Rio de Janeiro Safety Tips


Rio de Janeiro is a fabulous city – from sandy beaches to blue waters, from tasty food to exciting nightlife, everything wants to make you feel happy and enjoy life without any worries. But we won’t try to praise Rio here. This article is all about Rio de Janeiro safety.

As tourists coming to Rio for the 1st time, people want to know quite a lot of things on how to have a safe vacation/travel experience. Is the location I am staying in a safe place ? How should I behave ? Can I take busses/metro at night ? Are there any locations that should be avoided ? How to protect myself (and my family) of scams and robbery while in Rio ? These are questions that some of you might have already asked yourself.

The fact that you have these worries is good as long as you are smart and know what to do, without letting this type of problems to cloud your mind and ruin your vacation/business trip.

Now, without losing anymore time, here are the top 12 Rio de Janeiro safety tips (follow them and we are pretty sure you won’t have any safety problems while in Rio):

1. Locations & Time

As in other big cities all around the world, the same rule regarding location applies in this case as well: walk around only in the most protected/safe areas of the city, areas like: Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Leme. In general, stay away of the favelas, as most of the attacks happen in and around those places (even on the locals).
However, some of the tourists want to visit them and find out how live goes on here. You can do this if you really want to, but go only with a travel agency / recognized tour operator – never by yourself or with an unknown guide.
Rio de Janeiro Favelas
Good to know is that most of the favelas in Copacabana, Leme, Leblon and Ipanema are now pacified, so much more safe.

You can walk on Copacabana beach at night, but do avoid walking by the water on any of the beaches. This applies to Ipanema, Leme, Leblon and Arpoador also.

You should also avoid the downtown areas after dark, especially Saara, as police focuses less on these areas (and more on the tourist areas like Copacabana or Ipanema). During the day, this location is a relatively safe one, but during the night people who work here go home. If you go to a public show (like a theater), that’s ok, as long as you stay with the crowds – but avoid going through the dark streets all by yourself.

If something strange happens in a location around you, don’t stare or try to get involved, just be calm and walk away.

Tips & Tricks: StartBrazil offers studios, apartments & penthouses to rent ONLY in the safest zones, like Copacabana, Ipanema or Leme, and 95% of them have 24/7 security guards.

2. Jewelry & Wealth Products

Avoid wearing jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, watches, rings or earrings. Anything shiny can attract attention in an unpleasant way. In some cases, thieves run past their targets and tear off the jewelry they can – in this case, earrings are the 1st thing to be avoided, as tearing them off in a rush can physically harm the victim.

Don’t display wealth products like cell phones, MP3 players, iPODs, laptops or cameras in public places, unless that’s not avoidable. If you really need to use such things while outside in the streets/on the beach, make sure to put them in a safe place afterwards, something like your backpack, a zippered pocket or a small pouch attached to your belt and covered by your shirt. Do not leave them in a visible spot once used (on your bar table, on your beach sheet). They might not be expensive for you, but they might be in the eyes of a Brazilian street punk!

Tips & Tricks: If you have expensive equipment that you really must take with you and use, consider doing an insurance for it before coming to Rio.

Tisp & Tricks 2: Usually we, at StartBrazil, offer our clients a local cheap mobile phone to cover their needs. This way your expensive iPhone (or any other expensive phone) can stay safe back in your room.

3. Your Wallet & Money

When walking around in Rio, don’t carry your whole wallet with you. You should keep a photocopy of your ID card (in case you ever need it, like showing it off to a policeman for identification purposes – the law in Brazil asks that any citizen must have an ID card on him while walking outside) and maybe just 1 credit card for “emergency” payments.
How to keep your money safe
Take with you only the money you intend to spend in the current day/evening – 250/400 Brazilian Reais should be more than enough for one day, even if you want to eat/drink in expensive places. And make sure your wallet is always in your front pocket, where you can see/sense it better).

