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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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Freddy says:

    Why people decide to holiday in lawless corrupt countries is beyond me

    • Doug M says:

      Absolutely. I crossed Devon of my list this year based on that nasty overpriced ice cream event.

      • Cat says:

        Not to mention that corrupt prime minister, who appears to be doing away with democracy at the moment…

        • Lady London says:

          I want another vote. I didn’t, but i do now. As do a number of people I know.

  • Fiona says:

    We have been a couple of times to Rio, staying in Ipanema. We walked around the area at night and felt save. I left my rings in the room safe and just wore a bit of costume jewellery , that could not be mistaken for anything expensive. My handbag was bought from the market and was obviously cheap. Husband wore no jewellery and his immediate wallet had only a small amount of money in it. We didn’t take mobiles out. We never felt unsafe. You do see people taking through buckets. There was also street entertainers who definitely worked for their money One group put on a fantastic show of acrobatics and knives. Nobody refused to tip them!!
    We met another Aberdonian on the B A flight back who was mugged of his expensive necklace. They also made the mistake of going down a little dark side road. If you use common sense you should have a great time in Rio, unless you are just unlucky.

  • Brian says:

    ‘little different from any other Southern European city’ – my atlas tells me you don’t need the ‘other’! :)))

  • Jill (Kinkell) says:

    our trip to Rio a couple of years ago was great. I really liked the setting and sights. However, we had booked a guide for a couple of days who took us here and there which made a big difference to packing a lot in . Must say didn’t feel particularly safe as even our guide was hassled by a young lad who looked high on something. We encountered a scam on the beach front of ”oh look, Sir, there is bird poo on your shoe and by chance I have a shoe cleaning kit handy to clean it free of charge” haha! well known scam that the heavies appear as soon as you walk off if you haven’t given something, demanding shed loads of money. We walked on and said shoe got washed in the sea! Other than that , my only regret was not realising The Stones were playing in the Maracana Stadium!

    • Shoestring says:

      shit loads of money

    • Ronaldo says:

      Ahhh… memories. Yes I too was caught by the “something on your shoe” scam. The scammers work in a team – scammer A chews up something like tobacco or chewing gum to so its really yucky, then scammer B says hi, gets your attention, and within a flash, scammer A spits the muck onto your shoe., then scammer A shouts something like oh look… sh**tie on your shoe, and what luck scammer B is fully set up to clean your shoe, generally the goo is so horrifying to look at the hapless victim simply stands there whilst the enforced shoe shine takes place, then of course, comes payment.
      when it happened to me, i was fortunate in that a tourist cop strolled by and i gave them a regularr tip and told them to take it up with tourist cop.

  • Simonbr says:

    This info will save you 5 minutes walk after a chaotic lead-up: The BA lounge at Rio’s GIG airport T2 is now that run by American Airlines, not GOL (BA must have recently changed allegiance as the signage is incorrect). Sitting in it now, 8.40pm. Comfortable, supplied with a decent prosecco, a Chilean sauvignon, an Italian red and an Argentine malbec plus the usual range of spirits and beers. Food a bit poor IMO.

    • Simonbr says:

      Ps BA sent us text messages and emails letting us know that traffic is unusually bad around the airport because the domestic airport has been closed for runway maintenance. So we set off early and did indeed experience gridlocked traffic, had to be dropped off at at T1 and leg it to T2. Now still in the lounge and have been informed delayed boarding..because the crew is stuck in traffic!!

  • Frank says:

    My mum had her neckless torn off in Rio couple of years ago by a moped mugger. Does happen a lot.

  • Eugene says:

    This is a bit of joke of an article. Inferring safety from a single (!) trip.

    I was also not mugged at gunpoint while spending two days in Rio. I wouldn’t dream to compare it from safety perspective to “any other southern European city”.

    • Renaud says:

      Add me to the list. That article brought back some unpleasant memories, even 20 years after the facts.
      I was new to travelling, so didn’t take all the precautions, but I wasn’t flashing any valuables, had only a backpack and a watch of sentimental value. I was robbed at knife point (6-inch long) as I got off the bus to return to my hotel, in a relatively central area (can’t remember where, but only a few minutes away from the French consulate). Guy sneaked in from behind, shouted and put the knife to my face, tore the watch off my wrist, grabbed my backpack and ran away. Hardly had time to realize what was happening.
      As I finished walking back to the hotel, I jumped every time someone came close to me. I may miss a lot of wonderful things, but I’m not returning any time soon. And the world is full of other wonderful things.

  • Derek Broughton says:

    I wouldn’t put having your credit cards cloned in the same category as being mugged, but the only place our cards have been cloned was London, and the only place I’ve seen a body lying in a pool of blood was Toronto. These things unfortunately happen everywhere, and if they happen more in Rio, it’s still only bad enough to make it “rare”.

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