Rio’s favelas open doors for fans,offer bed and breakfast

cashing in: slums become viable options for stay as scarce hotel rooms and hostels become increasingly expensive.

Written by New York Times | Rio De Janeiro | Published: December 24, 2013 2:14:05 am

Gun battles still boom through the streets. Drug dealers still ply their trade in the labyrinth of alleyways. Residents of the Rocinha neighbourhood still fume over the brutal tactics of the police,who were recently charged with torturing and killing an impoverished bricklayer.

But with hotel rooms in perilously short supply and even modest hostels in Rio de Janeiro charging as much as $450 for a bed during the World Cup in Brazil next year,the residents of Rocinha and other favelas,or slums,are making the most of the city’s acute shortage of lodging for the event: They are renting out their homes to fans.

Maria Clara dos Santos,49,is preparing to take as many as 10 World Cup visitors into her three-bedroom home in Rocinha (pronounced ho-SEEN-ya),which commands a stunning view of Ipanema’s sun-kissed beaches in the distance. True,Ms. dos Santos notes,untreated sewage reeks on her street and steel bars on her windows are needed to deter break-ins,so she is offering guests a comparative bargain — about $50 a night to stay with her during the tournament.

“We can provide a level of human warmth and authenticity that places down below cannot,” she said,reflecting the growing popularity of favelas for their vibrant musical scenes,cheaper prices and absence of pretension.

Housing tourists in Rio’s slums might well turn out to be one of the smoother aspects of preparing for the World Cup,an event that has been more a source of contention for Brazil than a crowning achievement in its push for global acclaim.

alluring option

Brazilian authorities expect the nation to receive as many as 600,000 foreign tourists around the month of the World Cup,which starts in June and will be held in 12 cities. Here in Rio,which will host the tournament’s final game,hotel operators are clearly salivating at the coming influx.

One reason: The city has only about 55,400 hotel beds for as many as 300,000 expected visitors,leading rates to surge to an average of about $460 a night,roughly double what they regularly cost,according to Brazil’s state tourism agency.

For those who cannot afford to stay in Rio’s more glamorous districts,or who are simply turned off by the city’s already high hotel rates,favela lodgings are emerging as an alluring option.

“I wanted to learn more about the heart of Brazil,rather than the facade,” said Isom Hightower,30,who is now paying around $11 a night for a bunk bed in a Rocinha guesthouse.

After quitting his job to travel in Brazil,Mr. Hightower found the lodging through Favela Experience,a start-up created by Elliot Rosenberg,a 23-year-old fellow Californian,that promises “affordable World Cup accommodations” in the city’s slums. During the tournament,the rate for the bunk bed in the same home may climb to about $50 a night. Such guesthouses are proliferating,helped in part by the state’s sometimes polarising campaign to take control of dozens of Rio’s slums by sending in army troops and police forces,a process commonly called “pacification.”

Big security challenges persist,like the abuses by the police recently revealed in Rocinha,but living standards have increased in some communities with Brazil’s stronger economy over the last decade. Basic services like public health clinics and cable-car systems have been introduced and homicide rates have fallen sharply in some areas. The effort has also opened new parts of the city to tourism.

Bob Nadkarni,a 70-year-old British-born painter who moved here more than three decades ago,helped pioneer the concept of the favela guesthouse with The Maze,his aptly-named labyrinth in Tavares Bastos,a slum near the old presidential palace. Its private rooms during the World Cup go for about $220 a night.

A real estate frenzy has struck this year in another hillside slum,Vidigal,which overlooks the exclusive beach of Leblon. With investors snapping up properties,basic one-bedroom homes there can cost $75,000 or more,reflecting bidding wars as hoteliers seek a favela foothold.


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