The colorful, diagonally striped houses of the Santa Marta Favela cascade down the steep hillsides above Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro and house a community of residents living in a challenging socioeconomic environment. Courtesy of Dutch artists Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas’ Favela Painting Foundation, the artwork is meant to draw attention to populations that are traditionally excluded or overlooked, including that in Santa Marta.
The innovative painting of the Santa Marta Favela has drawn global attention, especially after it was featured in the music video for Michael Jackson’s 1996 hit They Don't Care About Us, a moment marked by a bronze Michael Jackson statue erected in the central square. Since then, guests have included singers Madonna and Alicia Keys, as well as Nobel Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus. Travelers to Rio can visit the favela on an educational guided group tour with the help of a guide who leads lead travelers through the maze-like streets while providing insight and context to the district and its contrast to other parts of Rio. Private tours offer personalized experiences and opportunities for cultural exchange.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A guided tour is the safest way to visit Santa Marta.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking on steep, uneven surfaces.
- Ipanema and Leblon beaches are visible from the top of the hill.
- Some tours donate proceeds to Santa Marta nonprofits or employ local guides to give back to the community.
How to Get There
The best way to visit Santa Marta is on a guided tour, many of which include hotel pickup and drop-off. Or, get a moto-taxi to take you to the top of the hill, and walk back down through the neighborhood from there. The site is also accessible by bus.
When to Get There
Rio’s climate is warm and comfortable year-round, although January temperatures can rise to 80°F (27°C).
A Note on the Ethics of Favela Tourism
We are sensitive to the issues and concerns surrounding favelas, and we understand that tours of them may not be suitable for everyone. We strongly believe that these tours are educational and allow for a better understanding of life inside Santa Marta.