A lot of people fear a trip to South America, especially to places like Rio de Janeiro, is the kind of trip in which you can expect something bad will happen. If you are thinking of taking a trip to Rio de Janeiro, here we offer some advice on how to stay safe and avoid major complications while doing tourism in Rio.
First of all, you will need to start ignoring the comments and warnings you will get from friends, family and fellow travellers beforehand. Of course things do happen on this kind of trips but you should also know that there are many stories of people who travelled to Rio and had a great time with no major complications, only that those stories are not “newsworthy” and therefore do not spread as much. Most visitors do enjoy their vacations in Rio with no incidents.
At the same time true, Rio de Janeiro can be dangerous, so it is better to err on the side of caution and follow this advice:
• Do not make yourself a target. Showing off, wearing clothes that scream “I’m a tourist” or jewelry can always call unwanted attention. If you look “gringo” (non-local from the north, using English to communicate in Brazil), you are in much more trouble. But you can avoid it if you minimize your standing out.
• Don’t wear jewelry. It happens often in Rio that necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings are torn off and stolen with the robber not even stopping for committing the crime. Thieves are very skills and are able to walk past you very fast, or running, and take your jewelry out on their way, with you almost not noticing. It can be dangerous for you, especially with the earrings, as they may hurt you when they take them. So avoid jewelry both during the day and at night. Same applies to mobile phones, iPods and digital cameras.
• Avoid the city center at night or at all times on Sunday. Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities in which the city center is perfectly safe during daytime, but all workers and people who are there for a reason leave after working hours, shops close and it is not safe anymore. Same on Sunday with all shops closed. Avoid especially the Saara area of downtown. If you go to a show or theater play it is ok, but do not spend time walking around.
• Beware of pickpockets in downtown’s rush hour. This advice applies to all city centers, but in Rio even more because pickpockets may use violence. They generally operate in groups of 2 to 5 people, so do not try to react strongly. One of them will often push you forward in the bus or to the ground on the street, while the other one steals your wallet or purse and runs away.
• Street vendors can be a sign of trouble. Called “camelôs” in Rio, these people sit on small tables or on the ground to sell small goods like electronics, pirated films, music, software, purses and wallets for super cheap. Their business is illegal so they need to run away if the police comes. It’s that situation of chaos you may want to avoid.
• To walk around night, choose Ipanema beach, which is lit and police guarded at night. Avoid Copacabana at night and, after midnight, stay away from Avenue Atlantica –full of prostitutes and beggars. Even during the day, avoid the area of Avenue Atlantica in front of Praça Lido park, which is located 3 blocks northeast from Copacabana Palace Hotel. This is because this block does not have stores, which makes it easier for muggers. Prefer to walk on the beach side or detour inland. Try to consider this tip before booking your hotel in Rio.
• No early jogging or walking in Copacabana. Before the police arrive, joggers are good targets for muggers, especially when carrying ipods or watches. Wait until 10am to live your hotel in Copacabana if you can.
• If you get mugged, be passive. Do not resist the muggers or do anything that may aggravate them. Look at the ground and not at their faces, so that they don’t think you’re trying to memorize and recognize them later. Let them take what they want and leave the place quickly and calmly afterwards. Do not scream for the police or run in panic. Try to go in a different direction than they went.
• The shoe shinning scam: a shoe shiner approaches you at the time you discover a dirty blot on your shoe. The shoe shiner carefully cleans your shoe and then tells you the price of maybe 1000 or more reais (R$), which is roughly 440 euros or 630 USD. His muscular friends will then surround you and force you to pay. Stay away from shoe shiners by screaming clear “NO” to them and walking away, or even coursing in your own language. If you can’t escape them, negotiate down to the size of your wallet.
• Use the subway and avoid the trains. Subways are safe. Trains are not needed for tourism in Rio and may even take you to bad neighborhoods in unpleasant trips with people selling stuff and passengers staring at you. Buses are fairly safe in the South Zone (touristy area), and less so in the city center, where they are also crowded. You may still be mugged in a bus, but less likely in the subway.
• Be cautious with your money. Wear a money belt. Do not walk around with great amounts and prefer the ATMs inside shopping centers or use your credit and debit cards.
• Do not go to the Favelas or slums. If you want to visit one, arrange it with a travel agency, as they have “safe conduct pacts” with the local drug dealers. Going alone or with a random person who claims to be a guide, you will most likely get in trouble. Police do not like to enter favelas, so it’s not likely they will help you, though they will check you for drugs when you exit.
• Do not try to bribe policemen. Some policemen are corrupt and subtly ask for “some for the beer” (cervejinha), but you can just refuse and request a different officer. If you attempt to bribe an honest one you might end up in jail.
• Fireworks and explosion-like sounds at night often are signals among gang operatives in the favelas to watch for police making raids, drug shipments arriving, etc. It may also be a real shooting, especially if it occurs on a weekend. If you are on the street when you hear this, find shelter in any shop or restaurant.
• If driving, and especially at night, it’s ok not to stop on the red light if no one else is coming. This way you avoid the beggars and street vendors that approach you on the corners, some of which may also be there to mug you. Avoid stopping at night, and prefer air conditioner and closing the windows and locking the doors. Do not use convertible cars as they are a sign of wealth and may attract muggers. Carjacking is also a threat, especially in motorways like LinhaVermelha (the main connection from the International Airport, called Red Line in English) and LinhaAmarela (which connects the north zone like Norte Shopping with the west like Barra da Tijuca, called Yellow Line in English), can occur, as these areas are surrounded by favelas. As a tourist still, better to avoid driving and renting cars, chances are you will end in a bad neighborhood and get in trouble.
• If walking, watch for cars regardless of the traffic light. Cross on the crosswalks and never closer to the corner. This for your own safety, since cars do not always respect traffic signals (as explained in the previous point).
• To visit the traditional escola do samba Mangueira (samba school), or the Maracanã stadium to watch a soccer match, try to go with a guide or accompanied by a trustful local friend. In the first case it is very close to a favela. In the latter, when local teams are playing, especially when Flamengo plays against Botafogo or Vasco, it can get violent among the loosing team. Leave early from the stadium if your tribune is the one of the losing team, they may be angry, get violent and revolt in the end.
In our website you can find the travel insurance that best fits your needs for your trip to Rio de Janeiro. As always, better be safe than sorry!
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