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Rio for Beginners

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Home » Rio for Beginners » Safety Tips: The Do's & Don'ts
Rio de Janeiro, with a population of over 6 million people, is a big city by any standards. Working class and the upper middle class often share the same neighborhood, the same beach. Social contrasts are quite evident.

OK, Rio de Janeiro may not be safe as Copenhagen, but thinking of the city as violent would be completely unfair. Most areas of interest to visitors are located either on the South Side, or the historical strip from Flamengo to Downtown. The high criminality rates happen in areas of the West Side that hold little interest to tourism.

The city is doing a serious effort to deal with the safety issue, and results are starting to show. In addition to the federal and military police, municipal guards help control traffic, and keep the sidewalks relatively free of vendors. At the beach cops on shorts patrol on foot and on sand-mobiles. Powerful police cameras have been recently installed in Copacabana, and Ipanema is the next in line.

Having said that, there are of course a few common sense rules you should follow to stay out of trouble. We have lined up some basic guidelines we try to follow ourselves.


  • Image by Ziraldo.  All rights reserved.Do not even bother packing flashy jewelry, gold, or platinum and diamond-studded watches. If you've got it or like it, this is place to buy them but not the place to flaunt it...
  • Your invaluable valuables belong in the safety box of your hotel room.
  • Carry along a photocopy of your passport, in case you are asked to show some ID. Leave the original together with your driver's license in your safety box (unless you're driving, of course).
  • Do not take along more cash than you need. Most restaurants and stores take plastic, anyway, and you use your debit cards ATM's at selected banks.


  • The first thing to do is become familiar with the city. Join us on a virtual tour around Rio!
  • Rio is a much bigger city than you imagine. The most practical and economical way to do all the main attractions is participating in a panoramic day tour. This will give you a sense of direction, and take care of the mandatory main attractions on a single day.
  • Take advantage of wi-fi to see where you are and use Google maps to give you an idea on how to get to your destination. Keep in mind that Rio has hills everywhere, a straight line is not always the easiest way.
  • If there is a subway station nearby this is the safest and cheapest way to go. There are stations where you get off and board an integrated bus line that takes you to Urca, for instance.
  • Buses are my least favorite way to get around. Safety has improved, many buses are air-conditioned, and if you are on a budget they may be the right alternative for you. Some bus stops changed streets because of the subway extension renovations.
  • Taxis are my favorite means of transportation, and they are very easy to find. You can even download an app to figure out how much a ride will cost you. Yellow taxis *must* run by the meter. Prepaid deals mean you get the short straw.
  • Driving in Rio can be a stressful experience, so unless you are staying in Barra or Recreio in most cases you will not need a car. Make sure that the GPS is working, the malls in these areas have plenty of parking space, a rare commodity on the South Side. .
  • Unless you have a specific purpose or a local friend whom you trust to show you around, we suggest you stay on the South Side or Centro of Rio, and other areas specifically recommend by our guide.


  • Most safety tips here apply to any big city. Rio is big, so you have to be streetwise.
  • Avoid dark or isolated areas where you do not see a single soul at night (duh), such as the Flamengo Park, or the Financial District.
  • Walk with a sense of purpose, as if you knew where you are going to. Looking like a victim is the first step to becoming one.
  • Don't leave your camcorder or state-of-the-art camera swinging from your limp hand, like a shopping bag. Wear shoulder straps.
  • If you bring along expensive cameras, camcorders or laptops, consider an insurance.
  • At the beach, do not leave your expensive camera, passport and/or cash laying around on the sand unattended while you go for a few laps. Do not hide your money in your $200 sneakers either, or you will lose both (that's an old one).
  • Don't take off your watch and leave it laying on the sand behind your back while you are sitting on the sand distracted by the girls or boys that pass by (we've seen saw someone do this...)


  • Do not take regular buses alone, and if you do avoid the window seat. If your creep alert beeps, it is much easier to change seats when you're sitting on the aisle seat.
  • Good Night Cinderella is an old trick that still works. You take a drink offered by a friendly stranger (men or woman). It contains powerful sleeping drugs. You will need help to get back to your hotel room, and this caring and friendly person will gain access to your valuables while you are helpless. Do not leave your drink unattended at bars or discos, for the same reason.
  • Don't take strangers you've just met back to your hotel room - even if you think you are in love! This is the easiest way to become a victim of violence or theft. Say that your hotel does not allow visitors (which may well be true) and go to a adults-only hotel. instead. Everybody knows where to find them.
  • If someone accidentally spills something on you in the street, and offers to clean it say thank you, and walk away. They may have a partner waiting for a chance to pick your wallet while you are distracted with the action.
  • Don't get involved with the drug scene, even if you think you know what you're doing.
  • If you get in trouble with the police, do not offer a bribe. It could turn things go from bad to sour.
  • If the worse happens and you are approached by some criminal element, try and keep calm. Never fight back. They may have guns, be on drugs, could react violently. You certainly have more to lose than they do.
  • Though police officers in the street try to be helpful, most do not speak other languages. If you need to report something was stolen for insurance purposes, go directly to the Tourist Police Precint (DEAT). Their office is located in Leblon, on Av. Afrânio de Mello Franco s/n, across from Shopping Leblon.


  • If you feel you were discriminated against and you want to go litigious about it the law is on your side. Ever racial slurs are punishable if you have witnesses and want to go through with it.
  • Coordenadoria da Diversidade Sexual is dedicated to preventing discrimination against minorities including lesbians, trans-gendered and gays. They will point you in the right direction, and instruct you on how to proceed.
Cartoons by Ziraldo. All rights reserved. Direitos reservados.
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