This article will consider literary representations of the poorest parts of Rio de Janeiro and the ways they are romanticised or demonised according to the writer’s agenda and the target audience. The growth in favela tours and hostels seems to indicate a voyeuristic interest in the poverty and danger represented in the images of Brazil that reach outside the country. Certainly, the number and variety of descriptions of favelas range from the poetic to the horrified, but all of them testify to the fascination these settlements exercise on the outsider. Travel writing, as well as investigative journalistic accounts (both fictional and factual), will be analysed, and references made to literature and film. Of particular interest are the ways in which poverty is ‘performed’ for the reader/spectator of literary texts, as well as the performance undertaken by the traveller/researcher/narrator in travel and scientific literature about the favelas.