By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter

Copacabana Beach at 6 AM is a beautiful place, also no police are around and is therefor a place where you have to be on your guard, photo by Hakan Almerfors.
Copacabana Beach at 6 AM is a beautiful place, also no police are around and is therefor a place where you have to be on your guard, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Statistics can be very misleading though, especially if you try to find out which city is the most dangerous for tourists.

It is popularly written that Rio is a particularly dangerous place for tourists, but this information is never backed up by hard facts. Compared to destinations such as Cairo and Colombo in Sri Lanka, Rio is a reasonably safe place.

The fact is that most of the serious crime takes place far away from the dense tourist areas in Zona Sul, thus weakening the argument of using broad-based crime statistics to indite a city for its violence towards tourists.

What a tourist is likely to suffer is theft on the beach, or mugging at night on deserted streets. It is rare that violence is involved, but of course these are unacceptable occurrences, and there are quite effective methods of avoiding this petty crime.

Centro at 5 PM on a weekday is full of people and perfectly safe, when the shops are closed it is a different story, photo by Hakan Almerfors.
Centro at 5 PM on a weekday is full of people and perfectly safe, when the shops are closed it is a different story, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

The first advice is to take a look around at what the locals are wearing, and follow suit. That means dressing down, no fancy jewelry or expensive watches. At the sake of coming across as politically incorrect, try to look poor. The more wealthy you look, the more of a target you are.

Behaving like a Carioca also does the trick, and beach behavior is a good example – only Gringos take cameras to the beach and thieves know that. Always wear surf shorts or sungas, rent a beach chair if you are a guy or use a sarong (not a towel!) if you are a girl. Don’t bring big water bottles and buy drinks at the beach, and leave the plastic bags at home.

Other things to remember are; don’t wear football (soccer) jerseys other than on a game day and never wear shoes with common shorts. Again, the trick is to blend in, so watch the Cariocas and emulate.

Most muggings occur at night, so at this time especially avoid empty streets, empty buses, parks, and don’t go onto the beach after dark. Avoid the late-night beach area altogether if you can help it, unless you are in a large group. Remember in Rio, if you are told that a place is dodgy, heed the warning.

Of course there are high-end extravagant restaurants and nightclubs in Rio which require expensive clothes and late nights. If you are seeing this side of the city though, again do as the locals do, splurge on the taxis and don’t stray from the well lit entrances.

Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, in 2007 he created the Rio travel information site


  1. I was watching a program called ‘Angels of Rio’ on the BBC on Monday and guess what it was about?……………. you got it…… corruption in Rio, prostitution in Rio, street violence in Rio, drugs in Rio etc etc ….. the same negative drivvel !!

    The media’s obsession with trying to make documentaries look like “City of God” paints a one-sided, under-mining image of a city that has so many more good points than bad.

    I cannot remember the last time we (here in the UK) had a documentary about ‘Carnaval’, ‘Reveillon’, ‘Futebol’ or the history of Bossa Nova.

    I lived in Rio for 2 years and suffered one small incident due to my own over-inebriated clumsiness. Was I lucky or just streetwise? A bit of both maybe, but the fact is…… I spent many a night in situations that could’ve landed me in trouble but never did.

    So….. why not??…. because Rio simply isn’t this “war-zone” with a bullet around the next corner.
    Well, not unless you ask the UK media !!

  2. I couldn´t agree more! I live in Rio now, but am originally from London.I worked for the BBC for many years as a director and director of phtography. Unfortunately, their commissioning process these days is focussed soley on programmes that shock, or leave a simplistic yet forceful impression. That obviously excludes intelligent films that try to explore the nuances of other cultures, leaving space only for more simplistic flirtations with the seeder side of life – where sensational, immediately shocking images achieve a quicker fix for the viewer.

  3. Rio is violent and overall a second-class city and I for one am glad that the media (local and foreign) treat it as a serious issue. If they sensationalize it then good, I say. The level of violence and corruption is sensational and unacceptable. We all know that there are many great reasons to live here or else we would go somewhere else. The more attention that is drawn to the bad parts of Rio the faster we can move to fix them.

  4. When has this type of media coverage “ever” helped in the past? Rio’s problems are well documented and decades of TV “sensationalism” has done nothing to move the powers-that-be to actually fix them. Only a real demand from tourism and the large chunk of Rio’s annual income that it provides seems to push certain safety issues forward.

    The motives for making many of these programs isn’t to bring the plight of Rio’s poor to the attention of the Western world but to provide a quick thrill to many that have an appetite for watching real-life violence.

    It’s impossible to know exactly, how many potential visitors are put off by the images beamed around the world, but tourism is Rio’s bread-basket and the less tourists that arrives, the worse Rio’s situation becomes.

    I’m all for responsible broadcasting and people should be aware of the dangers when they come to Rio.
    But having these Rambo-style presenters running through the Favelas, clearly loving the mayhem, does not….. repeat ….. does NOT help.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

7 − two =