Essential Tips for Staying Safe in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Aerial view of Maracana Stadium
Aerial view of Maracana Stadium

In the sports world, all eyes are on Rio de Janeiro right now. Not only did Brazil host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the 2016 Olympic Games are set to land in this iconic city. No other South American city enjoys the fame and reputation of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest metropolis. Equally famous, however, is its crime rate, which has led many travellers to drop Rio off their bucket list.

That’s a great shame, because most of Rio de Janeiro’s visitors enjoy the city without incident. In fact, the city’s violent crime rate has plummeted in the last decade. A few extra precautions however will keep you within the happy majority.

Rio 3Leave All Valuables You Don’t Need at Home
Rio is not Miami. There is nobody you need to impress here. We’re not saying you can’t or shouldn’t dress nicely, but flashy jewelry of any kind (including watches) will only get you the wrong kind of attention. Leave it at home.

Learn Some Portuguese
Brazilian police are generally helpful and reliable, but few speak a second language. The tourist police (DEAT) can help if you run into trouble, but a few phrases in Portuguese will help keep you out of it in the first place, and go a long way towards endearing you to the locals.

Carry Only What You Need
A photocopy of your passport, emergency contact details (including your hotel), a small public phone card, and minimal cash is usually enough to get you through a day in Rio. Carry a credit card if you’re planning on shopping or dining out.

Copacabana Beach Rio LATIN brazil_190406465
Copacabana Beach

Skip That Night Stroll Along the Beach
Stretched out under the Brazilian sun, there is no resisting the beauty and appeal of Copacabana. This is one “tourist” beach that more than lives up to its lofty reputation. It’s also to be avoided after dark as muggings are common. If you do find yourself here during the night hours, stick to the well-lit areas surrounding the kiosks and eateries.

Get Cabs After Dark
Taxis cost roughly half the price of those in most North American cities, and will more than pay you back with peace of mind. Whether you’re just out for dinner or partying the night away, they are by far the quickest and safest way of getting around Rio at night. During the day, the subway is an affordable and safe option, though both public buses and tunnels connecting Copacabana and Ipanema should be avoided.

Blend In (yes, we mean your clothes)
Passing as a local is your best defense against crime in any city, and in multicultural Brazil, any visitor can do it. Confine your beachwear to the beach. That means no shorts, cut-offs, or flip-flops in the street. Jeans or trousers and sensible walking shoes are a safe bet, with your valuables and camera hidden under a loose top.

Beware the Kindness of Strangers
One common Rio scam involves a passerby ‘accidentally’ spilling something on you before offering to clean it up. Just walk away, before their accomplice comes by to relieve you of all you hold near and dear! Also, taking your eyes off your drink or accepting one from an unknown source is a bad idea in any public bar. In Rio however, it’s been known to bring on sudden drowsiness, prompting a generous stranger to kindly help tourists back to their hotel room before helping themselves to any valuables.

Favela - a Brazilian slum on a hillside in Rio
Favela – a Brazilian slum on a hillside in Rio

Know Where You Are and Plan Your Day
Good globetrotting advice for anywhere, really, but in Rio this usually means staying in the Zona Sul, including Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblo, Flamengo, and nearby areas. The northern part of the city is notably rougher and of very little interest to visitors. A Favela tour can be a safe and fascinating part of your Rio adventure, but should only be done with an experienced guide.

With a little preparation and some basic precautions, Rio de Janeiro can be the ultimate globetrotter’s blend of culture, beautiful beaches, incredible cuisine, and memories to last a lifetime.

Suggested Itineraries:
4-Day Rio – Jewel in the Crown
8-Day Clasico Latino (starting in Brazil)
10-Day Best of Brazil

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Christian Baines
Christian Baines

Globetrotting Contributing Editor -
Christian’s first globetrotting adventure saw him get lost exploring the streets of Saigon. Following his nose to Asia’s best coffee, two lifelong addictions were born. A freelance writer and novelist, Christian’s travels have since taken him around his native Australia, Asia, Europe, and much of North America. His favourite trips have been through Japan, Spain, and Brazil, though with a love of off-beat, artsy cities, he’ll seize any opportunity to return to Paris, New York, or Berlin.

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