“Poorism” shows visitors the real deal

Millions of tourists each year flock to Rio de Janeiro for sun, sea, sand… and now slums. They have turned their backs on five star luxuries and instead visit some of the poorest places in the world.

Brazilian slums – known as favelas – are now at the top of the list of any tour’s must-see sights. This poverty tourism – or “poorism” – is making a profit for the locals.

Carlos, a slum vendor, has one the best views in Rio and for a couple of dollars you can clamber onto his roof for a look, some refreshments, and trademark Brazilian flip-flops.

“The number one rule is not to come without the guide of a local,” Carlos says.

Diana and her husband are Russian tourists who decided not to risk it on their own and booked an organized tour of one of Rio’s largest favelas. Partly by Jeep, partly by foot, they get an in-depth look at the local way of life.

The industry of slum tourism has been growing rapidly in recent years. Visitors are opting out of seeing the famous Christ statue and are heading for places completely off the beaten track.

Pascal Strant, the guide for Diana and her husband, explains the origins of this tendency:

“They come just to see the reality of it, because the favelas generally speaking have a very bad reputation, and when they come they realize that it is not that bad.”

The daily visits are also lifting the spirits of the locals.

“It benefits them because it gives them pride,” Pascal notes.

“They see people come here and that it’s not that bad. The people of the community like to see tourists coming over here.”

The irony is stark: the poor have the best view from up top and the rich live down below. Rio has been this way for decades.

Diana, the Russian “poorist”, sees the practice as a key part to immersing oneself in a culture:

“It’s so important as a tourist to see how Brazilians really live, their culture. Brazil is a country of contrasts, and you need to see both sides.”