As I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, I remember being given many safety advice from a very early age. The city has always been notorious for the contrast between the paradisiac vibes and sometimes violent crime waves, so those tips eventually proved to be more than valuable.
To have a safe trip in Rio de Janeiro, you can follow the textbook advice, such as not wearing anything too flashy or staying clear from big crowds. But there is also advice that only a local would give you, like specific places you should stay away from, for example.
We’re going to give you a complete rundown on everything you need to know to stay as safe as possible in Rio de Janeiro, giving you all the info necessary for you to avoid unpleasant situations while in town.
Although safety is an obviously important subject while choosing your vacation spot, try not letting the fear of something bad possibly happening cloud your desire to come down to Rio de Janeiro. The city is indeed not 100% safe (even for locals), but there’s much more to it than that 😉
General Tips on How to Stay Safe in Rio de Janeiro
When I first started writing this article, it hit me that I don’t actually remember when I didn’t have to be somewhat careful around the city. Rio de Janeiro has been through some ups and downs regarding safety through the years, but mostly, local citizens have always had to watch their backs.
I have been robbed 3 times in my life, and while none of them were life-threatening or violent situations, they definitely were scary and could have been avoided if I only knew better.
So, based on my own experience and friend’s reports of situations that they’ve been through around the city, here are some valuable tips on how you can avoid getting robbed and make your trip safer:
Blend in With the Locals and Try to Keep a Low Profile
To draw attention away from you, nothing better than blending in with the locals. Many thieves and robbers are always looking for non-Brazilians to prey on (as there’s a general notion that tourists always carry money with them), and they can read a lot from just the way you look.
Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro locals) are usually pretty laid back and simple in their dress code, so a simple t-shirt, jeans, and some Havaianas should be enough to get you the look.
Just make sure none of the clothing pieces have big brand names or logos that could attract attention to yourself, as the fact that you have a brand piece of clothing on could read as you being flashy and showing off.
In regards to accessories, please keep it as simple as possible. Items like necklaces and chains are easy to pull from your neck, and wristwatches generally catch too much attention, so it’s best to leave those at the hotel room or be used in safer locations.
Be Careful While Using Your Phone
Thieves in Rio de Janeiro are mostly after two things: phones and money. They are easy to steal, as most people have them both handy, so robbers have their eyes set on unsuspecting people handling neither one of them. Cell phones are easily and quickly sold at the favelas in Rio, and you’ll hardly ever get them back.
Cell phones are a great help when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place, but try using them as little as possible if you carry them with you when you’re going out. They are the #1 target for robbers in Rio de Janeiro, so don’t get distracted with yours.
If you’re in a situation like waiting for an uber at a sidewalk, pay attention to speed robbers riding bikes or motorcycles, as that’s a widespread type of criminal approach in Rio.
If you don’t stay alert, someone could pass by on a bike and snatch it out of your hands before you even realizing they are advancing (yes, some of them are that quick). If possible, try only using your phone inside safe places like bars and restaurants; avoid using it out in the streets, especially if you’re a distracted person like myself.
There’s also the option of getting a disposable phone just to use while out in Rio de Janeiro, which is also a great safety measure in case you want to make sure your actual phone stays safe and guarded.
Watch Out For Overly Friendly Locals
Cariocas are usually very warm and friendly if you should engage one with a conversation, but that can sometimes be used against tourists if they don’t stay at least slightly alert.
Always suspect locals who seem a little too eager to help out or act too generous with no reason whatsoever. Some people use their charm and conversation skills to lure you into giving them something or even taking something from you without you even noticing.
Some offenders are master observers, looking for a particular profile to pray on. One of the things that usually catch their eye is if the person seems lost, distracted, or unsure of where they are, so try to act confident, even if you’re not exactly.
If you need directions somewhere, locals won’t hesitate to help out, but stay alert if they seem fishy and try to tag along with you to the place, for example. They could be misleading you to a different location to rob you, so it’s best to get information from establishments like bars, restaurants, or newsstands.
