How I Stayed Safe While Traveling in Rio de Janeiro

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There's a Fee for this Photo, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There’s a Fee for this Photo, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Heading to Rio de Janeiro soon? Fantastic! Just like Mrs. O Around the World, you’ll probably fall in love with Rio and you’ll understand why Brazil is one of the best places on Earth to travel, as Lillie of Around the World “L” discovered.

My first bit of advice is to become an educated traveler. Stop Googling and reading about people being mugged, robbed and pickpocketed in Rio. If you’re aware this could happen then you’re ready for your trip. When I told fellow travelers my employer was sending me to Rio de Janeiro to attend a travel fair, I received a variety of responses.

As in Any City, Stay Alert and Aware of Your Surroundings, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

As in Any City, Stay Alert and Aware of Your Surroundings, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Only take two credit cards with the expectation one will be stolen.”

“You’ll be pickpocketed.”

“iPhones and iPads are the number one things stolen.’

View of Copacabana Beach from Rio Othon Palace, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

View of Copacabana Beach from Rio Othon Palace, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Crime Has No Address
I then learned some Brazilian businessmen who visited our community said they really liked our Southwest Florida town because back home in Brazil they had to worry about being mugged and locked in their car trunks. I’m not sure if that’s Brazilian humor but up until landing in Rio, I was concerned for my safety.

Crime has no address and I cannot guarantee something bad will not happen to you but after my business trip to Rio de Janeiro in October, the South American city was a lot safer than I anticipated and a whole lot safer than what I read online. Following are some of the things my sister and I did to stay safe. To read what others think about safety in Rio, Virtual Tourist has a lively conversation in a post about safety called Rio de Janeiro Warnings and Dangers.

Keep Your Head on a Swivel and Pack the Common Sense.
When in Rio, do as the carioca (native of Rio) do, enjoy the beach, but keep your guard up. Tourist police were everywhere in Copacabana where we stayed yet we always used caution and common sense. We carried small, over-the-shoulder bags and left valuables in the room “just in case.” We kept aware of our surroundings and kept to high-traffic areas. We even walked at night about eight or nine blocks from our hotel to dinner without incident.

Honestly, I felt a lot safer than I thought I would but kept my guard up at all times. Perhaps with the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio is stepping it up and making the destination more appealing.

We followed the instruction for dressing such as minimal jewelry and no logo’d apparel, yet, it seemed everyone was wearing that. Not wearing it made us stick out as gringas even more.

One of the Food Kiosks on Copocabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

One of the Food Kiosks on Copocabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Beware of the Food Kiosks.
These small eateries located on the beach are relatively new and offer a great view of the beach, tasty bites, refreshing beverages and sidewalk people-watching. It also makes you a target for vendors selling everything from nuts to bikini tops. These vendors didn’t seem dangerous, just annoying.

There was a language barrier at the kiosks and it seemed the multiple times we visited Pizza in Cone, they didn’t have the cheaper menu items while the higher end items were always available. We had an instance when the server brought out a shot of cacha and beer for my sister when all she wanted was a beer. I just feel we were taken advantage of for a higher tab.

Review Your Bill if Paying by Credit Card, Keep Tabs on It

Review Your Bill if Paying by Credit Card, Keep Tabs on It

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Card.
Before leaving for the trip, I notified my credit card companies about the international trip. It’s when I learned Discover Card does not charge a transaction fee when using it internationally and even better, Discover is part of the Diner’s Club family. This is important because Diner’s Club is widely accepted throughout Rio. We paid with cash as much as possible but on occasion used plastic. We carefully reviewed the dining tabs to see if gratuity was added and always kept an eye on our cards. Most restaurants have portable credit card machines and brought them to the table and in other instances we went to the register to pay.

Not sure if this was a coincidence or not but a couple of weeks after arriving home, Discover contacted me because of unusual spending. Somehow, someone got a hold of my card and was making online purchases. Thankfully, Discover reversed the charges, canceled my account, set me up with a new one and handed the issue to the fraud department.

Snap a Photo, Pay a Price.
Walking along Copacabana Beach we saw some pretty neat sand sculptures and quickly learned when we snap a photo, the sculptor – or friend of the sculptor – was in our face saying something in Portuguese while shoving a bucket in our face. As soon as we dropped in a coin, he walked away.

This Rio de Janeiro Taxi Driver Shared Brazilian Music with Us

This Rio de Janeiro Taxi Driver Shared Brazilian Music with Us

Taxi!
Since my sister was on vacation the entire time we were in Rio, she had more experience with taxis than I did. One took her the long way to the zoo via a favela (shanty town in Brazil). On her way back to the hotel, she told the taxi driver she gets sick when being in cars for too long and asked him to drive to the hotel as quickly as possible. How smart is she?

Book with a Travel Agent.
There’s something exotic, romantic and daring about planning an international trip on your own but sometimes seasoned travelers need assistance in travel planning, especially while navigating in another country speaking another language. My itinerary from airfare to hotel and activities and ground transportation were booked through Brazil Vacation Club (Tel: 404-437-6377) based in Atlanta, Ga. These folks are the Brazil travel experts and if my travels lead me there again I’ll be dropping them a line.

Zhu (sp?) Was the Guide on the Sugarloaf Tour our Travel Agent Arranged. Love Him!

Zhu (sp?) Was the Guide on the Sugarloaf Tour our Travel Agent Arranged. Love Him!

Hire a Personal Guide.
In doing research for the trip, I found several guides available to guide visitors throughout Rio whether for half-a-day or several days. Since our trip was booked through a travel agent, they chose a guide for us who met us at the airport, made sure we got checked into our hotel , picked us up and transported us to the airport on departure day and kept tabs on us during our visit. If/when I return, I’ll be contacting our guide for more in-depth tours.

If you need a Rio de Janeiro guide, this is who took care of us: Mr. Gentil Nunes; Email: gentilnunes@hotmail.com.

Navigate with Lonely Planet Guides.
I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet Travel Guides because they’re no-nonsense, authentic and useful. Whenever traveling to another country with another language, I almost always grab the Lonely Planet Phrasebook for that country/language because they’re a compact size and have practical phrases with phonetic spellings. These two travel guides came along for the ride:

Those are the big things we did to safe while traveling to Rio and other than a misstep on our last night, we had a safe visit. Have you been? What advice do you recommend?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links in order to support my traveling habit.

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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3 Comments

  1. Sounds a lot like the advice for traveling around Panama. I have heard some great things about traveling around Brazil, but the flight to Iceland this winter was cheaper for some reason, so I’m headed to colder climates instead.

  2. Great safety advice for Rio. I really think just using common sense will go a long way, I’ve sent plenty of tourists out partying with mobiles hanging out there back pocket, don’t do it! 🙂 But seriously, Rio isn’t as dangerous as some people make out, as long as you are sensible. It’s an amazing city! Check out the website http://www.theriovibe.com to really get you in the mood for a trip to the marvellous city!

  3. All to walk safely in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016.

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