“Make sure that you don’t go out alone or end up in a favela when you get to Rio. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.” Everybody we spoke to prior to our trip to Rio de Janeiro a few years ago said this exact same thing to us. So during our first few days in Rio we stuck to the safe sights and visited Copacabana and Ipanema beaches (Chris’ suggestion!), the Christ the Redeemer statue and of course the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. Those sights were mightily impressive, but somewhat touristy, so when some guy in a pub told us about an informal tour that could take us to see the real Rio, we were intrigued. It turned out he was offering us to take part in a favela tour in Rio.

rio favela tour housesFavelas are shanty towns, where poverty and violent crime reign. Tourists are strongly encouraged to stay out of these favelas for obvious reasons, but Chris (who genuinely thinks he is bullet proof) thought that if we go with a guide it should be safe. As soon as we got to the favela people started staring at us incredulously. They weren’t hostile stares as such, more like are-these-tourists-on-a-suicide-mission? stares. We started walking around and saw cute children playing in the streets and women hanging up their washing. It was just like a normal neighbourhood.

The favela tour in Rio seemed to be a really pleasant thing to do actually. Then our guide started getting a bit nervous and he asked us if we wanted to see the best view of Rio? Sure we want to, but why is he so nervous about that? “I will take you to a house with a speactacular view, but you must promise to hide your camera, and not under any circumstances take any photos of the owner or his friends.” Sure, no problem! Some people just don’t like their photos being taken (my grumpy husband for example), so we could respect that.

favela tour rio

So we walked into a rather large house and up a staircase to a roof terrace. Our guide wasn’t exaggerating. The view was awesome. We could see over all of Rio. The house looked very different to the surrounding shacks though. It was spacious and really quite luxurious for a favela house. Forgetting the golden rule for a second, I leaned over the banister to take some photos and saw some smiling people waving at me – which was nice but for the fact they were all armed with various kinds of weapons, from AK-47s upwards!!! Right, those must be the owner’s ‘friends’ then our guide was referring to earlier. I waved back nervously and slowly walked back away from the banister. I quickly took a shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue as sneakily as possible, and then decided to stick rigidly to the guide’s advice of not taking any more photosΒ in future.

rio favela tour view of christ de redeemerAnd then came the owner of the house. He was tall, very well built, and laden with gold jewellery, teeth included. He then asked us if we wanted some coke. Oh dear god! Suddenly it hit me why our weirdly informal and slightly secretive tour was so expensive – we’d basically just paid a load of money for safe passage and protection, and had somehow landed up in a drug lord’s house. Personally I am not into drugs but what will he do to me if I refuse his coke? He will probably just kill me on the spot, take all my money and bury my different bodyparts throughout Rio. So I nervously nodded and off he went to a backroom. Why did I decide to go on a favela tour in Rio again? A few heart-pounding moments later, he came back with two cans of beautifully chilled coke. Phew!

For the next what seemed like an eternity Chris and our new gangster ‘friend’ chatted away about football, with Chris making the bold decision to raise the fact Wayne Rooney is known as the White Pele. Luckily (very, very, luckily) it turned out both Chris and our gangster friend both support Man Utd, though I’d like to think if our host declared his love for Luton Town, Chris would have diplomatically followed suit!

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

33 Thoughts on “That time I knocked back coke with a Brazilian druglord – a favela tour in Rio

  1. What an adventure! You guys are definitely made of tougher stuff than I am. I can’t imagine being brave enough to venture into the favelas. At least it all turned out ok.

  2. I kept thinking: “Is she really gonna do some coke?”. Good piece πŸ™‚

  3. @Jessica: LOL, only did it because we were with a guide. I am sure these days the tours are very well organized. We went back in 2008, so we went on one of the first tours of this kind I think.

    @Angela: Thanks! πŸ™‚ He he, don’t know what I would have done if he had really bought some coke.

  4. Good for you for adventuring off the beaten path. Those are the best kind of travel stories, especially when there is a hint of danger in the air. Your pictures look fantastic!
    I also like your Flashback Friday idea. πŸ™‚
    Looking forward to your next post.

