I travelled to Brazil in 2016 and was in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, which was incredible although we did have a couple of unnerving experiences. I haven’t written much about Brazil or Rio yet, so I asked Yvonne from Now in Rio to share her thoughts on a question that is often asked about Brazil’s buzzing city – Is Rio safe for tourists?
Is Rio safe? Favelas. Drugs. Violence. Guns. This is the most common image of Rio that the media chooses to portray. It is an image that garners clicks, gains readers and skyrockets page views, but it’s not Rio’s only reality. Rio is colour, music, beaches, beauty, culture.
Rio is magic.
Rio de Janeiro has a population of around 7.5 million residents. It is a city where some of the richest neighbourhoods are found right beside the poorest neighbourhoods and favelas. It is a city of extremes. And those extremes are often manipulated by the media, painting Rio as a lawless city, something akin to a horror movie. It has terrified tourists. Many have changed their plans, while others repeatedly ask: Is Rio Safe for Tourists? My answer is always Yes and No.
Rio’s political and social situation is indeed precarious. It is a city riddled with problems and issues, but as a tourist who comes and stays in the marvellous city for a couple of days or even months, these issues will likely not affect you. However, the way you spend your money and interact with the locals might affect the city in a positive or negative way.
This is not to say that your stay in Rio will be stress-free, but let us help ease your mind with a couple of safety tips for your trip to Rio:
Safety Tips for Rio de Janeiro
Avoid Flashy Clothes & Jewellery
This tip is short and sweet. Leave all of your expensive items at home. Period. Don’t make yourself an unnecessary target. Even a simple gold necklace can draw unwanted attention, so choose your accessories carefully, or don’t wear any jewellery at all. Your mobile phone can also make you a target, and although almost everyone has a mobile phone these days, consider leaving your top-of-the-range iPhone at home – or be cautious when and where you use it.
Bring a Backup Credit Card
Card skimming is common in Rio de Janeiro. However, we don’t recommend that you come to the city with large amounts of cash. Instead, make sure to bring a backup credit card (or two) just in case your usual card gets compromised. Most establishments in Rio de Janeiro will accept a credit card, so always make sure to bring just enough cash to cover your expenses for the day and a card. Never walk around with a large sum of money in your wallet. Always leave your passport and any important documents locked up safely in your accommodation. Keep a photocopy of your passport with you.
Some travellers also carry a backup wallet with an expired credit card and a few small notes in, so if you are robbed, you can give up that wallet quickly without worrying about your real cards and cash.
Is Rio Safe for Tourists? – Avoid the Beach at Night
A midnight stroll or a late-night dip in the ocean might seem like a great idea, but once the sun goes down, tourists are warned to avoid going to the beach for two simple reasons: it’s dark and in some areas it is secluded. As a result of this, it’s much easier for someone to rob you quickly and efficiently without anyone being the wiser. Feel free to chill out on the beach during the day (following the tips below), but once the sun goes down it’s best to head elsewhere.
Beach Security During the Day
In the summer months the beaches of Leblon, Copacabana and Ipanema are packed with tourists and thieves take advantage of the chaos. First, if walking along the sidewalk, never walk with your phone in your hand. Snatch and grabs are common. If you must take a picture, make sure to take a quick scan around you before pulling out your phone. Take a picture then immediately put your phone away. Second, if you plan on spending the afternoon lying on the sand, just bring the essentials. Never bring your passport or important documents and limit the amount of cash you have with you.
Always keep an eye on your bag and watch out for common distraction techniques where one robber will draw your attention and then another will take off with your stuff. If you are travelling solo in Brazil, something like this waterproof pouch might come in handy if you want to swim without worrying about your stuff!
Is Rio Safe for Tourists? – Be Careful in Lapa
If you are a tourist in Rio, you will probably end up in Lapa. It is a great place to enjoy amazing samba music and cheap caipirinhas. But it is also the worst place to get robbed. First things first, try to take direct transport to Lapa. Don’t try to walk there, especially by yourself or at night, and you should take care during the day too. Remember, there is safety in numbers. Don’t wander around by yourself and when you are ready to head home for the night, call a taxi or UBER and make sure it stops IN FRONT of your club and only come out of the establishment once the cab/UBER has arrived, especially if it is at the end of the night.
If someone is drunk, don’t leave them alone in Lapa even if they say their cab is coming. Wait with them. Drunk people are easy targets and are often robbed if left alone. If you don’t need it, don’t bring it. And if you absolutely need it, avoid putting anything in your back pockets and opt for a travel safety bag with locking zippers.
Don’t Hike to Christ the Redeemer
One of the most common hikes in Rio de Janeiro is the one from Parque do Laje to Christ the Redeemer, the stunning statue which overlooks the city. The trail goes through the Tijuca Forest, which the largest urban forest in the world. However, as there are multiple entrance points, robbers have been known to hide out in more secluded areas of the trail and attack unsuspecting tourists. Our advice is to take another route, such as the bus or the tram up to Christ the Redeemer and skip the trail altogether, it is just not worth the risk.
