People, Travel

Slum Tourism Spreads in Rio

Favela hostels for tourists first opened in 2009.Favela hostels for tourists first opened in 2009.

Tourists flocking to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games now have the option to stay in favelas, or slums.

Slum tourism, as it was dubbed years ago, may have raised some ethical issues in Brazil but provides a welcome economic boost to poorer neighborhoods.

Dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with “France” and “Brasil,” four French tourists make their way past graffiti-splashed walls in the Babilonia favela overlooking Rio de Janeiro, France24 reported.

The four friends feel totally at home in this favela, where they each pay €20 per night for their stay in a tiny-yet-comfortable hostel catering to tourists.

“It’s a little small for four, but there’s a bunk-bed on each side,” explains one with a grin.

Their brightly lit, freshly painted favela dwelling came as a bit of a surprise for the tourists.

“We were expecting something more rundown, less colorful. This feels joyful,” said another.

When favela hostels for tourists first opened in 2009, shortly after the government launched a pacification program to clean up the country’s high-crime zones, slum tourism came in for some criticism among Brazilians.

But favela hostel owner, Eduardo Figueiredo, says it has been an economic driver in Babilonia.

“If a client from my hostel takes a motorcycle taxi, it generates a profit for the driver who goes and has a burger at the restaurant down the street. In the end, it helps keep the local economy going. It’s a virtuous cycle,” he said.

Hostel owners say they have been able to raise their prices during the Rio Games to the benefit of the community, a sentiment a store owner echoes as tourists stop by and are greeted with high-fives.

“We talk to them, it’s friendly. They don’t ignore us,” said the store owner. “Sometimes we don’t even think of them as tourists anymore. They integrate very well into daily life.”