Where Are The Favelas In Brazil? (10 Biggest Favelas)

As a Brazilian born and bred, every time I’m traveling to the United States at least one time I hear a question about the Favelas in Brazil. But that’s understandable, this kind of urban settlement is present in pretty much every country as “slums”, but Brazilian favelas are something else. But where are they located? If you think it’s only in Rio, you’re wrong.

The main favelas in Brazil are located in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília, the capital of the country. A “Favela” or slum is an informal urban settlement with precarious housing and misery. In Brazil, is estimated that about 6% of the population lives in this kind of settlement.

This kind of informal urban settlement or even called “informal cities” can be seen worldwide, but some local characteristics (and sad stories) make the Brazilian slums a subject of interest (and fear) to a lot of people. But it’s time for you to understand what’s is really like inside a favela, so keep on reading.

Favelas In Brazil: Historical Context

Brazil is a gigantic country and through its history, there’s a historical moment that was crucial for the formation of the urban settlements that these days are known as “favelas”. In the period between 1940 and 1980 the country was seeing three big changes: the industrialization of the economy, the demographic explosion due to the falling of mortality rates, and urbanization of the society, that was leaving rural areas.

At that time the Brazilian population went from 40 to 120 million in only 40 years. That’s a lot. In this historical context where the country was poor and uneducated passing through a demographic explosion and rural exodus, the “Favelas” have born. People who did not have enough income to pay the rent or buy a house in a formal market – registered and licensed – started building themselves the housing they needed.

They built their houses on irregular areas, buying land without registration or occupying inappropriate terrains such as floodplains and steep slopes, mainly on the outskirts of the formal city, in regions lacking the infrastructure and services necessary to characterize a city: streets and sidewalks, electricity, water supply, sewage, and garbage collection, sweeping, policing, public transport, education, health, and leisure equipment.

6% Of The Brazilian Population Lives In Favelas

The Brazilian slums are often seen only as a space of exclusion, crime, violence, and poverty, but this stereotype (usually shown in movies) does not correspond to reality. Favelas are diverse spaces, and each one has a different level of infrastructure and violence, depending on the region. This is exactly the same that happens in cities, which have different characteristics from each other.

As you know now, Favelas surged as a “DIY” effort, people building their own homes in exclusion zones. And even today, the residents of the slums need to seek solutions to old problems, finding creative solutions for things that the government failed to provide. Understanding the favela as a space of violence and criminality is also restricting its characteristics to a single aspect. About 6% of the Brazilian population lives in favelas, and the vast majority of them are great people.

10 Biggest Favelas In Brazil

Another common mistake of my friends (and one that more people can make) is to think that the favelas of Brazil are limited to those that are present in the city of Rio de Janeiro. This is not true. Of the 10 largest favelas in the country, only 2 are in Rio.

10. Heliópolis (São Paulo)

Where Are The Favelas In Brazil? Heliópolis Favela in São Paulo

Heliópolis is a community (another denomination to the favelas used in Brazil) located in the southeast region of the city of São Paulo, the biggest city in Latin America. Between 1971 and 1972, the City of São Paulo removed 153 families from occupied areas of Vila Prudente and Vergueiro, with the intention of building public roads in those regions, and accommodated them in “provisional” accommodation in a new location.

Not surprisingly, the “temporary” accommodations became permanent and more families started to occupy the territory building their own homes. That’s how the favela of Heliópolis have born, a neighborhood of São Paulo that these days is called home by more than 41,118 people.

9. Cidade de Deus (Manaus)

Manaus is the seventh biggest capital in Brazil. The city has more than 2.1 million inhabitants and at least 16% of them live in one of its 50 favelas. In a region known by poverty and slums, there’s one particular place that is the most well-known: the City of God. Although it’s not the favela from the movie (that one is in Rio, and the movie is one of the best made in Brazil), this one is quite important for the population from Manaus.

The “City of God” is the largest favela in the northern region. It dates back to the 90s, when with the invasion of a group of landless migrants in the region. With occupations ignored by the authorities and disorderly multiplication, this community has now 42,476 inhabitants, in need of social and urban actions. There are many problems such as precariousness, lack of basic sanitation and education, and increased violence.

8. Paraisópolis (São Paulo)

The biggest favela of the city of São Paulo, Paraisópolis is home to 42,826 residents. The neighborhood originated with the occupation of a subdivision of land destined for the construction of high-end residences carried out in 1921, in a region known as Fazenda do Morumbi. Due to public neglect and the difficulty of regularizing the land, in 1970 there were already 20,000 inhabitants illegally residing.

At the same time, new noble neighborhoods and their luxurious condominiums were created around the occupied areas, which were often built using the labor of Paraisópolis residents themselves. Located in one of the richest regions of the city of São Paulo, the favela is limited to the luxurious Jardim Vitória Régia, Paço dos Reis and Portal do Morumbi condominiums, the district of Morumbi and the favela of Jardim Colombo.