If you want to change some money, do it in the airport or at an exchange house. Some people will offer to exchange you money at a better currency exchange rate, but this might turn into a pretty dangerous situation for you.

Tips & Tricks: A trick some people use is to have a “mugger’s wallet” in a visible spot on them at all times. It should contain some fake money (or more real banknotes of small value) and some 1-2 expired credit cards. The theory is that in case of a robbery the mugger will take this wallet while your real one will remain hidden away.

Tips & Tricks 2: When going to the beach, do not hide your money or credit cards in your $300 sneakers, or you will lose both (that’s an old trick which thieves already know).

Tips & Tricks 3: StartBrazil offers a safe in many of our rented apartments, this way you can leave all the money/important papers in it while going out.

4. Dressing & Acting

Dress casual while in Rio, even if going to a high end restaurant. You might like your Armani suit or your Prada dress, but do yourself a favor and wear those back home in your city. Such expensive clothes will only mark you as a possible target. The more you look like a Brazilian local (carioca), the better.

In terms of acting, try to look more like a local (but probably you won’t be able to hide the fact that you are a Gringo – in Brazil, this word defines everyone from North America, Europe or Australia , or at least like a tourist who knows what he/she’s doing.

Don’t walk around with a map in your hands, better research over the internet or ask your local tour operator about the things that you want to know/visit. Try walking with confidence and “showing” that you know what you’re doing.

Tips & Tricks: At StartBrazil we have our own drivers/tour operators who know all and everything about Rio, so they can tell you anything you would like to know. You can also talk with our local manager, he should be able to help you with useful info as well.

5. Going around by foot

Some of Rio’s drivers have a pretty strange behavior – they stop for nothing or, on the contrary, rush around corners without hitting the brakes. Many local drivers don’t even stop at traffic lights during nighttime, especially in low-populated areas, because attacking a stationary car is far less difficult than a moving one. As you will see the distance between the crossroads and the corners is quite large, that’s done in order to keep walking people safe. Use the crossroads when crossing the street, and always look out for cars, regardless the colors of the traffic lights.

Avoid walking long distances at night, especially in empty streets – as a general rule, the emptier the street, the riskier it is. Use a taxi to go to your destination or back to your apartment/hotel room, even if the distance is short.

Tips & Tricks: While walking in the streets, if someone accidentally spills something on you and offers to clean it, do not stop, just say “no, thank you” and continue walking. That’s because he/she probably has a friend waiting nearby, ready to pickpocket you if the right moment appears.

6. Going around by auto

Don’t take regular buses, especially if you are alone or at night – taxis are less expensive than you’d expect. If you really must take a buss (on your own risk), at least avoid the window seats or the back rows. Prepare and keep the exact money you must pay in your hand. By doing this you won’t have to “play” with your wallet, thus decreasing the chances of a robbery.
Rio de Janeiro Autos
If you want to go around the city by car, that’s not a problem, there are plenty of taxi drivers out there. Just make sure to choose someone who knows English. You can also use the so called “radio cars” – higher end taxis that you can call. When arriving to the airport, go to one of the taxicab desks and ask for a ride – it will be more expensive than a regular taxi, but you will be safer. Make sure to ask for a card with their phone number in case you ever need their services again.

Last but not least, you can also rent a car if you prefer to drive, but make sure you do it with closed windows and locked doors, especially in urban areas or during the night.

Tips & Tricks: We at StartBrazil have our own respectable drivers who can pick you up from the airport, get you back, get you around the city etc.

7. People

As a general rule (that applies not only in Rio de Janeiro), never bring people you do not know to your hotel room or apartment – even if they look like honest/trustable persons. Some hotels/agencies won’t allow this anyway. If you want to have a little romantic adventure, there are plenty of small hotels all around Rio where you can rent a cheap room, for as little as 2 hours. This is not an insult or a lack of trust towards the other person, it’s just the way things happen in Rio, and while you’re here you should act like that.

Tips & Tricks: Women do not do topless in Rio de Janeiro, so if you don’t want to stand out and create some discussions, don’t do it either. Also you will get fined by the police.

