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How safe is Rio de Janeiro?

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It’s not often that we write about travel destinations here on Head for Points. But since my recent trip to Rio de Janeiro to review Norwegian’s premium economy product we’ve had numerous comments online and in person inquiring about the city itself, so we thought it would be worth covering.

In particular, readers were concerned about safety in the city, which obviously has a reputation for crime.

My experience of Rio was very, very far removed from all the reports you read and hear about online. A quick google about safety in Rio will give you a very skewed picture of the city. Reports on TripAdvisor, travel sites and forums make it sound like you will get mugged every day, have your credit cards cloned and your valuables stolen by hotel staff. People warn of children and teenagers that scour beaches and run away with your bags, and the dangers of being out after dark.

Rio de Janeiro Parque Lage

The simple fact is that, with a little common sense, you are unlikely to encounter any of these things. After a week long stay in multiple hotels, visiting beaches and (yes) staying out after dark, I came back with no dramatic stories to tell whatsoever.

Rio de Janeiro Santa Teresa tram

Of course, these events do happen – and they are more likely to happen in Rio than they are in London or another European destination. But they are still unlikely and you can minimise your exposure to the risks by using common sense.

Here are the rules I abided by:

Always use the hotel safe

Keep a heightened awareness of your surroundings

Keep your belongings close to you on the beach and never leave them unattended

Don’t wear flashy clothing, jewellery or flash expensive technology around – the less you look like a tourist the better

I also made sure to take my cue from local Brazilians. I spent my final day in Rio on Copacabana beach and at one point heard three loud bangs.

To someone with an untrained ear, they sounded a lot like gunshots – not something you want to hear whilst enjoying 30 degree heat on the beach. Nevertheless, not a single Brazilian around us reacted in any way, so I figured it was not a cause for concern and – dear reader – survived the rest of the day.

Rio de Janeiro Leblon

Although I had psyched myself out about personal safety prior to my trip, I felt comfortable as soon as I hit the streets. Of course, there are areas you should avoid (favelas) and others that you need to be alert in. But in areas like Leblon, Copacabana, Ipanema and Santa Teresa – the areas you are most likely to be staying in – it feels little different from a southern European city.

Rio de Janeiro sunset

Rio is a wonderfully diverse, dynamic city that I cannot recommend enough. According to the Foreign Office travel advice crime – when it does happen to British tourists – is typically theft or pickpocketing, and not more serious incidents. Enjoy the samba, caipirinhas (although not too many!), the beaches and food.

Norwegian has been flying to the city from London Gatwick since March. If you have not already read my review of Norwegian Premium you can do so here – you will find their Premium fares are generally under £1,000 return.  With a bit of common sense and a robust travel insurance policy it’s hard not to have a good time.

Comments (129)

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  • John McManus says:

    I think this article is a bit naive. Crime is not “typically petty” in Rio – read the current article on the BBC News website.
    Using the hotel safe is not exactly Rio-specific advice. My top tips would be avoid downtown at the weekend as it is virtually deserted and feels threatening; always pay for a chair at the main beaches as the staff at the barraca will reduce the risk of any theft.

    • Rhys says:

      Perhaps I should have clarified – crime that affects tourists. There is violent crime but from my understanding it is fairly contained within the favelas etc

    • Concerto says:

      Never did any of that and I was fine.

    • @mkcol says:

      Feeling threatening & being threatened are 2 entirely different things, the former entirely incumbent on the individual.

  • Ollie says:

    As someone that has also been to Rio, albeit the latest trip a few years ago now, I can totally support these views. I have generally taken the view that Rio is one of the most overrated places but given the intro here I feel it is underrated amongst, at least some, HFP travellers. As an immediate comparison, beiing in Columbia right now, with the ‘jokes’ about whether I would make it back, whilst I cannot comment on my return home, the places and people over here have been amazing and I cannot recommend it enough.

