Before I went to Rio de Janeiro, just after the World Cup, many people warned me about the dangers of traveling there. I was told all about the “street kids” who will rob you blind and the cab drivers who will rip you off.
Recently, a video surfaced of street kids picking pockets and snatching items from random passersby. It has a lot of people rattled. Admittedly, I was taken aback as well because all 27 incidents happened at the same intersection.
I’m grateful that founder and editor of Brazil Magazine, Bruce Jones, gave me some tips that I want to share with you.
Invest in a money belt. Money belts are basically fanny packs you wear under your pants or an actual belt with a secret compartment. This is a way for you to store emergency cash, cards and identification in case you are robbed. The trick is to NOT go into the money belt in public. Only do so in a restroom if you must.
Avoid the city bus and the train if possible. Your chance of being robbed increase on the bus. There are comedy sketches about it. Cabs, walking in your neighborhood or taking the metro to your destination is preferable. The metro and the train are different. The metro goes through a lot of the popular areas in Rio. The train will take you to the west zone and north zone—poorer suburbs compared to the south zone.
Walk on the beach side of the road. If you want to walk along Avenida Atlantica (the beach road in Copacabana), or any beach road– be sure you walk on the beach side. If you walk on the city side, it is very easy for someone to rob you and disappear down an alley.
Don’t use your smart phone on the street. If you need to look something up, map your location, etc.—do NOT do so while walking the streets. Duck into a store (not just the entry way) to use your phone. Keep your phone in your front pocket or purse.
Don’t carry a lot in public. Large backpacks, big shoulder bag purses, lots of jewelry, passport electronics everywhere—all of these things can make you a target. PS- a photocopy of your passport/driver license will suffice in day-to-day shopping if they even ask for ID.
Don’t give cash to the street kids. I know this sounds heartless, but you kind of open yourself up to being robbed later. If you give cash to one (or two), they may come back with their friends to rob you later because they know you have cash.
Beach kiosk workers are good resources. Along the beach in Copacabana and Ipanema, there are covered kiosks where you can buy food and drinks. Typically, they speak decent English and are on the beach all day every day. They can be a wealth of information.
Don’t chase your robber. Your pocket can be picked at any time of day. And the strangers around you are not likely to help. In fact, they will get out of the way and keep moving. If you chase the robber, you may find yourself alone somewhere.
Don’t expect the military police to help. The police are everywhere in Rio, but keep in mind they are not there to help you. Do not talk to them, do not take pictures of them, just ignore them—like the Brazilians. There are Tourist Police in Rio, but you may not see them as frequently as you like.
Keep a small amount of cash in your front pocket. If you are robbed, you can hand this to robber and say that’s all you have. If you open a wallet or purse–they will take the whole thing.
Know where you’re going. There are neighborhoods that one should not enter without a Brazilian friend or guide. Some people will say to avoid the favelas all together, but I personally had a great experience in Rocinha. It was a guided walking tour– not a safari trip on truck. I won’t pretend that all favelas are created equal. So just make sure you’re aware of your destination and surroundings.
Petty crime is almost inevitable in a country where the wealth disparity is staggering and virtually ignored by the government. Keeping these things in mind, can decrease your chances of victimization. And none of these tips should impede upon you having a fun time in the marvelous city.