The reality about how safe is Rio de Janeiro is not what you imagine.
Listen to “Is Rio de Janeiro Safe? (It is NOT what you imagine!)” on Spreaker.
Rio is often in the spotlight for negative and film-like violent situations. From a police helicopter downed by gangsters to celebrities kidnapped, the dangers from Rio are as famous as the natural beauty of its panoramic landscapes. So, is Rio de Janeiro safe?
Personal advice: Always read and watch the news with a pinch of salt. The truth is that Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and with a little care and attention, it can be one of the most beautiful trips of your life!
Is Rio Really That Dangerous?
Depending on what you are comparing with. If your basis of comparison the Europan continent (what explains the enormous amount of Brazilians in Portugal), yes, Rio is dangerous. Many South-American capitals, like Buenos Aires, are also safer than Rio (making Argentina a good place to retire if you earn in dollars) But if you consider cities American cities like Baltimore, Detroit, or New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro is far safer.
In 2020, Rio had a homicide rate (20.4 per 100 000 inhabitants) even lower than Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the United States (24.3 murders per 100 000 residents).
And the finest news: the violence is decreasing quickly in Rio (almost as quickly as in São Paulo, a case that I explore in detail in this article). In the last section of this article, I will prove that to you with solid numbers.
How Safe Is Rio de Janeiro?
One of the most striking aspects of Brazil is inequality, and just like in all its nuances, violence also does affect everywhere in the same way.
There are regions in Rio that are indeed violent, while others are far safer.
First of all, remember that Rio de Janeiro has two meanings: it can be one of the 26 Brazilian states, or also the capital of the homonymous state. In this article, I will talk mostly about the capital, but if there is any city you would like to know more about in particular, feel free to ask about it in the comment section.
The safest areas of Rio are in the South Zone. The tourist-friendly beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are considered safe during the day. At night there are issues with criminality as with most large cities, but nothing abnormal. Take the usual precautions (listed at the end of this article) and you should be fine.
The wealthy areas of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, where many expatriates live, are also relatively safe during the day. However, both areas can be dangerous at night, so you should be careful at all times when in these areas.
I would not advise any tourist (unless it is for a very specific purpose) to travel to the West Zone since it holds most of Rio’s gang conflicts. This region is famous for its favelas (though some are tourist-friendly)and should generally not be visited due to safety concerns. After dark, it is wise to avoid the favelas completely
Is Rio de Janeiro Safe for Tourists?
Here is the thing: most of the violence in Rio is associated with gangs and the dispute for drug-selling points.
If you are not involved with these matters, you will avoid a large part of the risks. Still, gangsters in Rio have military-grade, long-range weapons and it is not uncommon that, in the vicinity of the favelas, during large conflicts, innocent people are hit by stray bullets. In 2021 alone 100 people died in Rio due to random stray bullets.
Other than the favelas and stray bullets, there are two other places where tourists could have bad experiences in Rio.
- The beaches. Tourists love the beaches in Rio; however, this is one of the places most attractive to groups of petty criminals since they have very few guards and there have been several incidents of robbery during the daytime. The beaches are the place of the famous arrastão, when groups of thieves rob multiple tourists in a matter of a few minutes and then rush out of the scene. Follow the advice at the end of this article and you will be safe.
The other place where you may face undesirable situations related to crime in Rio is the historical center. Unfortunately, it is also one of the regions that most deserve your visit since districts like the Lapa, with its restaurants, bars, and attractions like the Arcos da Lapa.
Is Lapa in Rio de Janeiro Safe?
Lapa, which is located in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, is a fun neighborhood, full of bars and restaurants, and one of the more popular places to party in Rio.
But Lapa is also an area of town that can be considered a bit sketchy. There are lots of beggars, homeless people, drug dealers, and all-around shady characters.
It’s not unusual to see drunks passed out on the sidewalk or people who seem like they might want to take advantage of you.
However, as long as you don’t wander into any dark corners late at night and walk with a considerable group, you should be just fine.
Always keep your valuables locked up tight in your hotel room, or if you do bring them with you when you venture out for an evening, be sure to secure them in one of those money belts that all tourists seem to wear. (One of the many valuable tips taken from the book Budget Travelers, Digital Nomads & Expats: The Ultimate Guide)
How to Be Safe in Rio de Janeiro
To make your trip to Rio as safe as possible, here are some tips:
1st – Buy travel insurance that also covers theft-related expenses. Although it is often very inexpensive to purchase such insurance in Europe, many people ignore this small precaution and end up disappointed. I recommend the company Ekta, which provides some of the most innovative solutions for travelers, allowing you to relax and enjoy your vacation without worry.