Keep An Eye Out for Petty Theft at the Beach
The last time I was robbed, I was sitting at the Copacabana beach with a friend; I had my bag by my side. I got distracted for a split second, and when I noticed, my bag was gone. I saw two guys running from the beach, I tried chasing after them, but they were too fast and quickly disappeared from my sight.
Although not as common as it used to be, this is, unfortunately, a situation that could happen at the beach, mainly because people usually get a bit distracted while sunbathing and chilling on the sands. But since there’s constant police patrol in the sand, this type of situation rarely happens anymore.
If you decide to stick around at the beach after dark (like I did when I last got robbed), try to stay near other people. Since the number of people in the sands decreases exponentially after the sun sets, it’s a bad idea to stay isolated in one spot, as that could facilitate you getting robbed, for example.
Not only that, but the local police patrol dies down at night, with only a few officers making rounds at the beach’s boardwalk (and not on the sands), representing even more of a chance of something happening.
So my main tip for you is to stay at a more or less busy spot and enjoy the beach while the sun is still up, always keeping an eye open for your belongings and placing them close to you.
There’s a common practice between Carioca beach-goers to ask one another to watch out for their belongings if you’re by yourself and want to take a quick dive at the ocean. As I said earlier, Cariocas are extremely friendly and won’t hesitate to help.
There’s no rule on which person you should ask to watch your stuff, but my advice would be to pick someone near you who seems trustworthy, maybe someone with a family or a couple, for example. Take your time to analyze everyone around you, and don’t be shy to ask!
Stay Alert in Public Transportation
Taking public transportation in Rio de Janeiro could be problematic if you don’t take a few precautions. Whether using the subway or the local buses (there’s also the train lines, but you’ll most likely not be using it), stay alert to your surroundings, and pay attention to your personal belongings.
Is taking a bus in Rio de Janeiro dangerous?
Yes, buses are an especially dangerous way of transportation around the city, mainly because they are easy targets in traffic and lack any security whatsoever. And if you don’t know the routes that the bus will take (or even take the wrong bus), you could be entering or passing through undesirable territory.
Pick-pocketing and petty theft are everyday events depending on where you are or which bus line you’re taking, even for well-experienced locals. A friend of mine had his brand new iPhone taken from this pocket and didn’t even realize it until he got home.
So, don’t fool around and keep your belongings stashed inside your clothing. If you have a backpack on, keep it in the front of your body, and if you’re sitting by the window, don’t get distracted handling with your phone, as someone could try to reach from outside to take it from you.
Is taking the subway in Rio de Janeiro dangerous?
Generally, taking the subway (or Metrô as we call it) in Rio de Janeiro is not dangerous, but some attention is still necessary. Metrô Rio stations always have security guards, who make rounds within the wagons and on the platforms, making it harder for criminals to act and/or escape.
Still, make sure you notice your surroundings and don’t get careless with valuable items in your pockets or places that can be easily reached, as those butterfingers robbers can easily take something away without making a fuss or you even noticing until much later.
I honestly haven’t heard of any theft cases or robberies on Rio de Janeiro’s subways by any of my close acquaintances for a very long time, so you should be just fine if you follow the essential safety tips.
Make Sure Your Uber Driver Knows Where He’s Going
If you don’t want to risk taking public transportation in Rio, no problem-o, the city has tons of Uber drivers available to take you to your destination. But although safer and convenient, some drivers are either new on the job or unfamiliar with the city as a whole, which could potentially get you into trouble.
Many Uber drives work in the streets of Rio de Janeiro but live outside town, knowing little or next to little about the city’s traffic and routes. Since they solely rely on their GPS and those devices don’t really show the risky areas around town, there is a chance of something wrong happening.
I’ve heard from a few people that experienced the Uber GPS device setting a route that went inside or passed very close by to a favela, which is something you want to avoid. Although some favelas are pacified, some are not, and if the driver doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, you could end up inside one by mistake.
