How To Stay Safe In Rio de Janeiro

how to stay safe in rio tips advice

Staying safe is probably one of the first concerns that pop into the minds of travellers going to Rio de Janeiro. While there are no reasons for alarm, I’m going to give you some tips on you how can you stay safe and enjoy this amazing city. It sure doesn’t hurt to be more aware, right?

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 entirely true!

In fact all the travel stories people told me about Rio being 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.

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>>.

Well, after being back, there’s good and bad news about Rio.

Good Rio vs Bad Rio

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

I think is too much drama about Rio going on. 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.

To be honest, I’ve felt more insecure walking in some places of Istanbul.

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.

Yes, crime do exists. I’m not denying this. You are probably be aware it is a difficult time for Brazil and people are struggling economically. And no matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance that you’ll end up having a bad experience. Anywhere.

But just like many major cities of the world which have crime-related issues like Naples, Italy, or Mexico City, 90% of that can be avoided if you are a smart traveler. Indeed most 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 pickpockets harder. Here’s what you can do to stay safe!

Rio Safety 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!

Take care of your passport

First things first. 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. A passport cover might be handy.

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.

Injoy Hostel, Botafogo
Located in a very local neighborhood, well-connected and in a specific street with its own security guard, I can say I’ve always felt safe. Plus, they’ve got a mega-friendly staff! Book now

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.

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.

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.

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. Now 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?

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. Common sense is key and will keep you safe most of the times.

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.

But overall, 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.

Plus, with the 2016 Olympics and huge refurbishment works that went on throughout all downtown, I believe Rio is now more accessible and safer than ever. I hope you enjoy Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City – as much as I did!

The location of your hotel is key. Make sure you stay in Zona Sul.

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?

Share your thoughts 💬

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  1. I were in Brazil in February, so during the carnival. The places I visited were São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, most likely place was Rio. In my opinion for so far, I really loved it.

    The lucky thing before I went to Brazil, is that I already had many Brazilian friends living in different places in Brazil where I got all the tips from as I were all the way alone.

    Before I went to Brazil, however my parents, sister, family and friends said; Jian please don’t go it’s dangerous, unfortunately the news only shows the bad tragedies about Brazil. If you have never been there, then you can not say anything about it. So this was the way how I ended up to all the people that wanted to stop me; listening to you is also dangerous.

    Luckily nothing happened to me, in São Paulo there were two theft attempts on my new iPhone 11 Pro Max, even small children’s were looking at my phone. One time on Avenida paulista, the guy that passed by with his bicycle the at the same time he felt off his bicycle so I were quite lucky, the other time a 15 year old guy that wanted to grab my phone while requesting Uber I managed to kick him under his ass so he was running away.

    The most enjoyed part of Brazil for me was Rio de Janeiro, honestly I really didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable like I knew everything as I were really prepared. I stayed at Hilton Copacabana which is a really nice place.

    The places are actually varying between dangerous, less dangerous, safe and extremely safe. That’s Brazil

    The tips for all travelers for the time Brazil, I highly recommend to follow my tips:

    1. Don’t show off your valuables
    2. Don’t use your cellphone in public, if you wanna use it just make sure standing near a police officer for example Uber or phone calls
    3. Just carry a small amount of cash, wear credit card end phone on your body under your shirt. So in case of a robbery you won’t lose it all in one time

    As long as you take care of your own belongings you are fine, I would rate Brazil as my favorite plate 10/10

