Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil's most beautiful cities, home to iconic sights like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, but it also suffers from an extremely high crime rate. Foreigners are most frequently targeted by petty thieves, but are sometimes also mugged or fall victim to armed robbery. There are lots of ways for tourists to protect themselves while visiting Rio, but the city's real reputation for violence is often being made outside the main tourist corridors in the favelas.
Rio's slums may be iconic and can be quite a marvel to look at from a distance, but they are also markers of extreme poverty. Some are safe to visit if you go with a reputable guide, but others should be avoided at all costs. While Rio has significant problems with extreme violence and there is a seemingly endless battle between gangs and police, it's unlikely that the average tourist will be caught in the crosshairs of extreme violence, which occurs in in very specific areas of the city. The main threat to tourists are pickpockets and purse-snatchers, which are more likely to be non-violent.
- Due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department is discouraging all international travel indefinitely.
- The State Department warns travelers to avoid "informal housing developments," also known as favelas at all times due to high rates of crime, warning "Neither the tour companies nor the police can guarantee your safety when entering these communities."
Is Rio de Janeiro Dangerous?
Due to the high crime rate in some of the city's favelas, it's best to avoid these neighborhoods. Some favelas are right next to safer areas, be aware of your surroundings, and careful not to stumble into one while wandering the city. Rocinha, which overlooks Leblon Beach, used to be one of the safer favelas, but has become one of the most dangerous in recent years. These neighborhoods should be avoided at all times of day.
Other neighborhoods like Santa Teresa, Aterra do Flamengo, and Praia de Botafogo, are safe to visit during the day, but should be avoided at night. If you want to walk around at night, Copacabana and Lapa are typically the safest areas, but that doesn't mean you can throw precaution and awareness out the window.
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. If not, Rio de Janeiro has an excellent subway system that is clean, efficient, and air-conditioned. However, try not to rely on it at night. To get around, the city also has a public bike-sharing service, and there are bike paths along the beaches that you can safely enjoy. Some drivers may not obey traffic rules, so you'll need to ride defensively.
Is Rio de Janeiro Safe for Solo Travelers?
One of the easiest ways of staying safe in Rio is to travel in a group, but solo travelers may not have this option. You are more likely to be targeted if you are alone, so the best thing you can do as a solo traveler is to avoid unsafe situations like walking around at night or taking public transportation. If you can, use a taxi company or ride-share app to get around and keep valuables tucked away whenever you're not actively using them. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry and before you leave your accommodation for the day, double-check that everything is locked and put away and let someone at home know about your plans.
Is Rio de Janeiro Safe for Female Travelers?
Brazilian culture can be very sexist and street harassment is a daily experience for women in Brazil. There have been recent political movements by activists in Brazil to change this, but it is still something female travelers will likely experience in Rio and most other places in Brazil. Most of the time it is strictly verbal and easy to ignore. When going out at night, female travelers should be careful to stick with a group whenever possible, but especially at night, and always let someone you trust know what your plans are.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
While visiting Rio de Janeiro, there are safe places where LGBTQ+ travelers can feel free to be themselves, but there are also times when discretion may be the safest option. LGBTQ+ travelers can look forward to exploring Rio's vibrant gay nightlife scene and some beaches, like Ipanema, are even known for being particularly gay-friendly. In front of many businesses in Ipanema, you'll see rainbow flags waving and flyers for gay nightclubs are openly passed out. While LGBTQ+ travelers can feel safe in this distinctly gay spaces, precaution should be practiced while exploring other parts of the city. While LGBTQ+ travelers can find safe pockets of Rio, Brazil struggles with homophobia as a whole and has one of the world's highest LGBTQ+ murder rate and is one of the deadliest countries for transgender Brazilians. Although Rio de Janeiro has the largest population of LGBTQ+ people in Brazil and is considered to be one of the more gay-friendly cities, homophobia runs rampant in the culture. If you do encounter signs of trouble, try not to engage and remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Brazil has a complicated relationship with racism, which is prevalent and visible. A long history of slavery, one of the last countries in the world to abolish it. Like the United States, police brutality and racial discrimination is a major social issue in Brazil and something BIPOC travelers should be aware of before they visit Rio. As tourists, BIPOC travelers are less likely to be discriminated against because all foreigners are perceived as being wealthy. Harassment is a realistic possibility, but as long as travelers don't stray far from the main tourist areas and follow general safety advice, it's unlikely they'll fall victim to a racially-motivated crime.
Safety Tips for Travelers
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.
- Brazilian officials encourage anyone who is confronted or assaulted to not fight back.
- Any Spanish you may speak will not get you as far in Brazil as you think, so make sure you study up on some basic phrases in Portuguese so you can ask for help or get out of a sticky situation.
- While walking, don't keep valuables visible, never leave a bag unattended even for a moment, and be careful when taking out your wallet.
- Most petty theft occurs on the beach, so don't leave your valuables unattended and stay away from the beach after dark.
- You can take steps to avoid getting Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and chikungunya by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and shoes, and spray repellent on top of clothing.