Rio de Janeiro is often at the top of any South American itinerary due to its lush forests, famous beaches and epic skylines (including Christ the Redeemer). When I first arrived in Rio, I quickly noticed the city’s diversity. The population is a large mix of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, forming one of the continent’s most unique melting pots. Women tend to dress more provocatively than Americans and emphasize their curves. Hello body positivity! But is it safe to travel alone to Brazil? How can a woman travel safely through one of the highest crime cities in the world? When visiting Rio de Janeiro, it’s important to keep a few things in mind in order to stay safe and have a good time. During my time in the city, I had no issues, but I urge you to adopt these precautions as you travel.
Don’t keep your phone or other valuables out. I had read this advice elsewhere and didn’t really believe it (mainly because I’m always holding my phone for directions). Other people, especially the locals, don’t ever seem to have their phone out. I saw someone occasionally use it on the metro to make a call or text and then they would put it away. I heard from a fellow traveler of someone having their phone stolen while they were in a taxi; the windows were down as he was on his phone and a biker came by moving in the opposite direction and swiped it. Take precautions with your valuables, especially things that have easy street value.
Use the female only cars on the metro — Rio de Janeiro offers female exclusive cars during rush hour on their subway, which offers some comfort and safety. Use them. The stops are marked with clear pink paint and signs in front of the female cars. If you are male, also take note of them. If a tourist gets on the wrong car, there will be lots of glares. 😊
Pro Tip for Public Transit: Don’t get the Giro card, but rather the Rio card for metro and trams and buses. The Rio card can be topped up and spent on any public transit in the city. It’s a great way to move about. The subway and trams are the most reliable, but don’t go everywhere. If you plan to take a bus, allow for traffic delays. Buses always took longer for me than I (or Google) expected.
Stay in accommodations with 24/7 security. Or better yet, if your budget allows, stay in a private room. My accommodation had all guests wear an armband during our stay that the security guard was looking for while on duty. This made me feel more secure. Especially when staying in Lapa in Rio. I left my do not disturb sign up the entire time I was there so no one came into the room.
Accommodation: I stayed at the Selina Lapa in Rio in a private room. I didn’t use most of the facilities, but it was nice to have a rooftop bar with good views, clean water to refill my bottle and 24/7 desk. The area is a great location for bar hopping, but if that’s not your thing, I’d suggest not venturing out much after dark in the area.
Pro Tip for Hotel Stays: Have you heard of the door trick? You can place your “do not disturb” sign partly in the closed door when you leave each morning. This will alert you when you return if it’s been changed, and someone has been in the room. This also means no cleaning service, but I think you’d be surprised by the lack of cleaning in a budget accommodation in Brazil anyway, so better stick with safety over cleanliness.
If you plan to go to the beach all day, try to go with a group you trust or use a paid locker. The paid lockers have signs on the promenade and go below ground. I haven’t used them, so exercise your own discretion. Regardless, you should pack light when heading to the beach; try to avoid taking any extra valuables with you. Women alone at the beach are more common than in other country, but try to sit near a family and avoid going to distant beaches. If you stay in the “zona sul” – main beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leme and Leblon – you should be ok. Locals say to avoid the beach on Sundays during the summer season. It is usually overcrowded, making it harder for the police to prevent theft. If you want to take a quick dive into the water, ask a family nearby to watch your things. Just make sure to keep your eye on your things while you are swimming and keep your water time short.
If you aren’t planning to use public transportation, you can use Uber in Rio and São Paulo for safety and language issues. And no money transactions. Otherwise you need to bargain and agree on a price before using a taxi. Ubers were very easy to use, and I had no issue getting them to various places around town, such as the Christ the Redeemer tram station. In smaller cities, such as Paraty, Ubers are not as easy to come by, so double check before travel to each location.
Set up Bank Notifications – You can check your account regularly while you travel, but one of the best ways to keep tabs is to set up text alerts on your phone. I receive a text every time my Visa gets used, so I can easily keep track of my spending (and currency conversion)! Sometimes scammers will use ATM skimming to copy your information. Gently tug the card slot and keypad before you use an ATM and try to use ones in banks or enclosed areas.
Hope these tips help the next solo female traveler in Rio de Janeiro. The city certainly has a lot of homeless and unsafe neighborhoods (favelas), but if you exercise vigilance and try to avoid being out late after dark, you should have no issues. Remember to dress modestly and stay in places with good reviews. Joining guided tours or sticking to tourist attractions will add a little more safety. Enjoy the beautiful beaches and unique sites!
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