The dramatic natural setting of Rio, from its mountains to its beaches, makes it hard to imagine a more beautiful city to visit. But with fears of the Zika virus and the city’s well-known violence, some travelers might be concerned about their visit—but with just a few travel trips, visitors to Rio de Janeiro can be smarter and safer.
Staying Safe on the Beaches
Due to recent reports of violence on the beaches of Rio, some travelers may be concerned about visiting the city's famous beaches. It is unlikely, however, that you will experience problems if you stay in a group, don't bring valuables, and stay away from the beach after dark. Brazilian officials also encourage anyone who is confronted or assaulted to not fight back.
Avoiding the Zika virus
Brazil has been the epicenter of the Zika virus outbreak in Latin America. Still, there is probably no need to panic about Zika as most of the cases in Brazil have not occurred in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, the Zika virus has especially hit the northeast of Brazil. Aditionally, time your visit accordingly, as mosquitoes are less active during the winter than in the hot, wet months of summer. However, you should first consider your risk and then take steps to avoid getting Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and chikungunya.
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant and plan to travel to Rio, you should consult with your doctor immediately. In the past, The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has a travel advisory for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, as well as for their spouses.
While in Rio de Janeiro, take steps to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and shoes, and spray repellent on top of clothing. Use an effective mosquito repellent (with DEET up to 30 percent or Picardin) as directed, stay in a room with screens and a mosquito net, and avoid leaving standing water in your room.
Concerns Over Violence in Rio
Being a smart traveler includes knowing some tips for staying safe. Like any other large city with problems concerning crime and gangs, Rio de Janeiro has neighborhoods that travelers should avoid, and travelers should practice practical safety tips at all times.
However, it's also essential to become aware of what the real risk is—while Rio has significant problems with crime and violence, it's unlikely that travelers will become victims because much of the violence has occurred in specific areas of the city. Due to the high crime rate in some of the city's favelas, or shantytowns, it's best to avoid these neighborhoods. Also, because some favelas are right next to safer areas, be aware of your surroundings, and careful not to stumble into one while wandering the city.
How to Get Around in Rio
Rio de Janeiro may seem like a big city, but the neighborhoods where you're most likely to spend time are not too far from each other. Ask at your hotel or guesthouse about the area around where you are staying—you may be able to navigate the local area mostly on foot. While walking, don't keep valuables visible, never leave a bag unattended even for a moment, and be careful when taking out your wallet.
The city also has a public bike-sharing service, and there are bike paths along the beaches that you can safely enjoy. When riding on city streets, think in terms of defensive riding/driving as some drivers may not obey traffic rules.
Rio de Janeiro also has an excellent subway system. It's clean, efficient, and air-conditioned. However, follow essential travel safety tips by avoiding public transit in sketchy neighborhoods or late at night.