place on the Sao Clemente Street.

Guide or not ?

It’s up to you, everyone is free to feel comfortable in an environment that is not yours. Taking a guide, you participate in the cultural effort of the city, which is good as well. Without a guide, you will lose yourself, and talk a little bit with the locals … in Portuguese, portugnol or with hands!

There is a tourist information booth where yellow guides are installed from Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, often trying to exchange Panini cards with the kids in the community. It is 50 reals per person, less if you come in a group, more if you need a translator, usually already in place in the favela.

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Try it, you will not be disappointed!

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