Staying safe is probably one of the first concerns that pop into the minds of travellers going to Rio. Myself included. After visiting, I can safely say there are no reasons for alarm, but it sure does not hurt to be a little bit more informed. Here’s how to stay safe in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

The Prejudice about Rio

As Portugal and Brazil have a strong connection, all my life I’ve read about violent crimes and an endless roll of stories of people getting robbed all throughout Brazil and specifically in Rio de Janeiro. Heck, the title of this post already assumes the city is extremely dangerous – which is not true!

On the other hand, all the travel stories people told me about Rio are positive. They always have that little spark in the eyes when describing how vibrant and beautiful the city is. But there were always a but. And that but was always about some concern or episode about safety.

The weeks before my trip made me increasingly worried.

Asking the opinion of all of my friends who had been there opened the door for additional concerns. I had no idea taking the phone out for a photo or simply going to the ATM could be considered dangerous actions. All the conversations followed the same pattern: “It’s a great place and you’re going to love it, but… <<insert concerning comment or story that ruins everything good said before>>.


Setting the right expectations

The good news is: I don’t think Rio is that bad.

In a nutshell, I think there is too much drama about Rio going on. I guess some of my friends tend to be overly dramatic and media tends to sensationalise the crime and violence there. In touristy places like Christ The Redeemer and Sugarloaf, I actually felt perfectly safe. Showing my iPhone, DLSR camera and personal belongings was not a problem at all.

And to be honest, I’ve felt much more insecure walking in some places of Istanbul or in the very center of Brussels for instance.

how to stay safe in rio touristy spots
Places like the Sugarloaf Mountain are perfectly safe. There’s even time for posing for photos.

Now the bad news. Of course, crime exists. I’m not denying this. You are probably be aware it is a difficult time for Brazil and people are struggling economically. And let’s face it, no matter how careful you are, there’s a chance that you’ll end up having a bad experience.

But like many major cities of the world which have crime issues one way or another, 90% of that can be avoided if you are a smart traveler. Indeed most of street crime in Rio is a crime of convenience, that happen when travellers are not careful enough.

So more than any other place, Rio is the place to make the life of robbers and pickpocketers harder. Here’s what you can do.

How To Stay Safe in Rio: Smart Tips

Before starting, a disclaimer: I’m not an expert. The following are simply the combination of advice from friends, locals and my own common sense from travelling to many places, some safer than others.

But I wasn’t robbed in Rio – actually it never happened anywhere – and fortunately I’ve never got to feel truly unsafe, so I want to believe I am doing something right!

Stay in the right areas

Zona Sul (the Southern Zone) of Rio is the safest and with larger police presence. This includes the areas of Copacabana, Ipanema, Botafogo and Flamengo.

Walking around this areas feels safe during the day. At night the story is different. Given the many tourists, the inner streets of Ipanema and Copacabana are known to be specifically targeted by criminals, so avoid walking there.

how to stay safe in rio selaron
Escadaria Selaron in Lapa neighborhood.

Lapa and Santa Teresa have some nightlife going on, but are known for having many pickpockets, so be sure to move around in big groups and avoid the tiny streets. Also avoid the rest of downtown – Centro – at night as it is completely empty.

Places To Stay In Rio de Janeiro

I stayed for one week nights in Injoy Hostel in Botafogo.

Located in a very local neighborhood, well-connected and in a specific street with its own security guard, I’ve can say I’ve always felt safe. Overall the hostel was nothing fancy, but did the job.

Or… find your own place in Rio:

The search box below is configured to show only the best-reviewed places in the safest area of RioZona Sul.



Booking.com

Manage your cash smartly

Distribute your cash amongst your pockets, shoes and even your bra. If you travel with someone else give them part of it to hold. Most of the times, I only brought with me the money I was actually going to use, leaving the majority of it safe in the hotel room.

ATMs can be a problem

Whenever possible, choose the ATMs enclosed in banks and don’t withdraw money alone. Having an extra pair of vigilant eyes may be of great help to dissuade robbers.

Use public transportation wisely

Although I’ve used some buses in Rio during the day, they are not known for being exactly safe at night. Plus, they don’t run as frequently so you might be facing longer times in the bus stops.