2nd – Don’t be taken in by “drivers” who offer to pick you up from the airport or train/bus stations. They are frequently con artists, which can be dangerous. I prefer to use GetTransfer, a website that compares multiple, reputable transfer providers and offers you the best price. It is the best way to plan ahead of time.
3rd – Avoid walking around with your luggage. Radical Storage is a website that shows safe locations where you can leave your luggage, pay a small fee, and pick it up after touring the city.
4th – If you are visiting places like the center of São Paulo (and there is SO MUCH to visit there!) or Cantareira Park, hire a guide. You can find some amazing guides and tours at Viator. Not only they will give you insider information about historical and natural curiosities, but they will also warn you of risky areas and keep you safe.
5th- (Personal opinion) If you are young (or feel young), stay in hostels in regions like Copacabana, Ipanema, or Leblon. People working in these hostels are used to foreign guests and can offer both safety advice and some great tips on places to sightsee. To find hostels (and even Hotels) in Rio de Janeiro, my favorite option is Hostelworld.
6th – Use a money belt to carry your credit card, documents, etc. In your pocket, leave a dummy wallet with expired cards and small money, in case a robber attacks you (something that shouldn’t happen if you follow all the recommendations above).
- Avoid walking around after dark in areas with not many people around. Violent crimes are more likely to occur at night than during the day.
- Do not go out alone or with a small group after dark. Stay in groups for safety; the larger the group, the safer it is (although an arrastão may still affect your group no matter how large it is).
- If you go out alone, stay on well-lit streets where there are plenty of people walking around and avoid using parks or beaches alone at night.
- Be aware that police officers may stop you on the streets and ask for an ID. Do not resist giving them your ID even if they are acting rudely; otherwise, you could be arrested.
- Do not carry or wear flashy jewelry or expensive-looking electronics around town since these can attract unwanted attention from robbers. For example, do not flash your brand new iPhone off while walking down a street in the Lapa district.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you anywhere in Brazil, especially Rio de Janeiro.
Remember: Be aware of where you’re going and what you’re doing. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in areas you are not familiar with. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you are at all times, so if something does happen they will know where to look for you.
Uber in Rio de Janeiro: Safe? (Also Valid for 99Taxis)
The rise of Uber in Rio has been met with challenging times. Taxi drivers have protested against the company, sometimes violently.
Still, there are no reports of Uber drivers robbing or hurting passengers. Ride-sharing apps may not have the best security, but you don’t hand a total stranger your credit card and cash.
You can use the app to see the driver’s name, car model, and license plate number before getting in the car. It also has a feature that lets you share your ETA with friends and family via text message or email.
Rio has more than its fair share of criminals preying on tourists and locals, but there are no reports of an Uber or 99Taxis driver being involved in a crime against a passenger so far.
Despite the safety concerns, Uber (or 99Taxis) is still popular because it’s more convenient than hailing a taxi off the street or waiting for a radio taxi to drive by. It’s a great option when you’re trying to get somewhere quickly and don’t want to walk or pay for a taxi ride from
Conclusion: How Violent is Rio de Janeiro?
The violence in Rio de Janeiro is decreasing, especially in the South Zone, which includes Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon.
The city’s southern area is still a safe place, but tourists should avoid walking alone at night and avoid areas close to favelas. Tourists are advised to stay away from isolated places after dark and exercise caution at all times because of the high rate of crime.
Most of the bad fame of Rio is still a reflection of former decades when it was one of the most dangerous regions in the world. By the way, since we discussing safety, we also wrote an article with tips on what to do in case of war.
In the chart below, you can see that Rio had a 61% decrease in violence during the last 20 years. Today, it has violence rates comparable to Puerto Rico, an autonomous region from the USA.
It is still far from ideal, and there is a lot to improve. However, it is not that bad (and violent) as it once was.
|State||Homicide Rate in 2000||Homicide Rate in 2010||Homicide Rate in 2020||Difference between 2000 and 2020||Country with similar homicide rate.|
|Rio de Janeiro||52.75||35.44||20.4||-61%||Puerto Rico*|
|Rio Grande do Sul||16.55||19.5||15||-9%||Botswana|
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Levi Borba is the CEO of expatriateconsultancy.com, creator of the channel Small Business Hacks, and best-selling author. Subscribe to my articles (for free) and receive (also for free) the ebook “The Blueprint for First-Time Business Owners”.