Visit to Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America - Rio de janeiro, Brazil

A collection of motorcycle road trips across Brazil (and some other stuff):

Visit to Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America - Rio de janeiro, Brazil

In December 2010, as part of an 8 day motorcycle tour, we (My friend and colleague Maryel and myself) spent a few days in Rio de Janeiro, staying at "Rio Hostel" in Santa Teresa, one of Rio's most charming historic bairros.

We visited a number of places, like Lapa, the place to be when it comes to nightlife, Rio scenarium, Rio's most beautiful nightclub according to some, but it's also a museum...

During our visit to Rio Scenaruim, I asked my guide Isabela from "Trustinrio" if it would be possible to visit Rocinha, which is South America's biggest favela and not one of the pacified ones (yet) ... After the cleansing operation in the Complexo do Alemão in November 2010, people say that many of the 400 drug traffickers that got away, were now hiding inside Rocinha. Her answer was short and clear: "Sure, why not", like it was just another visit to the Sugar loaf mountain :o)


So the next day we met up with her at the Arcos da Lapa and boarded a minivan that took us to the entrance of the favela. Riding a minivan across Rio de Janeiro is an experience in itself.

When we were on the Avenida Atlantica, passing all the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, our driver seemed to have a lot of fun racing against another van that was going in the same direction. The passengers all seemed to be accustomed to this way of transportation, but I was thinking to myself that it was no surprise that there's 35.000 people dying in Brazil every year in traffic accidents... but it was kind of exiting too, I have to admit. :o)

Arriving at the entrance of the favela, we got out of the van and Isabela told us that we would need to take one of the moto taxis to get to the highest point of the favela, and so we did... It was the first time for me on the back of a small 125cc motorcycle and the guy, as I expected, wasn't paying a lot of attention to other traffic or traffic rules. Regardless, we got to the top in one piece... well...

Maryel got there about ten minutes later, and he explained that his motoboy had to go home to use the bathroom. So they made a detour and he had to wait outside while the guy was going to do his business. Maryel said that at the guy's house, he saw 5 guys with machine guns, but they didn't bother him...

Once Maryel had arrived, we bought some water and started going back down. On the top of Rocinha, you have a great view of the "zona sul" of Rio de Janeiro: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar, Guanabara bay... the works.


Isabela told us to be careful and not take pictures of certain places... on our way down we saw a few guys sitting on the side of the road with assault rifles in their laps... when we passed them they actually said a friendly "Boa tarde", but I guess in another situation they would just as easily take our stuff, or worse...

Regardless of the fact that there are agencies offering favela tours here in Rio de Janeiro, there is still a real danger for anyone venturing alone into these places and ending up in a wrong area or not behaving according to local rules... I would advise everybody not to enter a favela alone, but to take a good, local guide.


Going down the narrow streets, it was really interesting to see how the people had constructed their houses on this hillside... sometimes it was hard to see where one house ended and anothe begun. I couldn't help but think about how it would be to live in a place like this.

Over the years, it seems like not only poor people are living here, since you can see a fair number of good quality houses and also doctors and dentists cabinets. In many ways a favela is very much like any other neighborhood, with supermarkets, bakeries, bars and schools, but of course, the majority of people here is still poor and live in very badly constructed houses, sometimes with no electricity or water.

Also the health conditions of people here is way below average. In certain areas, we saw big piles of garbage, which - of course - had a horrible smell and most likely would attract rats and/or other pests... 


At a certain moment, Isabela entered a house and took us to an apartment of a person she knew. This house had a terrace looking out over the west side of the favela, and the owner welcomed us in a very friendly way. We spent some time taking in the awesome views and taking pictures, before thanking our host and walking further down.


There are many stories about the favelas in Rio, and most of them are about the drug traffickers terrorizing the population, and I'm sure that some of them are true, but something you rarely hear in the news, is that the majority of people in favelas are honest, hard working people that only want what other people all over the world want: lead a normal life and raise a family... 

As with many places I visited here in Brazil in the 2.5 years that I have been living here, I had the feeling that I only saw the tip of the iceberg and would need at least a couple of days to really get to know this interesting and exiting place, and I'm certainly going back when I have the chance.



Written and contributed MirantesMT