From what I’ve heard, the metro (metrô) might be a better option. I’ve used every day with no major problems: it’s clean, runs frequently and the trains are even very spacious inside.

how to stay safe in rio metro
Gotta say I was positively impressed with the metro in Rio.

Don’t show off your stuff

This seems an obvious one, but it’s amazing the amount of people that still ignore it. I saw tourists with huge DLSR cameras hanging on their necks and shiny expensive watches on the wrist.

In most cases, these are objects that are more valuable than a month’s income for muggers. By showing off them, you’re putting a gigantic bloody red target on your back.

A simple yet powerful rule: leave everything that you can’t afford to lose at home.

Take care of your passport

No matter what you bring with you, your passport is the one thing you MUST NOT LOSE. Nobody wants to waste their holidays rotting whilst dealing with the bureaucracy of embassies. Leave the passport at your hotel and bring extra copies in your luggage.

Stay away from empty or dark streets

how to stay safe in rio traps

Mangle as much as possible

The dress code in Rio is as casual as it gets: shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. Don’t overdo it. If you wander around with a fancy shirt, you are just making yourself a target.

I would avoid wearing “I ♡ RIO” t-shirts too. Have you seen any local anywhere wearing these?

Be extra careful on the beach

Unfortunately, swarms of thieves in Rio‘s beaches are a thing. All they need is a second of your distraction to get their hands on your valuables. Sometimes we are speaking about children and teenagers who can outrun you easily. While you’re still wondering what happened, they have already vanished in the nearby streets in broad daylight.

how to stay safe in rio beaches safety
It’s easy to get distracted by all the beauty around.

The first obvious thing you can do is to be as frugal as you possibly can when going to beach. Don’t take anything of value – no flashy jewelry, expensive cameras or fancy watches. The only thing of value I couldn’t leave at home for geeky reasons was my phone and even that could be avoided.

Plus, I had my bag in contact with my body at all times. I had it strapped around my leg, under my head or had it completely covered with my towel. Also, make sure there’s an extra pair of eyes watching your stuff when going into the water – if you’re alone, it’s a common practice to ask someone nearby.

Use the licensed taxis

Taxis are inexpensive and a great way to get around the city. However, look out for the ones with a license sticker in the front window and the company’s name clearly stated on the rear back.

how to stay safe in rio santa teresa
Santa Teresa neighborhood.

Watch out for over-friendly locals

Brazilians are super friendly people, no question about it. They’re talkative, super funny and curious about how’s the life elsewhere. I had nothing but great moments and great things to say about them!

Yet, there are many stories that start with people asking too many questions. This can be a sign of a complex scheme to take you somewhere and get the hands on your stuff. Don’t reveal the hotel you’re staying in right away, specially if it’s an expensive one. Trust your gut in these situations. If it sounds fishy, it’s probably because it is…

how to stay safe in rio sand art
“Welcome to the Marvelous City”.

Book a tour to explore the favelas

While favelas like Rocinha and Vidigal are now “pacified” (whatever that means), it’s always a better idea to visit them on a tour.

I had no problems with the one I did with Marcos from Rio Active Tours, but I realized that – at the very least – it’s so easy for a foreigner to get scammed.

Don’t be a hero!

If you are unlucky and someone mugs you, don’t resist. Just hand over your things and don’t struggle. Put things into perspective. Losing your phone is bad, but having to go to the hospital in an emergency is far worse.

Common sense is key

Have you noticed that most of the above are generic travel safety tips, valid anywhere in the world?

I strongly believe that if you come across confident and mangle with locals without showing off your expensive objects, you have already dramatically decreased your chance of being a victim of crime.

Is Rio de Janeiro safe for tourists?

Short answer is definitely yes, but I’m not going to lie here. You’ll need to be extra careful in Rio. It’s not a war zone or anything like that, but make sure you take extra measures to stay safe around the city. Better safe than sorry is the right mindset, I believe.

Having that said, sometimes I asked myself if I wasn’t being too self-aware with all of this. There is this real struggle between doing everything you can to stay safe vs what you possibly might be missing for being too worried.