So my advice would be to ask the driver if he’s aware of his surroundings and if he’s familiar with the place, he’ll be taking you to. If he’s not, ask him to stop and get directions with another local, which can be a hassle, but it’s better than winding up in a place you don’t want to, right?
Be Careful While Using ATMs
If you should ever need to withdraw some cash at the bank, be mindful of your surroundings and the people around where you are. Some people may seize the opportunity to rob you on your way out, especially if they notice you have a large or considerable sum of money with you.
My advice here would be to always go to the ATM accompanied by someone, asking the person to wait outside and alert while you go in. This may intimidate malicious people who may be after unsuspecting victims, as they tend to focus on people who are alone and hence, more vulnerable.
While at the ATM, after you’re done withdrawing the money you need, try discreetly to put it somewhere less obvious than your pockets or purse. We’ll go over this more thoroughly in the following topic, but try hiding it away in a place they probably won’t be looking for.
Also, it’s never a good idea to withdraw a big lump sum of money (as you could get robbed), but if you have to, I would hide most of the money (like we advised above) in one place and keep some small cash (like BRL 20,00) at hand, in case you are approached.
This will make it less likely that the robber will take away all your money, as most of them act pretty quickly and take whatever’s handy at the time.
Don’t Trust The Hidden Pockets on Your Bag!
Most people (me included) always tend to think that having that hidden-almost-invisible pocket on your bag is a safety measure; after all, if a robber asks me to open my bag to take whatever’s in it, they won’t notice that there’s something concealed, right?
Well, that may be true in some situations, but don’t count on it while you’re in Rio de Janeiro. Speed robbers act FAST, and they usually get nervous if they see you fiddling inside your purse for too long trying to reach for the item they are requesting.
So if they ask for something that’s inside your bag, hand the whole thing over; this way, they’ll refrain from unnecessarily hurting you. Also, regarding the invisible pocket, if they manage to find it (by feeling it with their hands, for example), they might hurt you for trying to deceive them.
Instead, it would be best if you made it invisible on your own body, as they rarely search or feel you up for anything. If, for example, you’re able to hide it inside your pants (around the waistline area, pressed against your trousers) or in your bra if you’re a female, you’ll probably be OK.
Go Easy on the Booze and Watch your Drink
It’s great to let loose and enjoy a day or night out drinking while you’re on vacation, but getting careless with it could also pose as a dangerous situation while in Rio de Janeiro.
Like we mentioned on an earlier topic, some criminals have sharp observation skills. If they notice you’re being negligent with your surroundings, or a little too tipsy to be able to defend yourself, they could get you into an unpleasant situation.
A friend of mine was robbed right after he left a bar in Lapa; he was with a group of people, had a little too much to drink, paid for the tab, and went to catch a cab home by himself.
Right after he walked away from the bar, this other person (who probably noticed that he was intoxicated) approached him and took his phone away and some spare cash he still had on him.
Also, always keep an eye on your glass, especially if you’re a female or if you’re by yourself. You never know if a nutjob will try to put something in there to facilitate a robbery or something of the sort.
Always Have Someone Know Your Location
Still on the subject of traveling alone, if you’re by yourself, a valuable tip not only in Rio de Janeiro but anywhere you’re not familiar with is letting someone you trust aware of your whereabouts.
Even if from outside Brazil, letting a close friend or relative be informed of your schedule for the day (or at least some of the spots you’re planning on going that day) is a good security measure in case something should happen (knock on wood!).
You can also use apps like Whatsapp, Google Maps, or even Facebook to share your location in real-time with others, which is a practical and efficient way of letting them know where you are.
Take Extra Care At Night
Walking at night after certain hours can certainly lead to unpleasant situations if you’re not careful around Rio de Janeiro. If you’re not near any gatherings of people, criminals may use that as a window to prey without any other people noticing.
Not only that, but the lighting in some portions of the city is really poor and insufficient, which creates the ideal scenario for robbers to act without raising too much attention.
