With media reports of drug gangs, death tolls to rival war-torn countries and ruthless, gun-toting children on every corner, it’s easy to see why many first time visitors to Rio have concerns about safety in the city. But while it is important to exercise caution during a holiday in Rio, it’s equally important not to let paranoia ruin your stay in the cidade marivilhosa.
Firstly, while gun violence is a very real issue in Rio, it is important to remember that the vast majority of incidents take place within the city’s notorious favelas (shanty towns) and very rarely affect tourists.
That said, it’s important to have your wits about you when visiting Rio de Janeiro. Like any major city, Rio has its fair share of pickpockets and opportunistic thieves, so try not to make things easy for them!
Given the quite alarming divide between rich and poor in Rio, it’s important not to flaunt your wealth. While branded sneakers and sportswear are fine (cheap Brazilian imitations are so convincing it can be hard to tell the difference!) designer handbags and flashy jewelry will only attract unwanted attention.
During your Rio de Janeiro vacation, leave non-essential items at your hotel, hostel or apartment whenever possible. Never take all your credit cards out at once, keep cameras well hidden, and keep a supply of emergency cash in a money belt or hidden pocket. However, don’t keep all your money in a belt – you’ll look quite ridiculous struggling to reach for it every time you want to buy a drink or get on a bus!).
Female travelers should try to carry valuables in front pockets, never back pockets or in handbags, which can easily be snatched. However, as most thieves will just grab the bag and run, they can make a good decoy if your money, cards, phone etc are not actually inside. I often take out an inexpensive bag with replaceable items such as hairbrush inside, and keep my real valuables safely tucked inside a pocket.
Disposable cameras are a good option if you want to take pictures during nights out. Make sure you back up your digital photos regularly – you don’t want to lose precious memories of Rio de Janeiro attractions if the worst happens! Although most visitors to Rio won’t experience any problems, if somebody does approach you, don’t panic. Just keep calm, and never attempt to resist. Many thieves are armed and even the youngest assailant might have a knife. Hand over whatever they want, and report the crime to the tourist police.
The Metro system in the city is very safe and efficient, and buses largely trouble free, but do keep valuables out of sight, and wear backpacks on your front on crowded buses or Metro carriages. When taking taxis, the safest option is to book in advance with a company recommended by your hotel or hostel, but if you have to flag down a cab (official cabs are yellow, with a blue stripe), ensure that it is registered with a specific company. The name and phone number should be displayed on the side of the car. Also ensure that the driver’s identity card is on display (usually by the rear view mirror).
Be very careful with valuables on the beach at any time of day or night, and avoid beaches and quiet and/or unlit streets at night.
Ok, lecture over – be cautious but don’t be paranoid, and enjoy your time in one of the most spectacular cities in the world!
Crowded Bus photo courtesy of gnevets88/Creative Commons Pickpocket photo courtesy of matiasjajaja/Creative Commons