One of the biggest questions people have about visiting Rio de Janeiro and Brazil in general is safety. When I told people I was visiting Rio, most of them told me horror stories of violent crimes friends had experienced there and warned me not to go or to be extremely cautious. My anxiety grew when I met a woman in Buenos Aires who had been mugged twice in a week in public and witnessed a man have his arm broken when he did not give muggers what they wanted.
I can tell you that yes, Rio de Janeiro is not as safe a city than many other world cities. It has a higher rate of violent crime. However, if you are street smart about your visit, it’s not as dangerous as the media and others would have you believe. You just have to use good judgment and be a bit more cautious in Rio and other big cities in Brazil than in the smaller touristy towns.
Most importantly, if you are a solo traveler, regardless of being a male or female, you need to be extra careful. I traveled in a group of four guys and we never encountered any problems, but when I went off exploring on my own, I always had my eyes open and was aware of who was around me.
The areas you are in may also play a role in your safety:
- You will be safe in Ipanema and Leblon.
- Copacabana can get seedy at night.
- Lapa, the nightlife district, is safe.
- Absolutely steer clear of the city center at night and on weekends. Nobody lives there and it’s completely deserted outside of business hours.
- Do not visit a favela unless you are with a trusted local or on a tour.
Here are a few tips I followed for safety in Rio:
- Use a money belt. I put some cash, a credit card, my ID, and cell phone in the money belt.
- Don’t carry anything in your pockets except for some small change and small bills. Just in case you are mugged, you’ll have something to give the mugger.
- If you are mugged, give them what they want. Usually, they’ll take a few bills and run. They don’t want to stick around.
- Carry your camera in a nondescript bag. I carried a Nikon DSLR all over town in a ratty old backpack. I only took it out when I needed to use it.
- Dress down and blend in, but don’t wear flip-flops when carrying valuables.
- Don’t wear jewelry under any circumstances – watches, earrings, necklaces, bracelets – nothing.
- Don’t keep your cell phone on the table and keep your bags on your lap when sitting outside.
- Don’t take anything to the beach with you except for enough cash to pay for a chair or some snacks.
- Don’t go to the beach at night.
- Trust your instincts when walking around. If a street is totally empty, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear.
- Use a taxi to go long distances, especially at night.
- Don’t take drinks offered to you from anyone.
- Be careful with the women. Some locals told me lots of men take a woman home at night and wake up the next morning to an empty hotel room/apartment.
Other than following these rules, RELAX! Don’t be paranoid and walk around like everyone in Rio is out to mug you. You’ll have an amazing time in a beautiful city full of friendly and outgoing people.