    You can check out my Instagram @jian282

    Thanks for taking your time to read 🙂

  2. I stayed in Rio for three months in 2016 and went back in the beginning of 2018. It’s definitely one of my favorite cities in the world, but I have to say that it’s not safe (in my opinion it got much unsafer in 2018 than a year and a half before).
    When I went there in the fall of 2016 I stayed in a pacified favella in the north of the city and although I had to cross a sketchy area to get there from the centre, the place where I stayed was amazing, people were super friendly.
    They did tell me not to go to certain areas in the neighborhood though and i did hear gunshots in the distance frequently.
    I am a woman with red-ish hair and blue eyes and a lot of freckles, very obvious not Brazilian. I never had any problems in 2016, I kept my money (just what I needed for the day) in an empty cigarette box which I carried in a plastic super market bag and always wore flip flops and very casual clothes. I walked the streets at night and actually never felt unsafe.
    In 2018 however I stayed in Lapa and three of the people staying in my hostel got robbed on three different occasions. One woman was carrying her camera and they took it near santa Teresa and the other two got robbed on the beach. I saw a man in a bloody shirt who just got stabbed on my way back to the hostel one night (he was Brazilian and got robbed). And my friend came to visit me and he was wearing fancy clothing and a ring even though I told him not too :D, he got scammed two times in a week and I saw a kid with a stone in his hand preparing to attack him while my friend was watching his phone.
    Anyway my advice for Rio (and Brazil in general) is to try to show that there is nothing to rob (with a see through plastic bag), listen to the locals, try to look like you know your way around (don’t stay looking at your phone on the streets for directions for example)…
    I don’t think it is for everyone, Rio is not a stress free holiday, but it is wonderful in so many other ways

  3. Going to brazil might be good as long as you look like the locals. If you have the extreme tourist look with blond hair and white skin and no portuguese skills, like me, it might be a bit stressful trip. And is it really holiday if you always have to look around and can not go where you want. I stay in a homestay directly at copacabana. I went out with 19:00-21:00 and at 8:00pm on the middle of copacabana in the crowed a man come to me and hold a knife on me and said he has a gun as well. I gave him all my stuff. I do not recommend going alone outside anywhere. I joined a group of foreign people who bring me home. On the way back many times people talk to us or come to us, I guess with the same thing in mind as the guy who just robed me with the knife. We had to stop talking in english everytime when we pass by some strange looking people. The group told me they have a blond friend living in brazil, who get robbed always.I guess people can have a good time here. My dark hair and sun tained friend loves brazil. But me i am totally feeling unsafe. If i am in fortaleza or rio de janeiro, people always stare at me on the streets, even if i am with other people. But especially if i walk alone, also always at daytime. I feel like every second corner there are criminal people spotting the tourist in me and getting bad ideas. I can not move free and can not enjoy the city. It is my opinion but only from a short stay of 2-3 weeks. I guess its important to tell the people not only the bad things but also not only the good things,like its safe to go with common sense. Sometimes it is also dependent on your look, how much problems you have. I went to many countries. Even in mexico and guatemala i felt far more safe than in brazil. Thats the opinion of a blondi from europe. I hope you make better experience than me.

  4. Hey!
    I’m from Rio and I loved reading your comments and tips. One week is definitely not enough to get to know all the amazing things we have here.
    If you want a tip, go for the other beaches in barra da tijuca area. Joatinga is one of the most amazing beaches ever, but you can only go down on the sand in the summer because of the tides.
    Praia da barra, reserva and grumari are really beautiful too.

    But unfortunately I think Rio is not as safe as you think. Is the most amazing town, but we do have some major violence issues, a lot of poverty, a really bad police and a lot of gun point robberys. That voice in your back is the voice we hear all the time living here 🙁

    With that said, Rio is stunning and brazilian people are the best 🙂 I think is worth the risk.

    1. Thanks for the tips, would love to have gone to Barra da Tijuca, but ran out of time sadly. Someone in our hostel recommended Praia da Barra too!

      You’ve put in words what I was trying to come across: my intention was never to deny there’s insecurity in the city. I can imagine is 100x worse for who lives in Rio I just think you need to be careful and embrace the beautiful Rio life!

    2. saying that “it’s worth the risk” is really stupid. it’s just as if you were saying that seeing Rio is more worth than a life. It’s not.

  5. People, I’m Brazilian. My advice is: stay away from here, specially from Rio, that now is under federal intervention due to the fact that the city is facing its highest crime rates in its history. The Army is on the streets. Really, things are out of control down there and I’m not being dramatic. Ask any Brazilian.

    Being honest,I understand that since you’re already used to see and live in safe, beautiful, well structured places like Europe and North America, coming to the Third World looks like an exotic adventure into the unknown. But really, you’re just puting your life in danger, nothing more than that. Go to civilized places, really.

    And if you do come down to this mess just for fun, PLEASE DON’T TAKE THE FAVELAS TOURS. With that, you’re just supporting with your money the continuation of such horrible places where people live in very low conditions.

    Think about it.