  5. Aww, thanks ladies. Glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes going off the beaten path brings the best adventures!

  6. Sounds like a scary adventure. Glad you got out of it okay.

  7. haha I’m not surprised you were nervous if he asked you for Coke – the drinking variety is not the first thing I would come to mind after seeing his ‘friends’. That definitely would have been a ‘heart attack’ moment for sure πŸ˜€

  8. Ahhh, such a lovely story! Did you delete the pics of the “friends with AK-47”?
    Thanks for sharing a “Coke” story. Now I will be sure to accept any “coke”-offers in Latin America πŸ˜‰

  9. @The Guy: So am I. Chris and his stupid conviction that he is bullet proof. πŸ™‚

  10. @Toni: Heart attack doesn’t even come close. πŸ™‚

  11. @Memographer: Never dared taking pictures of his ‘friends’. They looked far too scary and were definitely not to be messed with. πŸ™‚

  12. Haha – great way to meet the locals! =)

  13. It was – ever so slightly scary, but it gave us a great insight into life in the favels.

  14. I love this story! I never did a fevala tour while I was in Rio – my wife was too much of a scaredy cat.

  15. Thanks Luke! So was I, but I am glad I did it. It provided me with such a great insight into the real life of some people in Rio.

  16. Good for you for adventuring off the beaten path. Those are the best kind of travel stories, especially when there is a hint of danger in the air. Your pictures look fantastic!
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  17. @kayseri fizik tedavi ve rehabilitasyon: Yes, the view were fantastic. I think it is nice that the richest people in Rio don’t have as nice views as the people in the favelas!

  18. @IMTTAWEN: Thanks very much. Agreed! πŸ™‚

  19. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing an useful information. Really nice article and images are awesome. I think this is one of the world wonders. After seeing these images i was eager to go for an adventure trip to Rio de Janeiro along with my friends….


  20. Thanks Mercy. You should! πŸ˜‰

  21. Oh the end made me laugh, great post. I’m heading to Sao Paulo this April, it will be interesting I’m sure.

  22. Thanks Ayngelina! Never been to Sao Paulo, but I am sure it will be great.

  23. wow, that would have been a little scary! Brave guys.. very brave!
    Sam @ Travellingking.com recently posted…The Bombay Bicycle Club’s Tyres Went FlatMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 27, 2013 at 2:06 am said:

      Ha ha, if we had known beforehand we probably wouldn’t have gone. But it was definitely a funny experience!

  24. You guys are too funny! We took a favela tour as well. We went to Rocinha. I was surprised by how safe I felt despite the fact that there were teenage boys toting M16s! Going into the favelas was definitely by favorite part about visiting Rio!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted…Omelets & Canons at Forte de CopacabanaMy Profile

  25. Tammyonthemove on June 16, 2013 at 4:38 am said:

    Yeah I found those guns the most scary as well. The rest of the favela tour was great though. Really good insight into local life!

  26. I myself am looking forward to visiting a favela when I visit Rio next month and I have been seriously researching (and I am thinking of volunteering too!) thanks for sharing your story!
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  27. ahahaaa that’s such an awesome story! thanks for the laugh- I was totally expecting cocaine and was like ahhh how are they going to get out of this! Glad it was just a cold drink!
    Hannah recently posted…Verona Gone Wrong: Getting Sick in Italy’s City of LoveMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 30, 2014 at 9:33 am said:

      Ha ha, thanks Hannah. Glad it made you laugh. It was such a surreal experience, I just had to write about it. πŸ˜‰

  28. Hahaha love your story! We actually move into a favela tomorrow :-0 We’ll be staying in Rochina- it’s an apartment through a non-profit and it is supposed to be quite safe, but we’ll see! Which favela did you visit?
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    • Tammyonthemove on July 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm said:

      Oh wow, that sounds exciting! We visited Rochina too, but it was in 2007, so a lot would have changed between then and now. I am looking forward to Reading about your experience!

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