With its sandy beaches, pleasant temperatures and vibrant culture, Rio de Janeiro is at the top of many people’s lists of places they would most like to visit. At the same time, the city has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous in the world. By following some simple guidelines, however, you can enjoy all the fun and excitement Rio has to offer without running into difficulties.
The most crucial advice about travelling to Rio is that you should leave your valuables at home. Locals are extremely cautious about wearing jewellery or using their mobile phones in public, and you should follow their lead. Don’t be tempted to pack your expensive camera. Buy some disposable cameras and take these with you instead.
Most of the major tourist attractions, such as the Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado, are densely packed into what is in fact quite a small geographical area. The city is keen to look after its visitors, and these attractions are heavily policed to ensure the safety of tourists.
Nonetheless, it is not safe to wander the city alone at night. Even in a group, some areas are definitely to be avoided after dark. The beaches, parks and Centro (the downtown area) are especially notorious for muggings. Tourists sometimes imagine spending late nights with friends by the ocean, but in Rio this should really not be contemplated.
Visitors hoping for a more ‘raw’ experience of Rio might want to check out a guided tour into a favela, or slum area. These tours have been running for a number of years and have proved popular and wholly successful. However, you cannot stray into a favela under any other circumstances without risking an unpleasant encounter with a machine gun.
If you’re going to a busy event, like the weekend street parties in Lapa or the ‘Carnaval’ parades in the Sambadrome, then take as little with you as possible. It is difficult to appreciate just how crowded, chaotic and thief-infested these events can be until you have experienced them. You are unlikely to make it back to your hotel with a mobile phone or wallet if you’ve taken them along to these venues.
The same holds true for the beaches. Do what the locals do, and take only the bare essentials with you: a towel, some havaianas (flip flops), suntan lotion, and a small amount of money are all you really need for a day on Copacabana or Ipanema Beach. Take care not to leave your things unattended when you go into the water for a swim.
As an additional precaution, you should always keep some local currency (a 50 reais note is ideal) in one of your shoes. This will ensure that, should the worst happen and you suddenly find that your pockets have been emptied, you will still be able to get a taxi back to your hotel.
If it is possible to explore the city with children, then it is a good idea to do so. Children have a special status in Brazilian culture, and even the most desperate thief will avoid harassing your party if children are present.
Finally, despite these warnings, you should walk around the city with as much confidence as possible. Visitors who look like tourists and who appear nervous may encounter trouble. If you are self-assured and look like you know what you are doing and where you are going, then you should be able to steer clear of difficulty. Brazilians are famously friendly people, and a good way to blend in is to explore the city with a ready smile.
By paying special attention to your personal safety, and by following these simple suggestions, your trip to Rio should prove an enjoyable and memorable one.