A fake slum for luxury tourists

It’s estimated that one in eight people worldwide live in so-called slums, which, in some cities, makes visiting these informally maintained neighborhoods unavoidable.

Although controversial, the practice of “slum tourism” has become a popular way for tourists to engage with poverty on a personal level.

But why go visit an actual slum when you can simply stay at a luxury resort that looks like a slum?

For the right price, discerning travelers can experience firsthand how the poorest of the poor live – without having to sacrifice first-world conveniences like WiFi, heated floors, and jacuzzi tubs.

The Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa near Bloemfontein, South Africa offers Shanty Town, a dozen shacks made from scrap wood and corrugated metal that it thinks is the perfect setting for your next corporate retreat or wedding anniversary.

The resort has gone to great lengths to recreate the joys of slum living without the nuisances of crime, disease, or poor sanitation.

“Now you can experience staying in a Shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor and wireless internet access,” it boasts heating.

“For those of you worried that the presence of heating and wi-fi might not make for an authentic slum experience, don’t worry! Shanty Town has made it more realistic for you by installing a famous ‘long-drop’ outside toilet and encouraging guests to heat water in outdoor fires. By burning toxic, life expectancy-lowering trash, I hope!”

The rooms will set you back about US$82 (NZ$100) a night, which some have noted is a half month’s salary for the average South African.

Reviews on Trip Advisor have been mixed. While one guest praised it as a “real experience,” and even enjoyed a barbecue under the stars at their shack, another cautioned that slums do not offer good value: “Do not even consider staying in the Shanty Town. For the price you can stay in a luxury bed and breakfast establishment. An average caravan park with chalets will have the same experience.”


Vacation like a border crosser, in Mexico. In Southern Mexico, an eco-park owned by Hnahnu Indians offers tourists a chance to live out the drama and tension of an illegal border crossing.

Called “Night Walk,” the strange excursion lasts about four hours and takes groups on an imaginary journey through the desert and across the Rio Grande.

A boxes or so Hnahnus act out different roles: fellow migrants in search of work, as well as police on the lookout for border crossers.

The park has many other attractions, too – including hot springs, kayaking and camp grounds – but the Night Walk seems to be the biggest draw.

In Indonesia, an authentic, bare-bones (and sometimes flooded) getaway. Travelers looking for a more realistic third-world experience may find it at “Banana Republic,” a plantation village just minutes outside of Jakarta.

Ten dollars per night will get you a room, a mattress, and a fan within this interconnected complex of shanty homes. Bring your own flashlight if you expect to use the outdoor toilet at night, as well as your own toiletries for the communal shower.

If that’s not authentic enough for you, the Airbnb posting notes that “In December, the floods arrive. Heavy rain causes the river surrounding the village to overflow… The rusty roofs leak and leave the homes damp.”

According to the ad, your $10 will go towards unclogging the river and repairing damaged roofs – but not before you get the chance to enjoy both.

Tour Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela with some of its very own residents. A Brazilian company called Exotic Tours was the first to offer sightseeing tours of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest slum, Rocinha.

In recent years, it began hiring local favela residents to work as guides, an effort that created a more authentic experience for travelers, and provided some income for members of the community.

The company claims that some of the proceeds benefit a local school, so tourists can rest assured that they’re doing their part to help Rio’s urban poor. Be warned, though: Increasing tourism has helped to transform Rocinha from a sprawling shantytown into a semi-developed urban slum, so it’s perhaps less gritty than the average poverty tourist might prefer.

In Sweden, book a spot below an overpass like a homeless person. Gothenburg, Sweden, has more than 3,000 homeless people. Now, one company, Faktum Hotels, has mapped out 10 of their favorite places to sleep, and is renting them out to intrepid travelers who want to experience Sweden from the perspective of its most destitute.

Book a corner at the abandoned paper mill, curl up under a bridge, or camp out in a public park (conveniently situated near several trendy cafes).

Admittedly, the enterprise is a tad tongue-in-cheek. Hotel proceeds go towards programs that benefit Gothenburg’s homeless population. Patrons aren’t even expected to sleep in the spots they book – but it’s probably fair to assume that at least a few bold souls have given it a try.

Walk a mile in a homeless person’s shoes, in Amsterdam. If you want a more textured experience of homelessness than a single night under a bridge can accomplish, you might trek on over to Amsterdam, where an entertainment company is offering city tours guided by an actual homeless person.

As advertised on its website, Mokum Events “has found a homeless person in Amsterdam who experienced it all.” For a fee, you can take a walk with this man, beg for food together, and hear all about the ups and downs of living on the street.

And lest you question the ethics of this pastime, the company reassures tourists that “your homeless person is not unhappy!”

He’ll even show you where he sleeps and “point to the rubbish bins of restaurants, where at times a royal meal can be made from hearty scraps.”

Enjoy San Francisco’s grittiest neighborhood alongside its homeless. Most visitors to San Francisco try to avoid the Tenderloin, a downtown neighborhood once notorious for its high crime rate but now better known for its population of vagrants.

One man, Milton Aparicio, is trying to change that, by offering tours that highlight the Tenderloin’s unique culture of homeless.

“We’ll go to a couple of shelters, day centers for children, soup kitchens,” he advertises, offering “a guided experience of what it’s like to be homeless from a friendly homeless person.”

Like most other examples of slum tourism, it promises an eye-opening experience that will certainly lead to personal growth and enlightenment.

– Gizmodo.com.au and The Washington Post

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