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Despite Rio de Janeiro receiving a lot of bad international press coverage, security has improved meaning the vast majority of tourists enjoy their visit with no problems. As with any big city, it’s better to err on the side of caution to minimize your risk of inconvenience or worse. Here are 10 tips to staying safe and making the most of your trip in exciting Rio.
Walking around alone at night is something to avoid in any city. Certain areas in Rio have a high crime-tendency and are best avoided at night, even when in a group. These include the city center, Lapa and the beach, especially near the shoreline which is far from the bustle of the main street. If you are in a situation where you are alone and need to get home, it’s best to take a cab and if possible stay near to an area that has police.
In the unfortunate event of being robbed, don’t try and negotiate or keep hold of your possessions, regardless of how much you love your mobile phone or how many photos you have taken. Often, thieves in Rio won’t hesitate to use weapons and don’t fear going to prison (usually due to being underage or a lack of other prospects). No material possession has a higher value than your life.
With the hot humid weather, great beaches, along with the abundance of watersports available in Rio, spending time in the water is inevitable. Just take care of the shorebreak, especially in Leme and Copacabana, where the waves can suddenly become big and immensely powerful as they break on the shoreline. Also watch out for rip currents that can sometimes occur in Copacabana – check warning signs or confirm with the lifeguards where it is safe to swim.
The stunning beaches of Rio are inviting and should be enjoyed. Just take care to use plenty of sunscreen to avoid getting burnt, especially on summer’s days where temperatures can soar to around 50 degrees Celsius. In humid conditions, drinking water is essential to avoid the awful headaches associated with dehydration.
While the favelas (slums) in the south zone of the city tend to be perfectly safe, many in the city center and the north zone are still controlled by criminal gangs that make money through the drugs and arms trade. These highly illegal activities make gang members suspicious if someone new enters the favela, resulting in a ‘shoot first, ask later’ response (in case it’s the authorities). Avoid any favela in these areas, and stick to the ones in the south zone, especially safe ones such as Vidigal and Rocinha.
Mosquitos in Rio de Janeiro have been recently linked to some unwelcome diseases such as dengue, zika and chikunguny. Chikunguny can cause symptoms and side-effects for up to eight months after the initial infection and zika has been linked to serious birth defects. Although it is usually the less well-off areas or rural parts of Rio that suffer more from disease-riddled mosquitos, it’s best to minimize all risk by simply using mosquito repellent.
It is best to avoid wearing an expensive (or expensive looking) jewellery or waving a modern mobile phone about when walking through the streets. Try to avoid using large bags that look like they may be holding attractive things such as tablets or laptops and stick to cheap-looking handbags or even plastic bags that are less attractive to thieves.
Rio has various cycle paths from the city center through to the south zone of the city which is a wonderful way to see some of the spectacular landscapes and stunning views. If you stray off the cycle paths, be careful on the roads. Traffic can be chaotic and heavy with bikes at the lowest rank in the pecking order. As with many big cities, deaths while cycling do occur and care needs to be taken.
Keeping an eye on your bag is especially true when on the beach. In the south zone of the city, every now and again, a group of thieves run through the crowds at the beach and grab as many valuable items as they can. Generally, there is no violence involved yet it can put you in a tricky situation if you lose important items such as mobile phones and bank cards. Use your bag as a pillow to keep it out of sight, leave it with a trustworthy person when you go to the sea and avoid taking a lot of valuable items with you to the beach.
The hikes in Rio are one of the city’s greatest gifts to residents and tourists alike. The majority can be done independently such as Pedra Bonita, Morro da Urca and the Dois Irmãos. Pedra da Gavea on the other hand has a tricky part that requires climbing, ideally with ropes. For anyone who feels uncomfortable about heights or climbing, it is best to go with a guide for this one. Also take care with valuables on the hikes. Although not common, robberies can happen, even when in large groups.