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Tourism

Rio's favelas cashing in on New Year festivities

Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro has long been the city's favorite New Year's party venue. But recently, favelas on the surrounding hillsides have been giving upmarket neighborhoods a run for their money.

Rio de Janeirocelebrates New Year with almost as much enthusiasm as it does its famous Carnival. Upwards of a million people, all dressed in white, gather on the beach for a massive party to welcome in the New Year, during which they cast flowers into the sea and enjoy a stunning fireworks display.

Rich Brazilians and tourists follow the spectacle from the rooftop terraces of five-star hotels along the Avenida Atlantica, or from the balconies of luxury apartments. The crowds of people on the beach and the cruise ships anchored just off the bay provide a perfect backdrop.

But for many New Year parties in Rio de Janeiro, you have to pay to get in - and entry isn't cheap. The three-day New Year's package on offer at the Windsor Hotel Atlantica, for example, cost around 2,500 euros ($3,300). If you want to celebrate on nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, be ready to fork out around 300 euros ($395).

For many people, the view of the city and Copacabana beach is clearly worth the expense. But traditional New Year's parties in Rio are facing some competition.

Since the police started to patrol parts of the poorer quarters of Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games, the favelas have started to become a hot New Year's tip. Many favelas are also situated on the steep sides of the mountain, providing the kind of views not even a 30-story hotel can offer.

Party organizers have gotten wise to this: Even in the favelas they're now asking up to 500 euros ($660) entry.

View over the beaches in Rio de Janeiro at night

Rio de Janeiro's famous nightlife will provide the backdrop for New Year celebrations

Best view of the mountains

Rodrigo Braz Viera lives in Pavão-Pavãozinho. His favela is right next to Copacabana, on the side of one of the mountains closest to the sea.

This year, the 31-year-old tourist guide is organizing his third New Year's Eve favela party. "Parties like these in the favela get people coming up here who used to have prejudices about us, or were even afraid. It helps them to see the favelas as part of the city, just like all the other districts," he said. This, he explained, was what motivated him to start organizing the parties.

However, the majority of his guests are foreigners: tourists looking for an unusual New Year's experience. "They want something a bit more than just the usual: a relaxed, informal atmosphere and contact with the locals," Viera said.

"They want to see how the people up here - the majority of Brazilians - party. And of course they're fascinated by the view of the city and the fireworks."

Favela security

New Year's parties in the favelas came into fashion when the Rio police started to implement a plan targeting the drug gangs that used to control these neighborhoods. "Security is the main reason for the change," said Viera.

"When the drug gangs were still in control here, it wasn't easy for anyone just to walk around the favelas unless they actually lived here. Now anyone can come," he said. Pavão-Pavãozinho was one of the first neighborhoods to be "pacified."

Favela parties are also popular with German tourists. One visitor wrote in Viera's virtual guest book after last year's party: "New Year 2011 was one of those experiences in my life that I will never forget! It was something new, unknown: a little adventure for gringos in a favela."

Friendliness and joie de vivre

For Viera, this is precisely the reason why people - foreigners in particular - like to party in the poorer neighborhoods. "For one thing, they find that people here are friendlier, they have more joie de vivre. And on the other hand, people still see visiting a favela as something brave and daring."

Revellers from the Renascer de Jacarepagua samba school parade in the annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a legendary party

Another thing this means is that the cheap street parties are now a thing of the past. It costs around 100 euros ($132) to come to Rodrigo's Favela party, where a DJ provides the music and you can sip your drinks on a terrace beneath the starry sky.

In many cases, visitors have to dig even deeper into their wallets. Dona Azelina, who also lives in Pavão-Pavãozinho, charges more than 400 euros ($527) for her New Year's party - but not everyone has to pay the full amount. The local "cariocas" - people who were born and raised in Rio de Janeiro - get in at half-price.

Azelina has room for 60 guests: 30 locals, and 30 from elsewhere. "To encourage integration," she says.

But there's still one place in Rio de Janeiro where you can party for free: Copacabana Beach, where the revelers will be flocking once again this year, to welcome in 2013.

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