I met an English and Irish couple in Rio de Janeiro while we were there for the Olympics, and they told us about the Santa Marta favela and the famous Michael Jackson statue that was there. I immediately wanted to go, and you should too! The Santa Marta favela is a favela/slum that was the first pacified favela in Rio de Janeiro. Nowadays, the favela is known as the safest favela in Rio to tour around, and really is something to experience.
Why you should go to the Santa Marta Favela
There has been some tension about poverty tourism, and at first, I certainly felt a bit awkward walking through the place. However, life in the Santa Marta favela really is something to be seen, and to be a part of. There are some amazing things going on in this place. There is a music school for the children in the favela, community jazz nights, souvenir shops among the houses, and amazing street art.
A taste of life in a favela
Winding your way through the twists and turns of this favela gives you a real-life insight into what life is like in some of the poorest parts of Brasil. The houses are piled on top of each other, perching on the steep hill. The favelas are built on the ‘waste land’, in gullies and hill sides where it is too steep to building bigger and more desirable residential dwellings. However, once you are inside this hillside community, you realize there are benefits of living in this place. The favelas have some of the best views in the city! Panoramic views of the beaches and ocean and the city below, it is stunning!
As I said earlier, the view is something to check out in itself! You have a view of the beaches, ocean, the city, and a view of Christ the Redeemer. The famous photo to get in this place is the Micheal Jackson/Christ Redeemer photo, taken from behind Micheal’s back, looking up to Christ – Lovely!
Michael Jackson fans
Not only is there a statue of Michael Jackson, there are also many paintings or him throughout the Santa Marta Favela. Michael Jackson filmed a part of his ‘They don’t care about us’ video here. This has heavily influenced the street art in this community. There is a small souvenir shop right by the statue, run by a lovely Brasilian lady local to the Santa Marta Favela. She sells post cards, tshirts, bags etc., all about Micheal Jackson and the Santa Marta Favela.
The Colourful Houses
There was a painting project run on this favela, painting the house beautiful and bright colours to improve the area, and to employ locals. Seeing these buildings made me realise that I have seen this favela before. The colourful houses are famous.
If you are interested in different forms of transport, then the lift alone could lure you here. There is a lift-type gondola thing that rides tracks up to the top of the favela. You can stop off at different stops up the hill. You have to be patient though, as there is only one cart, and once it makes its slow accent up the hill, it will take a long time to come back down again. It is free of charge, and was built to allow the favela locals a better means of getting to their houses.
Guide or no guide?
You can definitely visit Santa Marta without a guide, but if you do, you should go in a group. It is safer this way, as it isn’t hard to get lost in this favela. I was happy without a guide, as we could go at our own pace, and it felt less intrusive this way.
If you decide to go with a guide, you should really try to go with a local from the favela. Rio Top Tour was created to enable residents of the favela to take guided tours. There will often be people within the favela ready to take you on a tour, which understandably does not sound very safe, however, the service is there! Otherwise, check out this one: http://favelasantamartatour.blogspot.com/. This guide is a passionate resident of Santa Marta, and he is rated highly on TripAdvisor!
Safety in the Santa Marta Favela
Although this places has been pacified, there is still a feeling of unease about the place. Our Uber driver said to be careful, and to not take photos inside the favela due to the locals disliking it. I thought that was fair enough, I wouldn’t want to be pictured inside my home. You can take photos, but do not take photos of the people living there.
I felt safe throughout the journey through the narrow footpaths, until I was about 3/4 of the way down. We met a teenager seemingly trying to help us find the way out (it gets pretty confusing in there). He told us to come with him one way, but when we looked over at his friend, his friend shook his head warning us not to go with him… If you are going with a local guide, you will be fine! If you are going in a group, without a guide (like we did), you should also be fine. Follow your nose and go with your gut feeling.
I have read other blogs about there being a significant police presence in the Santa Marta favela. This was not the case when we were there, but it still felt safe! You know the drill: don’t flash around your phones, money and cameras, just smile and be friendly and polite!
How to get there
We found it using google maps. It is hard to give directions, as the Rio de Janeiro is so big! There were four of us in a group, so we decided to use a uber as it was cheap and quick! It is possible to bus there, but unfortunately I cannot help you there.
So there you have it! Another amazing experience for your Rio de Janiero backpacking experience. Tell me about your experience! How did you find the Santa Marta Favela? 🙂