Brazil receives around three million foreign visitors per year. People come to spend time on the famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro, enjoy the gastronomy and nightlife of Sao Paulo, and explore the Amazon region of the country.
Rio, in particular, features attractions like the massive statue of Christ the Redeemer and the cable cars of Sugarloaf Mountain. However, is Brazil safe? Friends may have warned you against traveling to Brazil, claiming it’s dangerous.
The reality is that the vast majority of foreign tourists in Brazil experience zero issues, but it’s still important to be aware of potential dangers and protect yourself from them.
Is Brazil Safe to Visit in 2022?
Yes. The State Department gives Brazil a Level 2 travel advisory, which means it’s relatively safe, but you should exercise increased caution.
The most common crimes you’ll face include pickpocketing and muggings. There is also a lot of gang violence in Brazil. However, they are usually limited to areas known as favelas (slums).
Border areas with Venezuela may pose a risk due to trafficking groups. There may also be fires in some areas, depending on the season. Sexual assaults and kidnappings are rare but still a possibility.
More common are carjacking and fraud. For example, some thieves may use ATM scanners to skim your credit card number and use it to withdraw money or purchase items online.
Crime in Brazil
Brazil is a massive country, and not all areas are unsafe. Despite that, it has earned a reputation as a dangerous country due to the high rates of crime in some of its most popular tourist destinations, including:
- Rio de Janeiro
- São Paulo
As I mentioned, petty crime and armed robberies are the most common crimes you’ll face as a tourist. Such crimes are more common at night, but they occur even in tourist areas of Rio de Janeiro, such as Copacabana.
However, by keeping a low profile, you can avoid such crimes – for the most part. One important thing to know about Brazil is that poor and wealthy areas are often right next to each other.
Slums, or favelas in Portuguese, are low-income areas where poverty is common. Such places are breeding grounds for gangs, which often engage in gang wars.
Tourists have been victims of such gang wars in the past — they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, due to the proximity of these favelas to tourist areas, petty robbers and opportunists don’t have to go far to find tourists to target.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Avoid favelas at all costs – including favelas that are “up and coming” as tourist attractions. The situation in those favelas is still unstable, and the risk of something going wrong is too great. Gangs often have shootouts with the police in such areas as well.
The borders of such areas are not always well-defined. As I mentioned, they are sometimes close to tourist areas, which is why it’s essential to ask your hotel reception, travel agent, or Airbnb host about where it is safe to walk and where it isn’t.
Use Google Maps to guide you while you walk — taking a wrong turn can cause you to end up in the wrong area. In Rio de Janeiro, you should stay in Copacabana or Ipanema.
Those are the main tourist areas, and they have an increased security presence. However, crimes still occur there, so don’t walk around in unlit areas at night or display valuables in public. You can also stay outside of the city altogether.
Tourist towns like Paraty and Buzios are not too far from Rio de Janeiro, offering excellent access to beaches, and are much safer than Rio. If you are visiting Rio’s beaches, stick to crowded beaches where there are a lot of people. Avoid isolated beaches.
While crowded beaches reduce the risk of armed robbery, pickpockets may be on the lookout, so use pants with a zipper pocket or keep a small bag with your valuables in front of you.
When you visit the historical centers of famous cities, aim to go during the weekday when there are more people around and more activity. The reverse is true for hiking trails. Many hiking trails are deserted during the week, making them ripe targets for thieves.
On the other hand, on the weekends, many locals flock to such trails, especially on Sundays. There may also be an increased police presence on those trails on the weekends.
When visiting Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, take the train to the top instead of hiking up. According to the British government, tourists should currently stay away from the Corcovado hiking trail going up to Christ the Redeemer due to increased reports of robberies and muggings.
In São Paulo, stay in areas around Avenida Paulista or wealthy areas like Jardins. Avoid going to the city’s outskirts, as that’s where the favelas are.
Also, avoid Cracolandia at all costs. Cracolandia is an area near the Luz subway station in Sao Paulo. The subway station is somewhat of a tourist attraction, but don’t wander around the area.
It translates to “crackland” in Portuguese, and it got its name due to the high number of drug addicts in the area. Open use of crack cocaine and other drugs is common, and residents of the area — who usually sleep on the street or in tents — have attacked passing cars in the past.
In general, avoid the entire center of the city at night, and don’t walk under dark underpasses where the homeless population tends to gather.
Generally, you’ll want to avoid unpaved roads, especially those leading off main roads. These unpaved roads often lead to favelas. They might seem harmless at first, but people may rob you or worse.
In all cities, avoid favelas, as I already mentioned. Tour agencies market some favelas as tourist-friendly and even offer favelas tours, but they can’t guarantee your safety if a shootout between gangs or gangs and the police occurs.
Favelas are often on hills, and their characteristics usually include poor structures, unorganized construction, and even colorful houses. The houses are generally closer together than usual.
Avoiding Unsafe Cities and Regions
Some cities and parts of the country are too dangerous to venture to. The State Department advises against all travel within 100 miles of Brazil’s borders. The exceptions are Pantanal National Park and Foz do Iguacu National Park.
If you plan to visit any neighboring countries, such as Peru, Colombia, or Suriname, it’s best to fly instead of going overland. According to the French government, the northeastern cities have the highest homicide rates in the country.
