Rio de Janeiro is home to enticing beaches, breathtaking landscapes, soulful musical diversions and some of the most spectacular smiles (and derrieres) on the planet. Despite Brazil’s recent economic rise, paradise has its ugly side, though. While most of the residents of the city’s favelas are hard-working people, these areas still harbor small-time criminals, drug lords and even street-smart youngsters who have turned to petty theft as their primary source of income. And wide-eyed tourists can become prime targets if they aren’t careful.
Street crime is hardly limited to the Marvelous City; so it’s important to be just as cautious and responsible as you would in any large urban area. Stay alert and use our helpful safety tips when visiting this tropical playground.
Pick Up a Map
Before you arrive in Rio, try to locate your hotel or apartment online or on a physical map of the city. Locate key points of interest and research ways to get around. Plot your route before heading out the door, but don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk consulting your map — duck into a coffee shop or lunch counter if you need to confirm your coordinates. Try to avoid deserted streets and order taxicabs by telephone whenever possible.
Learn the Language of the Land
In Brazil, the national language is Portuguese, not Spanish or French or English. These other languages may help you get to the bathroom or order a beer, but they may not help you in an altercation with a thief or a debriefing with the police. Of course, you’re not expected to gain fluency in a week, but do attempt to learn some Portuguese before heading to the country, either by way of structured courses at a community college or cultural center, online classes or language-learning software. Brazilians are generally delighted when someone expresses interest in learning their language, and you can usually find a teacher or language partner before you travel by socializing with the owners or employees of your local Brazilian steakhouse, believe it or not.
Look Like a Local
The temperature in Rio can get into the 90s, but throwing on cutoffs or a Hawaiian shirt is just like stamping “I’m a tourist! Rob me!” on your forehead. Try to keep beachwear limited to the beach; otherwise, go for the jeans-and-sneakers combo. The bad guys don’t really expect tourists to wear denim in the tropics, so that bit of camouflage could help you avoid trouble.
Leave the iPhone at Home
Do you want your iPhone snatched out of your hand by some wily preteen on the street in Ipanema? Leave it back at your hotel or apartment. The same goes for iPads, cameras, jewelry, laptops, credit cards, wads of cash and even passports. If you don’t absolutely, positively need it, leave it. A color copy of your passport should suffice while out on the town, and keep no more than the absolute necessary amount of cash on your person.
Most restaurants and bars, and even many taxicabs, accept credit cards. When you need cash, visit ATMs inside shopping centers or gas stations and avoid visiting them altogether after the sun goes down. Also, carrying a cheap prepaid cell phone and a decoy wallet with a canceled credit card and a couple of R$20 notes folded inside is a good way to slip out of a sticky situation if the occasion arises.
Easy on the Booze and Pass on the Party Favors
Getting sloshed in a foreign country is never a good idea, so make sure you go easy on the cachaca when hitting the samba spots of Lapa or the boisterous bars of Ipanema. Ladies, especially, should keep a keen eye on their drinks. Malicious persons will take this opportunity to slip a sedative or another nefarious agent into the mix.
Keep your address written down and have the manager of the bar or club procure you a cab from a reputable company when the party’s over. And speaking of parties, illegal substances are easily available on the dance floors and in the bathrooms of nightspots throughout Rio. Legality issues aside, purity of product is never guaranteed and landing in the hospital or the morgue while on vacation just isn’t a good look.