But that, under no circumstances, should keep you from enjoying a night out in Rio de Janeiro. To stay safe after hours, here are some easy tips for you:
- Stay close to bars, restaurants, and places with groups of people nearby
- if you’re using your GPS to get to a place, stay alert if it indicates a path through a dark or deserted street. It’s best to find another route that’s more backlighted and busy.
- Don’t carry a lot of money with you and, if possible, leave your debit card at home.
- Before you head out to the place you intend on going, try learning more about its surroundings, like where you can safely take a Uber when you leave or if the place has any security or history of violence nearby.
- If you need to use your phone, walk into a bar or any public place with more people in it.
Hand Over Your Belongings and Don’t Fight Back
In case you do have an encounter with a thief, don’t ever react. Even if you think you can take them on a fight, it’s not worth the risk. Some criminals operate in pairs or groups, so chances are there is another one watching you from afar.
If you’re engaged in a robbery, don’t fight back, don’t try to run, don’t make any sudden moves, and hand over everything they ask. If the offenders think you’re putting up a fight, they may end up hurting you, so even though it’s a stressful situation, try to remain calm.
Some robbers will claim to be armed but won’t show you if they really are while engaging in a robbery. Some of them even use toy guns under their shirts to strike fear, but some carry real guns. My point is, there’s no natural way of telling, nor is it worth finding out. Hand over whatever you have and let it be over with.
Also, try not to make any eye contact with or stare at the robber, as they could perceive this as a way of you identifying them to the police later, so try to be discreet.
DISTRICTS YOU SHOULD STAY ALERT WHILE VISITING RIO DE JANEIRO
Even though you should stay alert everywhere you go in Rio de Janeiro, there are a few places and districts that may require you to be extra careful. These aren’t areas of risk or anything of the sort, but they are definitely points of interest of robbers and offenders.
Copacabana (Ipanema & Leblon)
Even though Copacabana is probably one of Rio’s most famous locations, it is also the stage for many robberies if you’re not careful. Due to the large number of tourists that usually circulate in the district, criminals tend to lurk around just waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Copacabana’s neighbor districts, Leblon and Ipanema, are also targeted by robbers, but since they are much smaller than Copacabana, they tend to have fewer episodes. Nonetheless, stay alert.
Several police officers patrol the streets and the beach, so if you suspect anything or feel uneasy about something, don’t hesitate to look out for one.
Centro & Lapa
Centro and Lapa are two neighbor districts that house a lot of the nightlife in Rio de Janeiro. They are filled with bars, pubs, restaurants, and open-air spaces where people hang out and drink.
But unfortunately, Centro and Lapa are also pretty targeted by robbers, mainly because of two things: the tourists that wander around unwarned of the hazards and the fact that Lapa is pretty busy and tumultuous, which makes it easier for them to run away after snatching something away.
My main advice here would be to stay alert to speed robbers and pickpocketers, especially if you have something valuable in your hands, like money or your phone.
Maracanã is also the name of the district that houses the famous Brazilian soccer stadium, and for that reason, it’s also a place you should visit with a little bit of caution.
The Maracanã stadium receives many visits from tourists, which are sometimes surprised by unfortunate episodes of theft and robbery. Although police officers make rounds, some criminals wander around on bicycles, waiting to make a quick robbery and pedal away fast.
To avoid these unpleasant situations, try arranging your tour to the Maracanã stadium with a tourist guide, which for sure will decrease the chances of something like that happening.
The Rocinha favela is the biggest in the country, and for the past years, have become a touristic spot in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Famous for the view and for the Carioca funk parties that happen every week, the Rocinha favela is also a place you should visit with precaution.
Although the favela has been formally pacified (which means there’s no war between the police and the drug lords), there have been episodes of shooting and deaths at the Rocinha in the last few years, raising a lot of questions in regards to safety while taking a tour there.
If you plan to visit the Rocinha, try searching the local news if there’s any trouble in that area on that day, like shootings. If there are any police raids inside the community, there are high chances of a confrontation between them and the drug lords, so stay alert for that.
