While we were getting ready for our trip to Brazil last Autumn, we were really unsure about just one thing and that is of course the safety. I guess that is pretty normal for everyone who visits any South American country for the first time, regardless of their travel history. And the more you follow the news and read bad stories on the internet, the more you feel scared, right? Well, let me calm you down, it is really not all that bad once you are there. Of course, it it advisable to follow some of the rules on how to stay safe and of course you can still have bad luck and are at a wrong place at a wrong time, but at least you can really minimize your chances by behaving wisely. So, here is a post about how to do just that, based on our 3 weeks trip in North-East of Brazil, but it will surely be useful if you are travelling to other South American countries as well .
Looking at the statistics, there are 5 Mexican, 3 BRAZILIAN and 2 Venezuelan cities amongst 10 MOST DANGEROUS CITIES in the world (excluding war zones) based on MURDER RATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE. We flew in and out of Fortaleza which is on place 7. For comparison, Rio de Janeiro is not even in the top 50 in this list. This got us thinking of course. But, it is important to remember that such violent crimes usually take place in CERTAIN NEIGHBOURHOODS where a tourist has nothing to do anyway. Despite this, it is always advisable to be vigilant and careful.
WHAT TO PACK AND WHAT NOT TO | safety in Brazil
Even though we spent 3 weeks in Brazil which is not so little, we only travelled with HAND LUGGAGE. We left most of the VALUABLE THINGS aback at home. Our watches, jewellery, cameras, laptops – all of the things we would usually just throw in the bag without thinking. We couldn´t go without our phones, credit cards and passports, but this was about it regarding valuable things we carried around. My first advice would really be – TRY NOT TO LOOK LIKE A TOURIST. Don´t raise attention with how you look, don´t flash valuable things in public places, wear casual clothes like flip flops and don´t show you have money. Also, make COPY OF PASSPORTS and notify your family about your whereabouts just in case.
PERSONAL BELONGINGS | safety in Brazil
Coffee break between sightseeing, PHONE on the table, HANDBAG hanging on your seat, while you casually read about your afternoon activities in your guidebook? Forget it. Not in Brazil. Put your phone away, keep your handbag in your lap or leave it hanging around your shoulders and forget about the guidebook – you don´t want to look like a tourist. I might be exaggerating but you get the picture – always KEEP YOUR VALUABLE THINGS IN SIGHT. Put a few banknotes in your pocket and keep the rest of the money together with credit cards and documents in a safe place. Either in a MONEY BELT or in HOTEL SAFE. Don´t leave stuff on the beach while you go for a swim. As always, follow your instinct, if you are at a quiet little village where nothing is happening, you might be alright even if you leave stuff around.
ATMs, CASH, CREDIT CARDS | safety in Brazil
We could pay with our CREDIT CARD almost everywhere so you really don´t need to carry much cash around. You will need CASH for street snacks and similar. ATMs are available everywhere in bigger towns, but there might be none in smaller cities so be prepared. I suggest you use the ATM MACHINES located inside BANKS or SHOPPING CENTRES, because there is a lower risk of them being manipulated. Also, here is a lower risk of getting robbed while taking the money out, as there is usually a security guard around.
TRANSPORT, CAR HIRE | safety in Brazil
TAXIS and UBER are mostly safe in Brazil and better to use these as oppose to city buses. Make sure they have meters though and negotiate the rates in advance if you are making a longer journey between cities. Do NOT PUT THE WINDOWS DOWN while driving, especially on the traffic lights, LOCK THE CAR DOORS and don´t trust your NAVIGATION only. It will usually take you on the shortest way which might mean through a favela or other dangerous parts of cities. Better to take a look at the route in advance and be prepared. I guess carrying a PAPER MAP and asking locals for directions before you drive off is a good idea sometimes.
