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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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  • Sandra says:

    Given the number of shootings in the US recently and the vast number of people you see carrying guns in some cities/states I think you need to be street aware anywhere in the America’s (as well as many other areas of the world) these days. Common sense is needed anywhere – you can just as easily be mugged, shot or stabbed in the UK these days if you are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!

    • John says:

      Very easy to go to the wrong place in the US, not so easy in the UK.

      • Doug M says:

        Is it? I don’t agree with this.

        • The Savage Squirrel says:

          You’re certainly far less likely to be shot in the UK, no matter how bad the area.

          • Cat says:

            You are far, far, far less likely to get mugged, shot or stabbed in the UK than in Brazil. If you genuinely believe that statement, you should probably stop reading tabloids.

          • Doug M says:

            Whilst this maybe true statistically is it meaningfully true. How many UK tourists were shot in the USA in the last 10 or even 20 years? I was actually disagreeing with the notion it was easier to go to the wrong place in the USA. As someone that’s both lived there, and travelled extensively I don’t think the wrong place is less than bloody obvious.
            There’s crime for sure, but the chances of being shot are tiny. Now being injured in a road accident is worth considering as that’s a much more likely event.

          • Doug M says:

            @Cat – the sub thread here was in reference to the US rather than Brazil.

          • Cat says:

            I was replying to the last sentence “Common sense is needed anywhere – you can just as easily be mugged, shot or stabbed in the UK these days if you are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!”.

            I’d agree that there is more of a distinction between areas a tourist is likely to find themselves and high crime areas in most cities in the US, than in Brazil. This is in addition to the fact that, due to relative wealth, tourists are far more of a target in Brazil.

  • Alex says:

    I’m from Brazil and pretty much everyone I know and certainly all my close family members have been victims of crime, I was carjacked twice in a period of 12 months, mugged at knife or gunpoint another 4 times,my mum was carjacked once and driven to cashpoints, a close friend had his car and all possessions stolen during a traffic jam near the airport in Rio, and everyone I know that lived /lives in Rio were mugged at gunpoint at least once. Crime and violent crime is a serious matter in Brazil, as is extreme poverty and social inequality. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone going out at night willy nilly in Rio, all it takes is one wrong turn to be in a shifty neighbourhood. People are so used to this that most of the time these crimes don’t make the papers anymore. Brazilian people are used to seeing lots of children sleeping rough on the streets, so they don’t take much notice anymore. If I was a non-Portuguese speaker tourist in Rio I’d only take taxis the hotel or restaurant arranged, I’d only do organized tours and wouldn’t go walking at night unless I was in a large group of people. I was shocked when my sister visited us in London and said it felt so good to go to the park and take photos without fearing for her life, and went on to tell us that she went running during the day with a group of 5 women in a large and supposedly park in Sao Paulo and they had to run away from 2 muggers!

    • Shoestring says:

      I speak Portuguese – I picked it up in a month (Coimbra)

      Brits should not be scared of speaking foreign languages

      • Shoestring says:

        it was about A level, A grade

      • Spurs Debs says:

        I really liked Coimbra took my Mum who was in her seventies to a George Michael concert there. She had a great adventure we did a mad 24 hours, she thought it highly amusing waiting at the bus station for the midnight bus to Porto watching the ladies of the night look for trade then sleeping in airport for first flight home.

        • Shoestring says:

          yep Coimbra doesn’t get the great tourist press of (say) Barcelona or Firenze but is a lovely historic Portuguese university town

  • Sussex bantam says:

    Within 24 hours of landing I had been mugged and another member of our party had their camera stolen whilst at the beach

    This of course could have happened anywhere – but (touch wood) the only place it has actually happened to me was Rio. I shan’t be going back

  • Russ says:

    Hmnn…..in my profession just like other professions, if you send an article to the wrong journal for publication they just send it back. Wonder what happened here.

  • signol says:

    A few years ago, some friends and I were volunteering in a favela. We were told not to enter the favela the first time without a guide (from the children’s centre we were going to). Once the “lookouts” saw us with them, we were fine to enter alone the following days. The only issue we had was on our last day, on the way out, when a friend turned to take a photo of the street. One of the youths took objection and ran to us, took my friend’s camera, and took the film out (dates this story!) before returning the camera. No theft but didn’t want his picture taken…

  • Alex says:

    Makes me laugh when people take one trip to Rio without incident and then naively feel qualified to opine on safety.

    I go 4 times a year and can tell you it is far less safe than made out in this article. I’ve been robbed, seen many other robberies in broad daylight, had my card cloned multiple times. One of my Brazilian friends was shot in the leg.

    I still go back because I love the place and am pretty resilient, but don’t let’s pretend it isn’t more dangerous than a normal tourist would like.

    • Rhys says:

      It’s no different to those people who go for a week and then say it’s a warzone!
      The truth is presumably somewhere in between, and I think most people are aware how dangerous Rio can be! This piece was just based on my own experiences and surprise at how ‘normal’ Rio felt, given what I had read previously.

  • NFH says:

    Card cloning is indeed a problem in Brazil. It has happened to me, and my card issuer spotted it before I did, long after I had left Brazil. The best way to avoid it is always to use Apple Pay or Google Pay.

    Previously merchants in Brazil had no idea how to process a contactless transaction, as they always want to insert the card before entering the amount. But since Apple Pay launched in Brazil in April 2018, many now know how to do it. To accept a contactless transaction, all they need to do is to enter the amount on the card terminal without entering any menu. Then you just use Apple Pay or Google Pay, making it impossible to clone your card.

    • Rhys says:

      Do contactless card payments also prevent cloning?

      • the_real_a says:

        Yes because your “real” card number is not sent across. Its only a time limited token. It does not stop someone walking around the subway with a POS and placing is on your wallet – making a new transaction there and then. But thats not the same as cloning.

      • NFH says:

        Contactless doesn’t prevent cloning, but tokenised payments like Apple Pay and Google Pay can’t be cloned. I think you’re confusing the communication method of the card number (contactless, magnetic stripe, chip & PIN) with tokenisation. The two are different.

        • meta says:

          Yes and if you ask for a receipt when you pay by Apple Pay, you will notice that the numbers don’t match to your actual card number.

  • Henry Young says:

    Never use hotel safes. They are the first place any thief checks, often have their default master codes unchanged or are easily picked through the physical bypass key which is usually a wafer lock with open keyway. Just check the “LockPickingLawyer” on YouTube to see just how insecure these things are !!!

    • Anna says:

      But – normally your travel insurance will only cover theft from a hotel as long as you lock your valuables in the hotel safe!

      • the_real_a says:

        Careful!! You need to read the policy closely. On every policy i have read it mentions the hotel safety deposit box. Not the in room safe!

      • Lady London says:

        Hotel receptions should really be asked to keep anything valuable if you’re worried. Hotel is legally liable unless they provide safe keeping in the UK but I’m not sure how low a level of safe keeping they can get away with. Had enough in-room safes you couldnt even get a tablet into let alone a laptop, safes small enough for any thief to walk away with to somewhere they can break it open.

    • joe bloggs says:

      Note that the “hotel safe” does NOT mean the safe in your room. don’t know specifically about Brazil, but hotels generally state they are NOT responsible for items put in the room safe. AFAIK, stuff going missing from an in-room safe is considered the same as stuff going missing in the room generally.

      Hotel safe means the safe behind the hotel reception, most hotels will cover items that are secured there.

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