However, most homicides are gang-related and do not target tourists. Nevertheless, it’s better to avoid walking alone in those cities. Always take an Uber instead of walking whenever possible, especially at night.
Certain cities have a high level of insecurity. For example, Salvador is one of Brazil’s most dangerous cities.
However, you can still visit the historic center, but avoid it when it gets dark. Fortaleza and Natal are two more dangerous cities you should reconsider visiting unless absolutely necessary.
Not Making Yourself a Target
Many tourists fall victim to crime because of opportunities. The best way to reduce the risk of muggings is to avoid making yourself a target. Don’t carry a lot of valuables with you. It’s best to keep most of your valuables in your hotel room, including your passport.
Take a photocopy of your passport with you instead. Take the bare minimum of cash and perhaps one credit card with you when going to the beaches or walking around the major cities.
If you do get robbed, hand over all of your cash immediately. Never attempt to resist a robbery, as that dramatically increases the chances of the robber getting violent and stabbing or shooting you.
You may want to consider hiding a few small bills in your sock or underwear. That way, if you lose your money, you will still have enough for a taxi back home.
Always try to memorize the address of your hotel or Airbnb, and memorize the hotel’s phone number if you can. That way, you can borrow a passerby’s phone and call your hotel or host for assistance.
Taking Uber Instead of Taxis
Taxis are a significant source of crime in Brazil, according to the Australian government. If you must use a taxi, use an official one. Even better, get your hotel to organize a taxi for you.
Taxi drivers may pull out a weapon and mug you. Alternatively, they may pick up a co-collaborator and force you to take out money from ATMs until your bank card has no more funds left (known as express kidnappings).
According to the Canadian government, all taxis must use the taxi meter to determine the price. The exceptions are radio taxis, which have a fixed fare rate. Taxi drivers may attempt to overcharge you, use a manipulated meter, or give you back the wrong change or fake bills as change.
Instead of taxis, it’s better to use Uber. Uber works in Brazil just like it does everywhere else. You can pay with a credit card and see the driver’s profile and rating before getting into the car. Just input your origin and destination.
The other major ridesharing app in Brazil is 99, formerly 99Taxis. If you’ve used Didi in other parts of Latin America, you’ll be familiar with the app, as the same company owns both of them, and the apps share a similar interface.
However, prices may sometimes be lower on Uber. However, whether you use an Uber, 99, or an official taxi, roll your windows up, especially when you are stuck in traffic or waiting at a traffic light.
Remember to lock the doors before starting your journey. That will make you less of a target for thieves. You might want to sit in the front, together with the driver, instead of the back, as it will make it less evident that you are a tourist, and you may instead appear as a friend of the driver.
Since tourists often have money, they are more of a target. In addition, don’t be surprised if your Uber or taxi driver runs red lights, especially at night when there is not a lot of traffic.
It’s a common practice in many large Brazilian cities, and drivers do it to avoid becoming sitting ducks for thieves. Always wear your seatbelt.
What about public transportation?
It’s best to avoid buses unless you are familiar with the route. Thieves and armed robbers often target buses, pickpocketing passengers or robbing the entire bus. However, the metro in Rio de Janeiro is relatively safe.
The same goes for the Sao Paulo metro system. As in all big cities, watch out for pickpockets.
Motorcycle taxis are standard in the hilly parts of Rio de Janeiro (not only in the favelas, even though favelas tend to be hilly). They usually gather at the bottom of the hill and transport individuals to the top.
While they provide a quick and easy way to avoid walking up hills, they aren’t always safe drivers. It’s better to take a regular Uber. If you do use a motorcycle taxi, make sure you wear a helmet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most common questions we see from our readers about safety in Brazil.
Why is Brazil so unsafe?
Various factors, including high poverty and unemployment rates, drive the high crime rates in Brazilian cities. Gang wars drive high homicide rates. Poor urban planning, which results in impoverished areas right next to rich ones, is another factor.
Is Brazil safe for female travelers?
Yes. Rape and sexual assault happen in Brazil, but they’re still rare. However, avoid walking alone at night in isolated areas. Also, watch your drink when going out at night, as some people use date rape drugs to target women.
Is Rio safe for solo travelers?
Yes. Rio is one of the best cities in Brazil to visit as a solo traveler. There are many hostels where you can stay and meet people, and tourist attractions like Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer are easily accessible alone via Uber.
Is Rio safe for LGBTQ?
Brazil is a very open society, and people are very accepting of the LGBTQ community. There is a large gay community in Rio de Janeiro, for example, and it’s not uncommon to see gay or lesbian couples together.
Is Brazil safe to live in?
Living in Brazil is safe if you live in a secure area or city. However, the longer you spend time in Brazil, the higher your chances of being a crime victim. As a tourist staying for a short time, you are less likely to be a crime victim.
So, Is Brazil Safe to Visit?
Brazil is not without its dangers, but most travelers have a fabulous time without experiencing any issues. The most important things to do is to stay in a safe hotel in a secure area, avoid flashing valuables or walking around alone at night, and take Uber instead of taxis.
Above all, enjoy your time in Brazil, and don’t let fear stop you from traveling there and having the time of your life. Safe travels!