Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, is considered the nation’s cultural and economic center, with an abundance of museums and galleries, incomparable shopping, iconic beaches such as Copacabana, and, of course, the epically festive Carnaval. Rio is also home to a travelers’ bucket-list mainstay: the massive, art deco-style Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado.
But is Rio de Janeiro safe to visit? Unfortunately, the Rio crime rate is fairly high. Violent crime is a “frequent occurrence,” according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), while street crimes such as pickpocketing and purse snatching are “a constant concern,” happening all over Rio at all times of year. The 2016 Olympics actually exacerbated the Rio de Janeiro crime rate, though the city did see a reduction in shootings in 2019.
Rio crime, then, is to be taken quite seriously. “Criminals [in Rio] most often target their victims due to perceived wealth and lack of awareness,” according to OSAC, so it’s wise not to flaunt what you’ve got and always to appear alert and engaged with your surroundings.
If you are considering a trip and find yourself wondering, “Is Rio safe to visit?” read on for important advice on Rio de Janeiro safety.
Tips for Rio de Janeiro Safety
- Is it safe to travel to Rio de Janeiro? That depends on where you go. Areas to avoid in Rio de Janeiro include Rocinha, Vila Mimosa, most of the city’s north zone, its favelas, and their neighboring areas including Del Castilho, Cascadura, Bangu, and Pavuna. Keep in mind, too, that even the safest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro can turn dangerous after dark.
- Taking a cab in Rio? Make sure that it’s official and licensed by checking to see that it’s yellow with a blue stripe and red license plates; otherwise, you risk getting into an illegal or pirate taxi.
- Keep away from Rio de Janeiro’s dangerous favelas; tourists who have wandered into these slums of Rio have ended up shot. Know where you’re going at all times, check maps, and don’t go down any unpaved or cobbled streets.
Areas to Avoid in Rio de Janeiro
A key element of being able to stay safe in this iconic Brazilian city is knowing which areas to avoid in Rio de Janeiro, as well as which are the safest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. If you’re looking to sidestep Rio crime, stay away from Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, where recent drug-related violence has been so severe that the military has needed to get involved.
It’s also wise to steer clear of Vila Mimosa, which is notorious for prostitution, as well as the city’s north zone, its favelas, and their neighboring areas including Del Castilho, Cascadura, Bangu, and Pavuna.
There are also certain areas in Rio that are safe to wander around in during the day—but where things change after dark. These include Centro, where nighttime muggings are common; Santa Teresa, where driving can be dangerous and it’s easy to end up in a violent favela; and Botafogo Beach and Flamengo Park, which are adjacent to each other and have a large population of people living in poverty, so thefts and violence spike at night.
How to Get Around Safely in Rio de Janeiro
How safe is Rio de Janeiro for tourists to navigate? Again, that depends on how you handle yourself and how you opt to get around.
There are lots of taxis in Rio, and using them can be relatively safe, though you’ll want to make sure that any cab you get into is licensed and metered—and that you call a taxi in advance or use a taxi app rather than hailing one off the street. To save yourself the risk of entering one of Rio’s many illegal or pirate taxis, only use yellow cabs with a blue stripe and state-issued red livery license plates, and never agree to pay your fare in advance of your ride, unless it’s at the airport’s licensed taxi desk.
Taking taxis is always preferable to taking Rio’s mini-buses, which host lots of crime and are unregulated. The metro, on the other hand, is considered a safe way for travelers to get around Rio de Janeiro, although tourists should always be alert for petty criminals, as they’re common on all forms of public transit in Rio; keep in mind that they often work in groups. Women should consider using the system’s women-only cars during crowded periods.
Wherever you are in Rio de Janeiro, always keep your bearings, plot all your routes in advance, and know exactly you are—especially in relation to your hotel. If you’re using GPS, make sure that the route doesn’t veer you into a dangerous favela. Don’t dress like a tourist, either—only wear beachwear at the beach, and leave all valuables at your hotel (or at home), bringing along only what you absolutely need.
Most places in Rio accept credit cards, but if you find the need to carry cash, stay away from shady-looking ATMs, using only those that are in reputable locations, like a bank or your hotel. One common form of crime in Rio de Janeiro are “express kidnappings,” during which a victim is forced to withdraw money from an ATM machine that they were just seen using, or taken around to different ATMs to withdraw money for the kidnappers; usually the victims are let go after the cash is stolen. This is yet another reason to avoid ATMs if at all possible.
If you’re in Rio to party, that’s great—the nightlife here is some of the world’s best—but proceed with caution and don’t lose sight of the fact that Rio crime is a real concern, especially after dark. Stay in the popular areas, don’t wander off by yourself, watch how many caipirinhas you’ve consumed, and never leave your drink unattended.
Keep in mind, too, that Rio de Janeiro does experience occasional natural disasters, including floods, mudslides, and major storms. If you find yourself in the midst of one of these events, head to higher ground and heed officials’ instructions. It’s also worth noting that the Zika virus is still a concern throughout Brazil, so take every precaution to protect yourself against mosquito bites while in Rio.
Favelas in Rio de Janeiro
Favelas are Rio’s neglected slums on the outskirts of the city. Violence within them is ever present and growing, thanks in large part to organized crime that centers around drug trafficking in Brazil. Travelers who have accidentally wandered into Rio’s favelas have gotten shot and injured.
Tourists in Rio, then, are advised not to go down unpaved, cobbled, or narrow streets, as these may lead into a favela. Check a map of the city that shows where Rio’s favelas are located (there’s a good one here), but if you’re unsure, ask at your hotel or inquire with local authorities.
Rio de Janeiro’s government began a “favela pacification program” to bring favelas under police control, but results were mixed. Unfortunately, they are still dangerous places with an increasing amount of violent crime, so travelers should steer clear. Though favela tours have become more popular as a safe way to learn about life in these areas, the U.K. government says they are best avoided.
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—original reporting by Avital Andrews