Tourist Safety In Brazil: Rio, Sao Paulo, and Further Afield

A common question we get from our travelers heading off to Brazil is: Will I be safe in Brazil?

We went to our in-house Brazil expert, Gretchen, to get her take this. Read on to see what she has to say:

Iguazu Falls

Brazil is a secret adventure paradise in South America and everyone should plan at least one trip (if not more) to Brazil in their lives! For European tourists (especially French and German tourists), Brazil is one of the primary destinations to visit in South America. For Americans though, Brazil tends to have some negative connotations. As an American, I will admit that before I had ever been to Brazil, my first impression, like many other Americans I have spoken with, was from the film, “City of God”. This is an excellent film but it should absolutely NOT be taken in as a representation of Brazil as a country- it would be as if Americans found out that the rest of the world watched the film “Gangs of New York” and had it in their minds that that was what daily life was like in all American cities; it seems laughable and is far from the truth. Not unlike “Gangs of New York”, which is a historical fiction revealing a select history of ONE US city (New York, which does NOT represent the rest of US cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, etc), at one point in time, in the past, “City of God” portrays one facet of Rio de Janeiro’s history in the 70s and is not a representation of the city today nor does it reflect the rest of Brazil.

Pantanal Brazil Jaguar
Jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal

Brazil, is roughly the same size as the continental US and, much like the US, has infinite regional cultures and traditions, destinations, and activities to offer visitors. From the Amazon, to epic sand dunes, coffee lands, deep canyons, chic boutique hotels, remote mountains, secluded beaches, jaw-dropping biodiversity, quaint country guest ranches, bustling metropolises, mind-blowing cuisine and some of the arguably most hospitable and welcoming people, Brazil has it all!

Lencois Maranhenses

For visitors with limited travel time, I recommend choosing one or two of Brazil’s highlights and to explore them deeply. Get to know one of Brazil’s larger cities and then couple that with a more remote area for a true Brazilian experience: an incredible juxtaposition of classy, hip and diverse urbanism and remote, virgin, natural beauty. For travelers with more time, go all out! Choose three to five of Brazil’s regions and see all that the country has to offer. For this option, I recommend visiting maybe two famous regions and then consulting with us to choose a couple other regions that are a bit off the beaten path for a truly authentic experience.

Trancoso, Bahia

While Brazil is an excellent escape for romantic getaways for couples (anyone see “Twilight”?) , it is also an amazing family destination. Brazilian culture is very family-oriented and therefore tourism in the country is extremely considerate of travelers of all ages. Almost all hotels offer various set ups for family rooms and offer great children discounts. Adventure tours are also geared towards including the entire family and extra safety precautions are always in place for the youngest of adventurers. In the past years, my own family has traveled around Brazil three times: the first trip was to Sao Paulo, the Green Coast, Paraty and Rio, the second was exploring Sao Paulo city and state in depth and the third was to Bahia and the beaches there. All were incredible!

Family Beach Vacation, Bahia

As a woman, I have felt safe and traveling on my own in Brazil. Before meeting my husband (from Sao Paulo), I traveled by boat in the Amazon, explored Salvador, trekked in Chapada Diamantina, and visited Rio and Sao Paulo on my own- people everywhere were incredibly helpful and warm, even when I didn’t speak Portuguese.

Chapada Diamantina
Secret Waterfalls and Swimming Pools in Chapada Diamantina

Two years ago, my husband and I relocated from Seattle to Sao Paulo, his home town. Moving is always a great mix of scary and exciting but Brazil now truly feels like my second home and has given me numerous opportunities for which I am beyond grateful. Actually living in Brazil, has allowed me to fully experience its two most famous cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on a more profound level. With this in mind, I would like now to discuss my opinions on safety in these two places as this seems to be one of the most common concerns for people traveling to Brazil:

Sao Paulo
Famous street art by Cobra in Ibirapuera Park

First, regarding Sao Paulo: Sao Paulo, I feel, is very safe (there were more crime issues in the 90s). It is my home and I feel very safe walking around main areas on my own such as Iberapuera Park (during the day), Paulista Avenue, Morumbi, Vila Madalena, Pinheiros, Perdizes, in the subways etc. Of course, Sao Paulo is a big city so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and have common sense (don’t flash cash on the street or wear jewelry that could make you a target- just like in ANY OTHER big city). But other than that, Uber and the subways are very safe and the city in general feels comfortable to walk around and explore on your own. The only touristic area that I would warn people to be careful in is the historic center. This is slowly changing, however, we recommend our travelers to visit this area during one of our city tours so your guide can make sure all is ok. The primary “issue” in this area is pickpockets so I recommend for those visiting the historic center to keep your phones/money/wallet, in your front pants pocket or leave those things in our tour van with your driver.

Regarding Rio: This is a bit more difficult. Rio, fortunately and unfortunately, for Brazil, is the face of the country (think back to “City of God” and how that has effected the international view of Brazil, as if “Gangs of New York” were said to represent all US cities) and while it is an absolutely gorgeous, amazing, city with so much to offer it does have  a crime problem. This issue with crime in Rio is, in turn, how most people outside of Brazil end up viewing the whole country (travelers will quickly see that this is not true- most of Brazil is very safe). You can experience Rio on your own, but it is advisable to have a guide/driver for at least your first day in Rio so you can talk with them to discuss how to avoid being a target and also get around the city in a safe way (driving on the right roads to avoid unsafe areas). I have been to Rio now 6 times and I never had any problems until my last time there (I was mugged on the street in broad daylight in a good neighborhood). The reason, I believe, this happened was because my friend and I had a purse on us and it made us a target; we could have avoided this. That said, things like this can happen in any big cities- remaining aware of your surroundings is always important. The best thing to do in Rio is do what the locals do: only carry cash on you that you will need that day and nothing else. Most people wear their swimsuits under a sun dress or light weight clothes and go to the beach and cafes during the day; they carry a beach bag with them to put their towels, sunscreen, etc and don’t have much else on them. The beach is safe during the day (read: when there are a lot of people around) but not early in the morning or at night (when the beaches are more or less deserted). Early in the morning and at night, I recommend that travelers stay on the pedestrian area next to the beaches where there are cafes and lots of pedestrian traffic (riding bikes, jogging, etc). Our guides go over all of this with our travelers when they are there.

Gretchen in the Amazon

I hope this has helped shed light on safety in Brazil. I have lived in Thailand, Argentina, Spain, the US, Switzerland and most recently Brazil. Brazil is hands down a country that I cannot emphasize enough how incredible it is. I recommend to all travelers considering a trip to South America to make Brazil a mandatory stop.

For more insights on Brazil from Gretchen, check out these blog posts:

Brazil Family Adventure Ideas

Rock Climbing, Hiking, Relaxation, & Cultural Experiences in Brazil’s Coffee Lands

Bahian Magic at UXUA: Trancoso, Brazil

Family Adventure to Brazil’s Green Coast- A Major Hit!

Notes From The Field: Secrets and Spices of the Amazon

Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

Treasures of the Amazon: The Women of Cotijuba Island

PART II: Treasures of the Amazon: Belem, Brazil

10 Fun Brazil Coffee Facts & 3 Must-Visit Coffee Shops in Sao Paulo

Brazil E-Visa Made Easy

Your Brazil expert,

Gretchen

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