  • Pascal says:

    Completely agree. We’ve been to rio over new years last year and we’re a bit scared by the reports before the trip but it was amazing. One of our favourite cities! and yes – be Street smart and you’re fine. We had a fake wallet with a bit of cash but never needed it.
    We actually did a favela tour with a local guide, can highly recommend it. They were so thankful for us visiting and getting an impression of it ourselves. (bit too anti police but there’s always two sides of a medal!)

    • Ollie says:

      Street-smart were the words I was looking for; spot on. Never any guarantees but with that approach you are definitely better off (and like the improvisation too).

  • Bagoly says:

    Apparently much safer than Sao Paolo in 2018.
    There the two times I went to classical music concerts (in different locations), there were police outside their cars (presumably getting out would delay reaction time for shooting) with lights flashing to guard patrons getting from hall into taxis.
    That persuaded me to stay to pretty limited areas.

  • krys_k says:

    Trouble can happen anywhere. Unfortunately. But more likely in Rio than Bath. Top tip from my time in Brazil – get a cab from A to B, particularly at night.

  • Thywillbedone says:

    I’m not sure the writer has enough data points to conclude that Rio is safe/safer than other major cities. Furthermore, he travelled as a single male which often adds a different complexion on things. Crime is typically random/opportunistic…but I suggest it is less random in Rio. I have been to Rio four times and I would rate it as one of the least safe FEELING places I have ever been (50+ countries). Add to that I suffered food poisoning on three of my trips – food hygiene in Brazil is pretty terrible – walk into any supermarket and you will notice by smell alone that the meat fridges are at a very warm setting. My companions also suffered to different degrees. It is, however, a spectacular place to visit at least once (Carnival etc) – and I highly recommend Buzios, a town 2.5 hours along the coast for some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen.

    • Spurs Debs says:

      You raise a good point, I as a single older disabled woman would not travel there on my own. I looked into it last year as I was considering doing a Antarctica/South American cruise but my family were not happy to say the least about me travelling there on my own. Doing Japan instead!

    • Rhys says:

      It goes without saying that this piece is anecdotal – and not an official study into the safety of major cities!

      • Thywillbedone says:

        It may be anecdotal but you write: “Crime here – when it does happen – is typically of the petty kind and you should not be concerned about your personal welfare.” I’m afraid that statement does not stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. The piece felt a little like a product of the Tourist Board. Much better to stick with the travel/miles aspect of destinations and leave safety advice to the Foreign Office.

    • Paul Pogba says:

      A male is twice as likely to be a victim of crime in virtually every jurisdiction so presumably women would be safer than Rhys was.

  • Qrfan says:

    So you’ve tried to answer the question of “how safe is Rio” with a series of anecdotes from a single week in the country (as a tourist)? Very underwhelming. You need a far more rigorous analysis of the occurrence and distribution of crime for a matter this serious.

    • Rhys says:

      We are a points and miles website, not an academic journal!

      • Qrfan says:

        You’re writing on a travel site with a broad readership about the safety of a travel destination. The consequences are way more severe than getting the valuation of an avios wrong. If you don’t understand why that is you should consider sticking to reviewing travel products.

        • Rhys says:

          I think most readers will understand that this is based just on my own personal experiences 🙂

          • ChrisBCN says:

            You cannot have an article called ‘how safe is Rio’ and then claim a failure to address the issues properly is because you are ‘a points and miles website’!

            Either you produce an article that answers the question you raise, you choose a more suitable title ‘how safe I felt in Rio’ perhaps, or you stick to writing about ‘points and miles’.

            But thank you for all the very valuable other articles you produce 😉

  • BJ says:

    I’ve been to Rio four times and loved every minute. I was aware of all the stories but not at any time did I feel threatened or intimidated, I suffered no losses or scams, and observed no crime. People were generally warm and friendly and I had a great time in a great city. I would have no hesitation to go back to Rio. By contrast, I now feel apprehensive about visiting London where violent crime is now random, frequent and possible any place in the city. Of all the places I have ever been though the only two places I have actually felt unsafe were New Orleans and Cape Town although I suffered no violence or losses there either.

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