Rio de Janeiro Travel Advice
Amongst the glittering beaches, lively samba music and friendly Carioca locals of Rio de Janeiro, unfortunately crime has always also been an issue for travelers visiting the “The Marvelous City”. Some people even ask if it’s safe to visit Rio at all. First of all, yes, it is! Please don’t let greatly outdated stereotypes stop you from exploring this wonderfully unique city. But, as any smart traveler should, we definitely recommend reading up a little before you do so you can wander with peace of mind, and can make sure that you leave with only positive memories of this Marvelous City. Here are our most important safety tips and advice that every traveler to Rio de Janeiro needs to know!
From Airports/Bus Terminals
From the international airport (Galeao Tom Jobim International Airport), you have the options to take a radio taxi, normal yellow taxi, or blue shuttle bus. The radio taxi is monitored and therefore the safest option, and we found it was worth it when we first arrived as the ride from this airport is quite long and passes through some of Rio’s rougher neighborhoods. The area surrounding is not the best either. If you’re a more seasoned traveler or very familiar with Rio and simply want the cheapest deal, you do have the option to take a yellow cab for about half the price, but we’ve found most everyone finds the radio taxis from here worth the additional cost.
From the regional airport, Santos Dumont, radio taxis are also available, but it is perfectly safe to take a normal taxi from here as you are already in the South Zone where all tourists stay and no more than 10 minutes from Copacabana. From both airports, you can also catch the blue charter bus that will deliver you to several spots throughout the South Zone and is also completely safe. Read details on how to get to and from the airports in Rio de Janeiro here.
From the bus terminal, you will see another smaller terminal across the street where all of the city buses stop. These buses are perfectly safe, but the area around the bus terminal is not the best. If you are arriving late at night with lots of luggage, make sure there are other people on the street before walking from one to another. At almost all times of day, this will be the case so don’t worry. If it is very late at night and there are no people around, it may be best to just snag a taxi as you don’t want to wander around or wait for a bus in the open-air terminal in the dark. You can order a radio taxi from inside, but most everyone just grabs a yellow one off the street here. Make sure they put the meter on.
For getting around Rio, it is perfectly fine to take yellow taxis off the street, unlike in some surrounding countries. Radio taxis are also available if this makes you feel more comfortable, and we’ve listed several below. City buses are safe even as they run until about 2am, but do not take the white shuttle-looking vans driving around. They have been banned from the South Zone, but still stop sometimes. Do not use these. Below are some taxi companies that are safe to use:
Coopatur // Cootramo // Coopertramo // Transcoopass // Transcootour
General Safety in the City
Once you’re in Rio de Janeiro and sightseeing, you’ll want to start with some general concepts to be a safe and smart traveler. First, understand the situation in Rio so you know what to be aware of and can be an informed traveler. Secondly, stick to the ‘safe’ areas outlined below and don’t seek out dangerous areas because you’re curious. Third, be aware at all times, don’t bring things of value out to sightsee, and remember that a vast majority of the people are wonderful and want you to have a fabulous time in their city! Do keep in mind that the current political climate at any time may lead to protests (as you may have heard, the government doesn’t have many fans amongst its people, and some times are more volatile than others). Don’t get in the middle of anything you’re not involved in (protests, random bar fights, places it’s clear you aren’t welcome). Basically, common sense with a little background knowledge!
Addressing number one, Rio’s ‘danger’ focuses around a theme: there is a major class divide, a lot of poverty, and the favelas (slums) are spread throughout the more affluent neighborhoods (rather than sitting on the fringes as in most cities, they’re on top of the hills between other neighborhoods, so very different lifestyles are happening right next to each other). So what does this mean for you? Not as much as the movies would have you think, because it’s (sadly for locals, but fortunately for travelers) very easy to not even notice that a slum is on the hill right behind your hotel. Stay in your safe tourist-friendly areas, and the unfortunate issues will never be a part of your experience as a tourist and you can witness the best Rio has to offer (of course, having a great tour guide will help you be educated on these situations, because Rio is much more complex than just pretty beaches- we just mean you don’t have to experience everything firsthand to be informed about it).
Because a lot of the tension and trouble in Rio stems from poverty, the crimes you as an innocent bystander will be most worried about are theft or muggings, and that’s probably your worst case scenario if you don’t stick to general safety advice like this. This can range from someone pulling your phone out of your pocket in a club without you noticing, to someone demanding your purse on a quiet street late at night (which is not somewhere we describe as a safe place, fyi), but in the end it’s clear that losing material items is minor as long as you’re safe.