    1. Love your honesty!
      In your opinion, do you think it’s still a dangerous place to visit now? Compared to back in March.. I’m from Brasil – Minas, I’ve never been to Rio but since I’m going to Brasil at the end of the month for work I was thinking of stopping by Rio for the weekend to check it out 🙂 was even thinking of going a little bar to hear some good pagode lol but reading this I’m kind of nervous now, specially that I’ll be alone ….

    2. Thanks for sharing your insider point of view.
      I still don’t think there’s a reason to AVOID traveling to Rio de Janeiro entirely; it’s definitely not a war zone. Obviously you’ll need to be careful though but it’s the same as traveling to Africa, Central America or some places in Asia.

      About the favela tours: I agree with you, it doesn’t resonate with me. My tour was actually a hiking tour to Morro Dois Irmãos, we had a small taste of the favela life just by walking back down. Even there I felt safer with a guide.

  6. A 15 year old kid just attempted to rob me on the beach in Copacabana pointing a plastic knife at me (one of those knives that break when you try to cut through a piece of chicken in the park during a pic-nick, lol). I was able to run away and duck in a hotel.

    I was very stupid walking alone late at night along the walkway in Copacabana, although my hotel is just a few hundred meters away from there. I should have asked a taxi driver to drop me off right at the entrance. After a very fun night in Lapa I decided that I could take a walk before going to bed just to take some air, I was sadly mistaken.

    I am traveling by myself, I knew before coming about the safety issues and even before reading this article I was told to take all the precautions listed, which I did until tonight.

    If you stay where it’s crowded and well lit without wondering off, avoid trusting or accepting things from sketchy over friendly characters and are aware of your surroundings it’s most likely that nothing will happened to you, if you let your guard down like I just did tonight, you are very likely to be mugged or worse.
    This is true in most cities in the world, in big cities in south America and other developing countries especially.

    It’s a great pity because most of the people I met so far are lovely and the city is one of the most fun and beautiful I’ve ever visited.

    I am staying 3 more days and I won’t let what happened to me ruin the experience for me. I’ll still go to Copacabana to spend the day (one of the most beautiful and lively beaches I’ve ever seen), I’ll just avoid wondering around by myself at 4am like an idiot.

    Conclusively, avoid making my mistake and you’ll be safe!

    1. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and I’m sorry for your experience. For sure it’s a place you need to take measures and be aware at all times. Walking at night time is NOT recommended.

  7. Hi! Great post! It’s hard to find so detailed and current information about Rio. (I see it’s from a year ago so I guess not much could have change).

    I’m traveling next month to Rio and will be staying in Leme and I have a hard time deciding whether to bring my Nikon DSRL or not. If I take it (with just a prime lens), I would carry it into a small crossbody bag, that I can have in front of my body all the time.

    I really will love to take pictures in Lapa and Santa Teresa (in daylight), do you think it will be safe to take out my dsrl or samsung s7 or should I limit myself to take my old point and shoot camera?

    It is worth clarifying that:
    I consider myself a careful and alert traveler from my surroundings.
    I am from the Dominican Republic and I am familiar with this type of situation and safety issues.


    1. If you carry the camera on your bag, it should be OK! Santa Teresa was full of tourists when I was there. If you want to be extra safe, go with a guide/tour. If there’s more of you, it shouldn’t be a problem 😉

  8. Hi, we just booked a Bed & Breakfast in Santa Teresa, we can’t change the location anymore because it is close to Carnaval and it was the best available for our budget. Reading all these stories about Santa Teresa at night gets me worried. Does anyone have experience staying in Stanta Teresa at Carnaval?

    1. To be honest, during my visit I found to be Santa Teresa to be a bit too rough and with few people around. But maybe in Carnaval things get lively and there will be loads of people in the street!

      I suggest you reading some reviews of your hotel about safety and see what people say. In any case, during the day there’s no problem, at night time I’d be cautious.

  9. 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


    1. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I had to remove your link as well, as I don’t accept it on comments.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    2. I totally disagree with your Colombia thoughts. I’ve lived here for 2.5 years and have ventured out at night on numerous occasions alone and with zero risk/concern. Colombia is a LOT safer then Rio at this time. I am specifically referring to Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Marta. Even Cali is fairly safe at night.

  12. 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!