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  • Writer's pictureJuan Aponte

I Stayed in a Favela..

Back in 2016 during the Summer Olympic Games, I stayed in the Santa Marta favela in Rio. Hotels and Airbnb listings were charging an insane amount of money because of the Games and I started looking in the favelas. Most of the accommodation listings were hostels and there was one in particular that caught my attention - Favela Scene Hostel in Santa Marta. If you want to experience Rio from a different perspective, I highly recommend you stay at the Favela Scene Hostel. Link here:

What is a favela?

A favela is a slum in Portuguese. There are about 1,000 favelas spread out throughout Rio home to about 1.5 million people. Some favelas are active communities/neighborhoods with health clinics, police force, supermarkets, restaurants, schools.

Santa Marta Favela

Santa Marta is located in the Botafogo neighborhood in Rio. About 8,000 residents reside in the favela and it was the first favela that was pacified where a police force is established in order to reduce crime and remove drug gangs. They’re known as the Police Pacification Unit or UPP.

You’ll know once you end up in Santa Marta - its colorful houses. In 2010, 2 Dutch artists recruited and trained 25 people to help them paint houses at the bottom of the favela. Some famous people who have visited the favela are Queen Elizabeth II, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Vin Diesel, Alicia Keys, Bradley Cooper, and Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo visited the favela while we were staying there, but missed him due to an event we were attending = :(

Michael Jackson

The favela is also famous for its Michael Jackson statue that overlooks the city of Rio. Michael Jackson’s music video “They Don’t Care About Us” was shot in the favela in 1996. State authorities had tried to ban all production over fears the video would damage their image, the area and prospects of Rio de Janeiro. The statue is now a major tourist attraction when tourists tour the favela.

Cable-Car System

After pacification, Rio built a cable-car system for the favela. It has 4 stops that transport people up and down the hill. It did break down several times I was there and had to walk up the hill which took about 10-15 minutes - good workout though!

Daily Life

The favela is very active and vibrant. Kids are playing in the streets, music can be heard throughout the whole favela, basketball court and soccer fields packed, and everyone interacting with one another.

If you want to experience “real” Rio nightlife, there’s a huge music venue called “Quadra do Santa Marta” that plays Brazilian funk and samba. There’s also parties throughout the favela you can check out.


The favela is one of the steepest in the city. Once at the top of the favela, you’ll be able to see Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Praia de Botafogo, and Lagoa. One of the locals pointed out Christ the Redeemer in the corner and said to me “Christo keeps a watchful eye on the favela and protects us”



I felt safe the whole time. At first, it was kind of scary and intimidating arriving in the favela because everyone was staring at us and I overheard someone say “Gringos”. In Brazil, "gringos" are anyone that's not Brazilian. The people in the favela were very welcoming and the owner of the hostel made sure everything was going well for us. Obviously like any other place in the world, use extreme caution and be smart. Don’t flash expensive jewelry and don’t act like a tourist, act like a local. The favela is one of the safer ones in Rio and they even have a tourist office at the bottom of the favela.

When we first arrived. Dillon(Brazil jersey) works for the hostel.
Guy on the right also works at the hostel.

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