There is very little that can prepare you for a city the size of Rio de Janeiro, especially when it’s during Carnival. Rio is nicknamed the Cidade Maravilhosa or “The Marvelous City” for good reason, its quite stunning with its long white sand beaches, glittering skyrises and beautiful people. Still, I was nervous flying into the city for the first time. The city has a population of over 11 million and doesn’t have the best reputation for safety.
Each February before lent, the world-famous Carnival festival is held in Rio, and it is considered to be the biggest party in the world. The city becomes flooded with millions more tourists and can bring the city to a stand-still. It becomes a 24 hour a day party with parades, floats and dancing, but for the uninitiated, it’s very overwhelming.
Here are a few tips to stay safe in Rio de Janeiro and surviving the worlds biggest party:
Carry as little on you as possible
No day bags, no purses, no bum bags, no jewellery, no camera dangling around your neck. Give the criminals very little reason to rob you by looking like you have nothing worthwhile. If you need to carry things with you, opt for a clear plastic shopping bag.
Wear a money belt, but also have (several) stashes of cash elsewhere
Money belts are a good idea to keep your very important things safe, but make sure you have an easily accessible bill or two in case you do get robbed so you can quickly hand it over. Its also a good idea to carry a stash of cash in your shoe, bra, etc to make sure you can get a taxi home in case of an emergency.
Prepare for the sun and heat
This seems like a no-brainer, but many tourists aren’t really prepared for 40-degree heat and bright bright sun. Put on your highest SPF lotion (40 or higher) before leaving your hotel and make sure you reapply every few hours. Try to stay in the shade and limit your beach time, if you aren’t from a hot and sunny country you cant handle it as the locals can. Also, drink as much water as you can – especially when drinking alcohol. Take naps during the day to keep cool, and wrap a damp towel around your head if you start to get overheated.
Consider day tours for exploring the city
Like many other backpackers, I don’t like being shuffled around on big bus tours, but Rio may be one place you want to consider it. Most of the major sites (Cristo, Sugar Loaf, Sambadrome) are scattered around the city and some are in less than ideal areas. Taking public transport can be costly and waste a lot of time while many agencies offer day tours that cover all these sites for very competitive rates. If you do decide to venture into the city on your own, make sure you know where you are at all times and don’t wander into any favelas.
Always take a taxi at night
Even if you don’t have to go very far, don’t wander around at night. And don’t walk on the beach! Don’t even walk on the side of the road where the beach is – this is where most robberies happen. If you decide to rent a car (something advised against) consider leaving it behind and taking a taxi at night. Taxi’s drive through red lights at night for a reason – carjacking.
Women – dress for the situation
If you are going out to a bar or to a Carnival parade, wear shorts or pants. Skirts and dresses allow too much access for wandering hands in crowded areas. Also, note that beachwear is only for the beach. If you wear something skimpy expect to get groped.
Don’t Buy Scalped Tickets to the Parade
We made this mistake and it ruined the evening. Scalping Carnival tickets is illegal, as well as difficult because you may not be able to recognize fake tickets. Ask your hostel or hotel to help you purchase legitimate tickets and educate yourself on the different sections so you know where you want to be. It’s organized insanity once you get there, but it’s an amazing show.
Carnival was an absolutely amazing experience, that I am so glad to have. It was also intense, overwhelming and frightening at times, but as long as you are prepared, vigilant and always aware of your surroundings, you can have a great time experiencing it. Have fun, and stay safe!