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Brazil is simply one of the most beautiful and stunning countries on Earth – it has everything in its ecosystem, from mountains, waterfalls, and rainforests, to the incredible beaches, and small islands, and also some of the most friendliest locals that one will ever meet. But, there’s one question that always comes up when someone starts thinking of visiting Brazil: how safe is this place? And the short answer is that – no, it is not very safe.
However, the safety reason alone should not prevent anyone from visiting this gorgeous country. With some basic and necessary precautions, such as those described below, you will greatly improve your chances of having a safe and amazing trip.
My ‘Scary’ Experience in Brazil:
Brazil was the 45th country that I visited and the truth be told it was one of the most challenging.
On my very first day in Rio, I was advised to remove my thin gold chain with a religious cross, and to hide my camera and the cell phone in my purse. I could only take those items out after some careful observation of the surrounding area, to make sure that no one “suspicious” was around or was following me.
As it quickly turned out later, I got followed on my fourth day in Rio, and it happened, out of all the places in a big city – in a major art museum (Museu de Arte do Rio)!
It was around 5pm on an early, rainy evening when the sun has just begun to set. As I was getting into an elevator to go up to the top floor of this great museum, two local women got in there with me – one elderly lady, about 60 or so years of age, and one younger lady about 40-45 years old. I was alone, with only a camera in my hand, as I had to check in my carry-on bag at the museum’s security checkpoint.
The two women got out on a floor below the one that I was heading to, but a few minutes later took the stairs to catch up with me. Since the top floor had nothing there, except a nice view in an open area, I found it initially somewhat strange that they decided to come up, but thought nothing of it.
The museum was designed in way that requires one to walk through its galleries from the top (5th floor) to the bottom, and that is exactly what I did on that day.
When I was passing through some galleries on the 3rd floor, the older lady caught up with me and was walking just a few steps behind me all the way to the first floor. And then straight to the museum’s souvenir shop. And then to its adjacent coffee shop.
As I sat down to grab a quick bite in the coffee shop, the older lady came in and sat down right across from me and ordered a tiny cup of espresso. A few moments later she was joined by her companion, who ordered nothing and just sat there playing with her phone, throwing an occasional glance my way.
When I finished my meal and asked the waiter for the check, the woman across asked for hers too, paid it off quickly, and both of them jumped for the exit. Around that moment, I realized that something quite suspicious was going on. Since the museum is located on a vast lot area with only one major road some distance away, my only option was to catch a taxi quickly, before my new “friends” had a chance to caught up with me.
As I walked out of the cafe, I saw the younger lady sitting right in front of it, still playing with her phone. I left the area promptly and began walking towards the main road. Luckily, there was one lone empty taxi waiting on the red light, and I was able to catch it and drive off.
The next day I told this story to a local tour guide, and he instantly confirmed my worst fears that – yes, I was followed, and the way it normally works, he explained – is that there’s a whole team of people that operates behind this sort of scheme.
One or two “unsuspicious” looking people will follow the potential victim, observe him or her (i.e. what the victim is wearing, what type of “goods” he/she has) and later send the information over to the nearby ‘colleague’ who will then complete the “dirty job”.
In case you’re curious as to how the dirty job is done – well, it is normally done with a knife, or a gun. So if you resist the robbery – you have a pretty good chance to be shot or slashed.
Hence, if you find yourself being robbed in Brazil – the golden rule is to give away everything a thug demands from you, since no amount of money or goods is worth dying for.
10 Basic Safety Tips for Visiting Brazil:
1. Do not wear any expensive jewelry, including any gold or silver chains, earrings, bracelets, watches, etc.
2. Hide your phone, camera, and other precious items in your bag all the time. Another good strategy would be to bring an old phone, and leave your new (and more expensive) one at home. Also, you should only take out these items when your gut instinct tells you that the area is safe – try to rely on it, as there’s no other way.
3. If possible – wear a cross-body ‘messenger’ bag (it is much harder to grab it from your hands and run with it). Backpacks are not safe either for obvious reasons – unless you wear one on your chest.
4. Do not walk by yourself at dusk, let alone at night. If you have to go out in the evening – take a taxi (they are quite safe and inexpensive in Brazil).
5. Museums, souvenir shops, beaches, popular attractions and other touristy areas are the favorite places of criminals. Always watch your back and the surrounding area in these type of locations.
6. If you feel that you are being followed (always trust your instinct!) – run for a taxi, or if there’s none – go to the nearest police or security officer, explain your situation and ask for some help in getting one. If you cannot spot any security patrol around you either, ask a local for help, as the last resort.
7. Do not wear headphones and listen to music while walking alone in the streets of Brazil – it really doesn’t matter what area you’re in or what hour of the day it is. Otherwise, you are making yourself very vulnerable to a potential attack.
8. Be especially vigilant when going out to a local bar – your drink can be spiked and you can be taken advantage of, easily.
9. Advise from a local: do not take any buses around big cities, such as Rio – armed robberies is a daily occurrence there, take a metro or a taxi instead, when possible.
10. And finally, remember that most thugs work in groups and sometimes the most innocent looking persons (such as: elderly people, mothers with children, or even small children themselves) can be part of a huge scam. Do not be too quick to trust a stranger.
Bottomline – always pay attention to the smallest details – if something looks or feels wrong, then it probably is.
Brazil is a gorgeous country, that has a lot to offer you. Do not let the security concerns prevent you from exploring and enjoying it to the fullest, since the majority of tourists visit it safely each year, without any major incidents.
Be vigilant, observant, and cautious, but most of all – do not let any fears in, and allow them to ruin your experience.
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Over to you – have you been to Brazil, and if yes, how was your experience there? Please leave your thoughts below, or even submit your own Brazil travel story here!