Also, don’t try to explore de Rocinha favela by yourself; it’s safer and wiser to hire the services of tourist guides to take you around. Tourist guides are familiar faces inside the favela communities, so you most likely won’t be bothered if you’re joined by one.
Aterro do Flamengo
Flamengo is a county near Copacabana, and although it houses a small beach, it may not be the best place for you to bathe, as the waters there are locally known to be polluted.
But aside from the beach, Flamengo houses a big landfill called Aterro do Flamengo. Even though it houses great recreation areas like football fields and bike lanes, it is a pretty dangerous spot in Rio de Janeiro.
Mainly because of the poor lighting at night and lack of police watch, the area suffers from attacks of robbers, who lurk around in the dark waiting to mug passersby going their way.
If you want to visit Aterro do Flamengo (which I highly recommend, the view is breathtaking), I would advise you to do it during the day, and with a group, which is the safest way to do it. Also, try to locate the police post and some officers as soon as you arrive, just for reference if you need them.
Santa Teresa is one of my favorite places in Rio de Janeiro; it has a very distinct vibe compared to the rest of the city, with lots of interesting bars and restaurants, as well as amazing hostels and hotels.
Unfortunately, Santa Teresa has been the target of robbers and criminals within the past few years, making it a dreaded place for tourists and even locals to visit. I personally haven’t experienced anything of the sort while there, but I’ve had close friends being robbed while wandering around.
Santa Teresa is mostly a residential district, making most commercial places like bars and restaurants somewhat distant from one another. Offenders try to ambush people in those deserted areas, making it easier for them to engage in a robbery and escape more easily.
Other than that, Santa Teresa’s streets are all pretty similar, making it easy to get mixed up and lost. That could lead you to a direction you don’t want to be heading towards, as there are many favelas in the Santa Teresa district, like Fallet and Morro dos Prazeres.
My advice would be to look up your points of interest in Santa Teresa on your GPS and check whether they are near one another. Depending on the spots you want to visit, a Uber ride will probably cost less than USD 5.00, depending on the exchange rate on the period you’re visiting.
The district has been having less and less reports of violence and robbery since the beginning of 2020, but some attention is still advised in case you want to go up there for a stroll.
Glória & Catete
Glória and Catete are two neighboring districts near Flamengo and Centro, usually targeted by tourists for accommodations. They are fairly close to the beaches and have lower hotel ratings than other sections in the south zone of Rio, like Ipanema or Copacabana.
Mostly because of the lack of police supervision around the area, Glória and Catete can be a bit rough, especially on tourists, so if you’re staying there, make sure to take all the necessary precautions to stay safe.
Walking around the streets of both districts, you’ll most likely encounter homeless people asking for money, and while most of them aren’t offenders, some may take advantage of your goodwill to rob you.
What Do I Do If I Get Robbed in Rio de Janeiro?
Even if you do follow all the instructions, there’s no natural way of telling if you’re going to be 100% safe during your trip to Rio de Janeiro (or anywhere for that matter); after all, unexpected things could happen, sadly.
So in case you do go through an unfortunate situation like a robbery or theft here’s what you should do:
1 – Check Your Phone’s Location
In case you have your phone taken from you, try accessing its GPS location through apps like FindMyiPhone or through Google’s “Find My Phone” extension. If your phone is still on, you’ll be able to track down the robber, so take this information to the nearest police station, telling them that you have the criminal’s precise location.
If your phone is turned off and you can’t see the robber’s location, activate its “Lost Mode” and enable any notifications if the device is turned back on again. Once and if your phone gets turned on again, you’ll receive its location in real-time.
If you don’t have solid leads like the felon’s location, likely, the police won’t do much about it except make you fill out a Police Report detailing the robbery. But if you do, they may chase after whoever stole your belongings.
2 – Change All Your Passwords
I know, changing all of your passwords is annoying as hell, but if you get stolen, it needs to be done for safety. Log onto your social media accounts and change all your passwords; that will hinder anyone who tried to invade your privacy.