EXPLORING CITIES | safety in Brazil
Personally I really love to walk. I´m one of those people who love to get lost in the city (if I have enough time) without really knowing where I end up. Usually this is how I find the best un-touristy places, cool galleries or local restaurants. Doing this in Brazil? Please don´t. You always have to know WHICH PARTS OF THE CITY TO AVOID. Sometimes the most wealthy areas are directly next to the poorest ones, where crime rates are the highest. So, do ask around at your hotel or the taxi driver or check online where it is safe to go and where not.
EVENINGS and NIGHTTIME | safety in Brazil
So, walking around cities yes, but know where to go and take extreme care at night. If possible, do NOT WALK ON SIDE STREETS where there are no lights and if possible DON´T WALK ALONE. Also, avoid THE BEACH AT NIGHT, you will be an easy target there. Having said that I have to mention we did walk the beach in pitch dark quite a few times – but it was in an overall very safe place in a smaller village. So, always decide based on where you are. Brazilians love watching sunsets from the sand dunes at the beach (at least in the North-East parts of the country), but people quickly dissappear after the sun goes down and there is always at least 1 POLICE CAR making sure there is order.
DRUGS, ALCHOHOL AND OTHER THINGS | safety in Brazil
Everybody decides for themselves but personally I would not support taking ILLEGAL DRUGS in this part of the world, or well anywhere to be honest. Better drink a caipirinha or two. But not too many also – I´don´t think getting too drunk and walking back to your hotel in the dark streets with limited physical abilities and double vision is such a good idea. Also, always keep your glass with you and make sure no one pours something in it.
UNWANTED FOLLOWERS | safety in Brazil
Always look around yourself, be vigilant and alert if someone is following you or is looking suspicious. If you have a strong feeling someone might be following (even if they look like totally innocent people, like a mom with a small child), take a taxi and drive a few blocks. There is supposed to be lots of ORGANISED CRIME, where one person watches you and the other one is waiting for a good chance to do the dirty job. But again, don´t flash your cameras, phones, jewellery and so on and they will have no reason to follow you in the first place.
CRIMINAL ACTS | safety in Brazil
Don´t be put off by the horrifying murder statistics – as said, such violent crimes really extremely rarely happen to tourists. There is a bigger chance to get MUGGED though. Also in the last years there have been more reports of so-called FAST KIDNAPPINGS, where they take you to the nearest ATM machine and make you take the money out. If you happen to find yourself in anykind of mugging / robbing situation, there is one golden rule to follow and that is – DO NOT RESIST. This is not the time to be a hero, as often the attackers here are armed with either knives or guns and should you resist it might lead to more serious physical injuries. Also, it is not uncommon that the attacker is on drugs at the moment which makes him even more unpredictable. If you do get attacked, report it to the TOURIST POLICE. Take special attention in the time of the CARNVAL when crime rates sky rocket every year.
DEMONSTRATIONS | safety in Brazil
Current POLITICAL SITUATION in Brazil (and elsewhere in South America) is not so good at the moment so there is an increased chance of DEMONSTRATIONS and UNRESTS. If you happen to find yourselves in the middle of this try to get out as quickly as possible and stay in the hotel until it passes.
POISONOUS ANIMALS | safety in Brazil
There are other dangers besides human crimes too and by that I mean the animals. Again, Brazil is huge and it all depends on where you go but you might be facing encounters with sharks, poisonous spiders, snakes, frogs, piranhas, snakes and more. Also, thee is a risk of malaria, Zika virus and others so please check in advance if there are such risks in the areas where you are headed.
To conclude, please don´t be scared by the statistics, Brazil is a wonderful country and there are many safe places, you just have to do a bit more research before you leave home, that´s it. There are thousands of tourists coming every year and most of them return home with no bad experience. It is advisable to speak a little bit of Portuguese (Spanish takes you a long way too though), follow the current political situation before you go, read the news and check current warnings and info on your Ministry for foreign affairs websites. Safe traves and enjoy the south American sun for us as well!
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