Tips & Tricks 2: Shoeshining scam – you can be approached by a shoeshiner, who will show you how dirty your shows/sandals are, and invite you to sit on a chair, while he cleans them up for you. Once he finishes his service, you will be asked to pay an absurd sum of money. By this time, you could be surrounded by big fellows, friends of the shoeshiner, who want to oversee and make sure the service is paid. If you happen to be in such an unhappy position, negotiate to a price that your wallet can afford. The best option is to avoid this scam by shouting out loud “NO” as soon as the shoeshiner approaches and continue your walk.

8. Police

As in any part of the world, corruption is a problem in Brazil as well. If you ever need the help of the police, and the officer in charge tries to export you, or demand a small “attention”, and you don’t want to do that, refuse and ask for someone else. As a general rule, never ever try to bribe a policeman in Rio by yourself – due to the laws and the fact that most of them are honest, you might end up in jail, and Brazilian jails are not fun houses !
Rio de Janeiro Police
In case something bad happens (like a theft), and you want to report it, go directly to the tourist police (DEAT), because many of the street officers do not speak other languages. Their office is located in Leblon, on Av. Afrânio de Mello Franco s/n, across the Scala nightclub.

9. Local phone numbers/utilities

Calling Code: 55
City Code: 21
Military Police: 190
Tourist Police: 3399-7170 or 2511-5112
Fire Department: 193
First Aid (Ambulance): 192
Hospital de Ipanema: 3111-2334
Hospital Copa D’Or: 2545-3600

10. Food & Drinks

Be careful where and what you eat. Go in public well-known bars & restaurants, or where you see a lot of customers already. Always avoid receiving “free” food or drinks (or even sweets) from a “friend” (someone whom you’ve met in Rio). Because you will soon find out that he/she is not your friend, and the “free” food/drink will be paid with your money, credit cards, jewelry, electronics and so on.

The stories about the Boa Noite Cinderella (translated as “Good Night Cinderella”) sleeping potion are not stories at all, but true facts. Many tourists have already “tasted” it – resulting in sleeping periods of up to 48 hours. If you are in a group, make sure to watch each other’s food & drinks. If you are alone, especially in a bar/disco, watch your drink carefully – take it with you in case you need to leave the table (when going to WC/bathroom for example). If that’s not possible, it’s better to leave that drink/food and buy a new, fresh one. This way you make sure nothing has “slipped” into it while you were gone.

11. Hire a reliable agency/tour guide

Having someone to help you with local advice and info is one of the best ways to fully enjoy your vacation and avoid any unpleasant things. Ask your guide/agency info on where to eat or drink, what to visit and when, how to travel and arrive in certain points of interest, etc.
StartBrazil Rio de Janeiro Travel Agency
Tips & Tricks: We at StartBrazil offer our clients not only a good accommodation, but a also good info and a complete array of services which include, and are not limited to: pick-up from and to the airport, personal driver, guided tours, etc.

12. I was silly !

Ok, so you were silly and didn’t want to apply the above suggestions, and somehow the bad guy approaches you. In most cases, he won’t be alone, having his friends in a close location ready to help him out. And even if he is alone, he probably will have a knife or even worse, a gun (guns are pretty cheap in Brazil, and can be easily bought in the streets). Don’t be stupid – don’t try to be a hero and show your masculinity because such a thing will get you injured, or even killed. Just hand over everything you have/the bad guy asks for. Your life/health is more important than some money, credit cards, or jewelry.

Tips & Tricks: Some recommend that you keep a bigger bill with you, something like a 50 Reais bill, in case you are ever robbed. Once the robber finds the bill (even with your help, as advised above!), the chances of him leaving you without digging for more are pretty big.

Final Word

As long as, like in any other large city, you exercise caution and common sense while being out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, maintain a low profile and listen to our Rio safety tips, you will have a great business trip/vacation in the lovely Rio de Janeiro.

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