Residents in control: locally owned Favela Tours in Brazil

Residents in control: locally owned Favela Tours in Brazil


Residents in control: locally owned Favela Tours in Brazil

In the first of a series of stories from Brazil about slum tourism, Elisa Spampinato shares her positive experience with Museu de Favela, which she came across whilst doing field research in Rio de Janeiro.

Located on Cantagalo Hill in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, privileged by the beautiful views of Copacabana beach on one side, Ipanema on another, and the fascinating Lagoa on a third, Cantagalo, Pavão e Pavãozinho slum complex is the home of the Museu de Favela (MUF).

Museu de Favela

It means Favela (or Slum) Museum in Portuguese, but this is much more than just a museum about the slum. MUF is a local charity created and managed by a group of residents which offers tourist services and other cultural activities and entertainment events in the community thereby empowering and helping local people.

I had the chance to participate in the first experimental tour the MUF organised in 2009 and, although a lot has changed since then, the enthusiasm that the organisers and local people involved are putting into the project has not.

Favella TourismThe charity represents a local manifestation of the favela tours which were already a well-known phenomenon in Rocinha and other slums in Rio de Janeiro at that time, but which were mainly owned by outsiders and often very disliked by the local communities.

An organised group of residents from Cantagalo decided to become the protagonists of their own development through a self-designed community project, taking control of the many tourism possibilities that the slum both wanted and could organise.

What does MUF offer?

Nowadays, the MUF offers a range of guided tours, but also accommodation, educational workshops and various cultural events in the slum. They also have their own local tour guides and several bilingual translators.

Recently they created a local network of Bed & Breakfasts, where tourists can be hosted in local family houses. This creates another opportunity for tourists to encounter the slum from a different angle, giving space to more direct interaction with the local population and to sharing experiences.

The MUF is a local entrepreneurial project which has the ambition to show that tourism can benefit the community not only culturally – by contributing to the dissolution of some of the dangerous stereotypes about the slums – but also economically – by potentially becoming a driver and a propeller of alternative development projects which are designed and articulated based on local reality, needs and potentialities. This is as opposed to tourism which can feel imposed on them, driven by outside business interests which are often at odds with those of the community.

Favella TourismThe future of MUF

In their words: ‘the MUF wants to become a big national and international tourist route of the city of Rio de Janeiro, with the mission of telling the story of the formation of the slums, the cultural origins of the Samba, the culture of the Northeast migrant, the Brazilian black culture, their visual arts and traditional dance’.

It is an ambitious project, but it is their own project. They are also able to count on the support of a strong network of private and public organizations, including Universities, local charities, local businesses and famous artists. The MUF is constantly building relationships with this network to help to turn their dream into reality, well aware of the risks as well as the opportunities, and very proud of their independence and freedom of action and creation.

About the author

Elisa Spampinato

Elisa studied Anthropology and Sociology in Rome and has completed her studies with a field research in Brazil on local governance and new experiments in direct democracy. Since young she travelled regularly getting involved in International Volunteering projects in Europe, including eco-tourism experiences and cultural interchanges. She worked in Brazil as a consultant and researcher, collaborating with the Federal University, local enterprises and International NGO coordinating and planning activities for social projects with the aim to promote sustainable development for local communities in deprived areas in North Brazil. Her collaboration with the Virtual Institute of Tourism took her around Brazil studying and researching community-based tourism experiences. Her MA in Production Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, combining her background in Anthropology and Sociology with the Social Innovation and Management studies gave her the guidelines for her field work on Slum tourism in Rio de Janeiro which has recently turned into a book (Tourism in Carioca slums and situated development: the possibility of the encounter in six local community initiatives). She is currently involved in researches and active collaborations with different national and international NGO.

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