Overlooking some of the world's sexiest beaches are fluorescent colored houses staggered along the mountain side in a sprawling favela. A favela is like a township, like a squalor, like a neighborhood, almost similar to a city within a city that houses some of Brazil's poorest people. As in neighborhoods with similar pockets of people, Rocinha is home to a diverse group of Brazilians. Mostly home to black, bi and multi-racial Brazilians, Rocinha has some of the best restaurants and coolest sights in all of Brazil. Rocinha is historically considered a violent place, home to drug lords and occupied by militant gun carrying police officers. Sounds scary right? No. It's not. Rocinha is so chill. The people are kind, talking freely on crowded streets and in coffee shops. The atmosphere is fairly relaxed with children playing in the streets, cars whisking by, and men fixing cars in vacant alleys. You can hear music playing loudly and see old grandmothers hanging out of their windows tending to neighborhood children. The environment is welcoming. The people are pleasant. On the outskirts you can see brown girls waiting on the packed public buses, tall slinky men hovering over knock-off bags, and see Copacabana beach somewhere far in the distance. It is something like a very calm romance novel. You almost feel like you will run into your long lost love at the local market. Good luck :)
Here are some of my favorite things about Rocinha:
1.) Affordable. Rocinha is a welcome change to Rio's more touristy areas. The clothes, the Havaianas, the food, and the hostel rooms are all insanely affordable in Rocinha. The exchange rate when I went to visit in the Spring of 2013 was already pretty heavily in favor of the American dollar. Typically you don't get to see your money go far anywhere unless you go where the locals go. That's Rocinha! We grabbed a lunch meal that included steamed rice, fried plantain, beans, cheese balls, bread, grilled chicken, and loads of veggies at a local restaurant for essentially $5USD. The Havaianas at Urban Outfitter can run you as much as $22 in the USA while the Havaianas in Rocinha were as low as $2USD. How's that for conversion!
2.) The views. If you love urban adventures like me, you will appreciate all the action that goes on in Rocinha everyday. What is unexpected are the inspiring views of the ocean. The beaches are thousands of feet away but with one look over a hillside you can be drawn right back in to the perfect blue waters down below. You will also see the team of high rise luxury buildings that have sprinkled the coastline. Grab a snack from the local store and head to a hillside to catch a breeze and stare out at the coastline.
3.) Totally Unexpected. There is something totally unexpected about visiting an urban community on foot. While I saw armored jeeps full of random, obvious fanny-pack wearing tourists, I chose instead to take the advice of World Wide Nate and go on a tour with DJ Zezinho. Zezinho is a native of Rocinha who spent some time in New York and has made connections around the world through his amazing, on the ground tours. The tour I was on with him was a half a day. He took us all across Rocinha and mad us feel safe. He was very knowledgeable about the community and took us to some of the best rooftops, inside homes, and through some pretty cool alley ways.