Better to be safe than sorry.
Before I left for Brazil, everyone was warning me about the dangers of being a tourist in Rio. I have to admit, it had me on edge. My trip plans fell together at the last minute. I had my hostel reserved and an airport pick-up set up. But that was about it. I'd heard horror stories about people getting robbed by their taxi drivers from the airport. I wasn't going to let that happen to me.
I arrived in Rio with my guard up and I was vigilant. I had safely securing all of my money, legal documents and electronic equipment. As a precautionary measure (per the advise of some friends), I carried a false wallet with some cash that could be thrown at any robbers to deter them from my "reals" money. When I arrived at the airport, I didn't trust anyone near me or my stuff. I didn't bring or wear any jewelery and I sure as heck didn't bring my best clothes. I wanted to blend in as much as possible and not bring any attention to myself or my belongings.
After arriving in Leblon, I went out to explore the area. It was still daylight and I don't know what I expected to see, but it wasn't the crazy dramas that had been running through my head. I didn't see any dead bodies in alleys, hear gun shots blasting in the streets or notice any sleazy drug dealers selling cocaine. Although I had heard that this happens in parts of Rio, I did not see anything like that in Leblon.
After a day or so, I stopped being on edge and started feeling relatively safe and relaxed in Rio (especially in Leblon and Impanema). Even in some of the dicer or questionable areas like Copacabana, Lapa and Central, I still felt safe but remained very aware of my surroundings. One of my biggest concerns was getting back to the hostel from Jiu Jitsu class after dark. Training was in Tijuca which isn't exactly the most tourist friendly area. Tijuca is about 1 hour from Leblon by bus and subway. I had a ride some of the time, but as I became more acclimated I felt relatively safe even walking around at night by myself and catching public transportation. In fact, I realized I must be blending in pretty well when people started asked me for direction or questions in Portuguese.
I've been told that Rio is undergoing a "face-lift" at the moment with the Olympics coming soon and the World Cup right after wards. Massive police task forces have been going into some of the most dangerous Favelas in efforts to clean up the drug trafficking and crime. They have been successful in quite a few areas of the South Zone. The city is becoming more and more safe and tourist friendly. I am sure by the time the Olympics begin Rio will be a model of security and hospitality.
SOME HELPFUL TOURIST TIPS:
The trick is not to be afraid, which can cause inaction and paralysis, but always stay alert. Don't do stupid things like...
* Don't go around flashing your electronics (mp3 players, iphones and etc.) or money.
* Don't bring a whole lot of attention to yourself as obviously being a foreigner.
* Walk with a purpose and try not to look totally lost on the streets holding a map or staring at the gps on your cell phone.
* Don't carry much money and it doesn't hurt to have a deterrent wallet with 10-20 reals in it.
* Buy a money belt if you have to move legal documents or large amounts of money.
* Make photocopies of your passport and don't carry around the originals.
* Don't let anyone suspecious get to close to you on the streets (no handouts or shoe shining)
* Don't walk on the beach alone at night.
* Don't walk in dark alley's or low traffic streets alone at night.
And finally: Trust your instincts and be alert. Just common sense stuff...Don't be careless and you'll be okay.
As a woman traveling alone, I am glad I started out in Rio being paranoid and with my guard up . It helped me become more aware and less trusting. Rio is like any other big city I've been to as far as safety. Robbing and pick pocketing is most common. I was fortunate that this didn't happen to me,but I did my best to make sure that I didn't put myself in any bad situations to begin with. Be smart and be safe and you will have a wonderful time!