7. Pirambu (Fortaleza)

Pirambu is the largest favela in the state of Ceará, on the west coast of the city of Fortaleza, and has 42,878 residents according to the data presented in the last IBGE census (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). The occupation of the area began at the end of the 19th century, with groups of immigrants arriving from a region of Brazil known as Sertão, running away from the struggles of arid lands.

Between 1930 and 1940, the government and other agents attempted to remove residents from the area, but they failed. The population kept their homes, but the area is still problematic: there is no regular basic sanitation and garbage collection, a major sanitary problem.

6. Casa Amarela (Recife)

Where Are The Favelas In Brazil?

Casa Amarela is a neighborhood in the city of Recife, located in the North region. It is one of the most populated areas of the city, famous for its popular market, open market, strong trade, and intense daily traffic. It was once the largest electoral college in Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco. According to the most recent IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) data, Casa Amarela has 53,030 inhabitants.

It’s an important neighborhood and very old, dating back to immigrants from the 17th century. The favela began its development with the expulsion of enemies until the first irregular occupations appeared. Unfortunately, there is currently a predominant wave of violence and a lack of regular basic sanitation in the area.

5. Baixadas da Estrada Nova Jurunas (Belém)

Baixadas da Estrada Nova Jurunas is a Brazilian favela located in the city of Belém, the capital of the state of Pará. According to IBGE, there are 53,129 residents in the region, who occupied the spaces in an irregular and gradual manner. The access to the region is tough, through alleys and narrow passages to stilt houses, over a river channel. Everything is very precarious.

In certain houses, there is running water and electricity, but in the absence of a sewer system, the proliferation of diseases is something common. Another problem is of the community is the increased levels of criminal activity. The drug trade uses the strategic position of the belt of shacks where people live to receive and distribute cocaine, crack, and marijuana that arrives and depart on vessels of different types and sizes through thousands of docks beyond the control of the Navy.

4. Coroadinho (São Luís)

The fourth-biggest favela in Brazil and probably the most violent of all, the Coroadinho community in São Luís has 53,945 inhabitants according to the census, and is controlled by armed militias and drug cartels. Coroadinho was born as a result of the urban expansion of the city of São Luis and most of its territory was occupied by families who, coming from the interior of the state, had no place to settle.

Due to the lack of planning and fast population growth, the region has several structural problems and a terrible educational system. The index of people who manage to climb economically in the neighborhood is very small and this index is composed of people who have commerce as a professional activity. The police find it difficult to enter the narrow and uneven roads of the region. There are no supermarkets, and food is supplied mostly through the unhygienic open market.

3. Rio das Pedras (Rio de Janeiro)

Where Are The Favelas In Brazil?

Rio das Pedras community is the second-largest favela in Rio de Janeiro with an incredible population of 54,793 inhabitants according to the report published by the last IBGE census. The community is located in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro, and it officially forms part of and borders with the Itanhangá and Jacarepaguá neighborhoods. It’s one of the communities with the largest number of Northeastern migrants.

Rio das Pedras was the site of one of the first militias in the state of Rio, and it remains free from drug trafficking factions. Developing throughout the 1980s, residents had already observed drug dealers taking control of other favelas, so when they built Rio das Pedras they were already aware and cautious about what drug trafficking could do to a community like that. It doesn’t mean there’s no crime, because militias are parallel powers that take advantage of the residents.

2. Sol Nascente (Ceilândia)

Sol Nascente/Pôr do Sol is an administrative region of the Brazilian Federal District. For 20 years it was part of the administrative region of Ceilândia, until its dismemberment in 2019. The region was a rural area until the beginning of the 90s when an irregular division of land began to occur, a situation that intensified in the following decade, that caused the disorderly growth and slum of the place, which for many years lived with minimal infrastructure conditions.

Only in 2008, the two large sectors that currently make up the region (Sol Nascente and Pôr do Sol) were recognized as housing sectors. The official data from the IBGE census says that there are 56,483 inhabitants in the region, while others say that the population can be up to 78 thousand, what could turn Sol Nascente/Pôr do Sol in the biggest favela in Brazil.

1. Rocinha (Rio de Janeiro)

Where Are The Favelas In Brazil?

Rocinha is located in the South Zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It stands out for being the largest favela in the country, with around 100,000 inhabitants. The region started to be considered a neighborhood and was defined by law in 1993, with alterations in the limits of the neighborhoods of Gávea, Vidigal and São Conrado.

The name comes from a farm, a “roça”, which in the 1920s was taken over by the expansion of the urban area. The Rocinha favela is the most famous in Brazil and is very visited by tourists. But pay attention: never visit the favelas on your own. Despite being made up of a majority of good people, there are dangers. Always use the service of a guide known in the region who has contact and authorization to enter the community.

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What’s up! I’m André, a Brazilian born and bred living in the South of Brazil in a little city called Guarapuava. I’m passionate about traveling and knowing different cultures and that’s why I love to share useful information about the Food, Travel, Facts, and Culture of my beloved country, Brazil.

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