Check out these tours of Rio de Janeiro with GetYourGuide:
Getting Around Rio Safely
Public transport in Rio is generally safe during the day, although pickpockets can be a problem so keep a close watch on your stuff. At night, registered taxis or Uber are the best ways to get around although traffic can be a nightmare at busy times! If you are stuck in a traffic jam, keep your bag or purse by your feet or close your window to prevent anyone reaching into the cab to grab it.
Safety at Rio Carnival
I went to Rio during Carnival and had a blast. Inside the Sambadrome is safe, but still keep an eye on your belongings. Outside and at Bloco street parties however, the crowds of people did get a bit much at times. My best advice is to do the same as you always would in a new city – don’t get super drunk and get lost alone, keep your valuables at home or locked away, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you are travelling solo, make friends with other people at your hostel or accommodation and suggest going out together. There really is safety in numbers, and going to a huge party by yourself is nowhere near as much fun as going alone! Get dressed up and join in the fun but try to be aware of where you are and what you’re doing at all times. The good news is of course that most people are there to have a good time, so enjoy yourself!
Scams in Rio to Avoid
As we mentioned earlier, card skimming is common, so bring a spare credit card or two with you. Make a not of the credit card numbers and your bank telephone number so you can call your bank or credit card company asap to cancel the cards. Some banking apps will allow you to cancel or freeze your card instantly which is great – as long as your phone doesn’t get stolen! Having another back-up plan is always best.
Avoid using stand-alone cash machines, head to a bank instead. If anything about the ATM seems unusual, the slot seems loose or anything else then don’t use it. In restaurants, don’t let your card out of sight, they should bring the card machine to your table. Keep an eye on your bank balance for any unusual transactions so you can catch any fraud quickly.
Some people will try anything to get your attention while an accomplice helps themselves to your belongings. These are certainly not exclusive to Rio or Brazil and can happen anywhere, but be on your guard if someone squirts something gross onto your shoes, tries to wrap a bracelet around your wrist or anything else unusual then get out of there pronto. Although we all want to be friendly and meet local people, in those circumstances don’t afraid to be rude and just walk away.
Solo Travel in Rio
I travelled around Brazil solo and didn’t have any problems while I was there, however, solo female travellers, and solo males for that matter should still take the same precautions that you would anywhere. Brazilians are super friendly, fun-loving and sexy people and you are bound to have a good time here, but making friends with fellow travellers in your hostel or accommodation will help you enjoy your time and share the experience with someone else.
Remember, that although tiny bikinis are the norm on the beaches, topless sunbathing isn’t so stick to your Brazilian bikini bottoms and top!
Again, this can happen anywhere, but I read somewhere that Rohypnol is legal in Brazil and can be bought at pharmacies, so be especially careful with your drinks. Don’t let your drink out of sight, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you begin to feel strange, tell someone you trust and get them to help you back home to your hostel/hotel.
Drinking the Water in Rio de Janeiro
Tap water is not drinkable in Rio, so instead of buying bottled water every day, take your own refillable water bottle with a filter. I used a LifeStraw water bottle the whole time I was in South America and didn’t have any problems with it.
So, is Rio de Janeiro safe for tourists?
Yes and No. We can’t promise that nothing will ever happen to you when you travel. But at the same time, we want to put your mind at ease about visiting Rio. Let us put it this way, almost every tourist that we met who had previous concerns and fears about the city left with a deep sense of connection and love for Rio de Janeiro, taking a piece of the city’s magic back with them. There are always risks, but with these tips, you should be able to have a safe and enjoyable time in Rio de Janeiro.
So what’s the hold-up? Rio is waiting for you.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
The areas of Ipanema and Copacabana are popular areas in Rio for tourists. Lapa is great for nightlife (although it can be a bit dodgy at night) and has lots of good value hostels. Leblon is also great for being close to the beach and metro lines for getting around the city.
Hostels in Rio de Janeiro
Hostels are a great option for accommodation in Rio de Janeiro, especially for solo travellers as you can easily meet people to go out with. Partying in Rio is always better with other people! There are plenty of party hostels in Rio, but if you prefer something a little more chilled out there are options for you too. Take a look at the highly-rated Kariok Hostel in Lapa or the Ipanema Beach Hostel for an idea of what’s available. Check all hostels in Rio on Hostelworld here.
Hotels in Rio de Janeiro
Airbnb in Rio de Janeiro
Alternatively, check the options on Airbnb in Rio de Janeiro, like this flat in Copacabana with a gorgeous sea view. If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
Travel Insurance for Brazil
No matter how safe a destination is, you should always arrange travel insurance for your trip which can cover costs for medical emergencies, dental treatment and stolen or lost items. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. Get a quote:
Prepare for your trip to Rio de Janeiro with these top picks from Amazon:
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Have you been to Rio de Janeiro? Is Rio safe in your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.
About the Author
This guest post was written by Yvonne Ivanescu of Now in Rio. Now in Rio is a travel and culture website that provides comprehensive information about Rio de Janeiro for both tourists and anyone interested in travel and/or Brazil. It seeks to change perspectives, shatter stereotypes and introduce you to the real Rio de Janeiro – its vibrant communities, delicious local cuisine, thriving underground culture and unbelievable scenery. To follow their adventures, visit their website, Facebook page or their Visit Brazil Facebook group.
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Tales of a Backpacker is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: January 11, 2020