That’s why at some point I loosen up a bit. That little voice on the back of my mind telling me to be careful just got too tiring. Rio de Janeiro is a such a vibrant and unique city with a lot to experience, so having safety concerns ruin your trip in any way would be a shame. Plus, I never have lived my life in fear and for sure I am not starting now.

With the 2016 Olympics and huge refurbishment works going on throughout all downtown, I believe Rio will be more accessible and safer than ever. And after all, you can do everything right and still get mugged, right?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BD-5_hQs-E8/?taken-by=bruno_mb

Main takeaways

Bottom line: be careful, but don’t take it to the extreme. Common sense is key and will keep you safe most of the times.

Other than that, there’s absolutely no reason to worry or panic. Don’t let the bad overshadow the good: stereotypes shouldn’t stop you from doing anything in life and certainly shouldn’t stop you from exploring this wonderful city. I hope you enjoy Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City – as much as I did!

how to stay safe in rio tips advice
You’re not seriously considering not to go to Rio, are you?!

Useful Links

This article has covered the basics but there’s some other resources that might help you in preparing your trip to Rio in more detail.

How about you, what do you do to keep you safe?
Have you got your own advice on how to stay safe in Rio?

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9 comments

  1. Hey, i’m the founder of CitySafe here; we reviewed Rio’s danger and crime rating here as well as health hazards (Zika and Yellow fever).

    Here are some of the findings:
    During the day, the Centro area is crowded and safe – though there can be pickpockets, but there is a police presence. It becomes empty and thus dangerous at night, and on sundays when all the shops are closed.
    Lapa is very lively during weekends, but muggings are not unheard of. Stick to the center of the neighborhood and do not take any valuables.
    Santa Teresa is considered dangerous at night, since it is surrounded by 3 favelas. Do not venture there alone, and prefer using taxis rather than walking.
    If you go to the beach, be EXTREMELY careful: there are many thieves who excel at stealing your belongings. Only take the minimum amount of money and personal items, and of course never leave them unattended.

    Here’s the link to the full rating page with the map of the city’s favelas and most dangerous areas http://www.city-safe.com/americas/brazil/rio-de-janeiro/

    Cheers

  2. I heard the same “warnings” when I came here for World Cup 2014. However, I never felt so safe in my life when going to Maracanã Stadium to watch the France vs. Ecuador match. The police had a heavy presence in Rio during the World Cup and will no doubt do the same for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

    You don’t need to be “fearful” when walking around Rio, but you do need to keep your wits about yourself. For every decent neighbhourhood in Rio, there is usually a favela within a few minutes of it. It’s just a fact of life here. Daylight hours are more or less fine — nighttime requires extreme caution.

    1. Completely agree. Night time can be an issue, during the day you just need to be as cautious as in other “developing” countries in the world.

  3. Great advice for Rio and for anywhere. I recently returned from Colombia and had the same concerns. You could almost write the same post for Colombia and just change the names.

    1. Traveling Ted, you could also say the same thing about Peru, too! There are parts of Lima and even Cusco where I really needed to be weary of my surroundings. Probably not to the same extent as Brazil or Colombia, but you still need to be weary anywhere in South America.

  4. Hey Bruno, this is a great post that works for anywhere… Barcelona thieves got me in 2007 (double-teamed me TWICE, first time successful, second time not) and a pickpocket in Havana in 2006 grabbed something sticking out of my bag that I forgot was there (an early-model smartphone given to me by a marketing company to review so not a real loss for me), but other than that I’ve been lucky in 26 years of mostly solo travel.

    I think once you establish a system and stick to it, you shouldn’t worry. Consistency is key: the two instances of thievery were because I didn’t follow my own system and got slack about it.

    A small note: your English is fantastic but I have to correct you on the word “mangle” which I believe you mean to be “mingle”… I was confused at the first instance (“mangle” means “to destroy/damage”) but then I figured it out at the second instance.

    Bom fim de semana!

    1. That’s a GREAT simple advice Gail. Once you step out of a routine or your own travel “system”, you tend to get careless no matter where you are – Rio, Paris or Miami.

      Many thanks for spotting that, corrected to mingle 🙂

      Have a great weekend too!