If you had any banking apps on your phone, access your bank’s website through a computer and look for the Smartphone menu. There’s an option that lets you block all transactions done through the app on your phone and even remove permissions for that particular cell device.
If you had any credit cards with you, don’t forget to cancel those as well.
3 – Block Your Phone Number
It’s also advisable to block your phone number as soon as possible, in order to avoid undue charges and paid services that you didn’t use. This part is the quickest, you’ll just need to call your phone service operator, give your ID information,, and they’ll have it blocked in no time.
4 – Make a Police Report on the Stolen Itens
After you’ve taken the primary steps, it’s time to head to the nearest police station and make a report on the situation. Police will ask you to describe everything that happened, and you’ll be requested to try and give a physical description of the person/people who’ve stolen from you.
They’ll also solicit a list of the stolen items, in which your phone’s IMEI number will be requested. This number can be obtained on your phone’s original box or in its invoice, or if you own an iPhone, you can check this information on your Apple configurations.
This IMEI number is (excuse my french) kind of a pain in the ass to get, especially when you’re fresh from a traumatic episode like getting robbed. So my advice would be for you to have the IMEI number easily accessible, like on an e-mail or written on a notepad, whichever’s easier for you.
As I said earlier, it’s highly unlikely that they run out chasing suspects. Still, the police force usually sends out a warning through the radio to officers on patrol to keep an eye open for people similar to the description you’ve given them.
5 – Coping with the Trauma
Now that you’ve gotten the practical things out of the way, take a deep breath and remind yourself that none of it was your fault. Having been robbed 3 times, I know for a fact that there’s a feeling of guilt that follows, that sentiment of “what did I do wrong?”.
The truth is, you did nothing wrong; they are in the wrong! I know it may seem obvious to say this, but we do tend to blame ourselves when something like this happens. So, emphasize to yourself that there’s nothing you could have done, shake it off, and don’t let it ruin the rest of your trip!
So, those were our tips for staying safe while in Rio de Janeiro! Although the city is indeed dangerous if you’re unaware of a few things, don’t let that fear stop you from coming down to Rio!
While you’re here, we think we’d might interest you with these:
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Carioca: A Rio Local, An Exercise, A Dessert Or A Dance? – Unsure of what Carioca means? Read up and find out here!
Swimming In Rio Beaches: The Do’s And Don’t’s – learn everything you need to know how to stay safe while soaking up the sun in Rio de Janeiro!
Is Rio de Janeiro safe for Female travelers?
Rio de Janeiro is becoming safer for female travelers within the past few years, as feminist movements have increased (especially withing younger women) since 2016. Still, Brazil is a very sexist country, and female travelers might have to deal with some verbal harassment of some sort, unfortunately.
Is Rio de Janeiro safe for LGBTQI+ travelers?
Yes, Rio de Janeiro is mostly a safe place for LGBTQI* travelers to visit, but some attention is still required around town. Although Rio is considered an LGBTQI+ friendly destination, homophobia runs around the city. But if you stick to the tourist spots and mainly the south zone of Rio de Janeiro, you probably won’t have any unfortunate events.
Is Rio de Janeiro safe for BIPOC travelers?
Rio de Janeiro has a long-lasting battle against racism, and just like in the USA, police brutality aimed at BIPOC citizens is still unfortunately very high in the country. For that reason, it’s not unlikely that BIPOC travelers get pulled over or stopped by the police to be checked on, but as long as you have your ID with you, you’ll be just fine. Also, please stick to the city’s touristic side, or in other words, the south zone of Rio de Janeiro; it’s safer for tourists.
Is Rio de Janeiro safe for solo travelers?
No, Rio de Janeiro isn’t exactly safe for solo travelers, unfortunately. Robbers tend to prey on easy targets, and if they notice you’re by yourself, they mind study your moves to catch the best opportunity to surprise you. Traveling in groups is the safest way to get to know the city of Rio de Janeiro, as there are more chances the robbery could go wrong when there are more people involved.
Cover Image: panoramic view of Rio – Credit: Flickr | Boris Kasimov