Amongst the world’s great tourist cities, Rio de Janeiro has one of the worst reputations with regard to personal safety. Whilst this reputation is justified, it’s important for would-be visitors to realise that by exercising the same common sense that you would in any other major city your trip to Rio is likely to be trouble-free. The first decision to make should come before travelling to Rio de Janeiro as choosing the right neighbourhood to stay in is a major factor in minimising dangers and maximising your enjoyment.
Rio de Janeiro is divided into four main areas as follows:
Rio de Janeiro Centre (Centro)
As well as being home to Rio de Janeiro’s Central Business District, Centro is also a popular tourist destination thanks to the number of historic buildings which are located in the area. Highlights amongst them include the Municipal Theatre, National Library, National Museum of Fine Arts, Tiradentes Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The area is perfectly safe by day but isn’t a place to be once the office workers and tourists have gone home.
The earthy district of Lapa to the south is well-known for its lively nightlife whilst neighbouring Santa Teresa is a bohemian hangout by day frequented by local artists and tourists. Both areas are worth a visit but it pays not to stray off the beaten track after dark. Neither ‘bairro’ would be high on the list of recommended places to stay for first-time visitors to Rio.
Just across the Guanabara Bay from Centro is the modern city of Niterói which forms part of Rio’s Metropolitan Area. Whilst it may seem a little far away from Rio for some visitors, the added security it offers might prove appealing to others. Niterói is well connected to Rio by means of a ferry ride over to Praca XV in Centro or by bus via the Rio-Niterói Bridge.
Rio de Janeiro South Zone (Zona Sul)
Undoubtedly the best and safest place to stay for visitors to Rio de Janeiro is the Southern Zone which is home to a fine selection of attractive neighbourhoods and many of the city’s top tourist attractions. The main places to look for accommodation are as follows:
Copacabana: The world-famous Copacabana Beach is 4km of white sand and one of Rio de Janeiro’s top attractions. Copacabana is also a very popular neighbourhood for tourist accommodation and is one of the safest areas to stay in. Theft of personal belongings from the beach is not uncommon but crimes against people is quite rare. As well as providing plenty places to stay, the district provides a good selection of bars, restaurants and public transport. Beachfront hotel prices are the highest with rates falling at properties set back just a few blocks from the beach. Many self-catering Airbnb apartments are available in the neighbourhood which provide a good alternative to hotel accommodation for extended stays.
Ipanema: A short distance to the south-west of Copacabana Beach is the fashionable neighbourhood of Ipanema. Its beach might not be as famous to foreign visitors but is in actual fact the finest beach in all of Rio de Janeiro. Being lesser-known is a blessing for the area as it is a far more chilled place to stay than its neighbour. Ipanema is more upmarket than Copacabana and is home to some of the city’s finest restaurants and trendiest bars. This is one of the safest areas to stay in.
Leblon: Heading west from Ipanema leads to Leblon Beach which is another of the safest areas in which to stay. This neighbourhood is particularly well known for its offering of excellent restaurants. Whilst it is less ‘touristy’ than its neighbours it lies within easy reach of the city’s top attractions. A little beyond Leblon is Rocinha which is Rio’s largest favela which used to be safe enough to allow for the visit of favela tours. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case and visitors should not be tempted to go there.
Flamengo & Botafogo: North of Copacabana Beach are the adjoining neighbourhoods of Aterro do Flamengo and Praia de Botafogo. You’ll find more budget accommodation in this district than in the others we’ve mentioned but be aware that they are less secure at night.
Rio de Janeiro North Zone (Zona Norte)
The Zona Norte is home to the Maracanã Stadium which hosted football’s World Cup Final in 1950 and 2014 as well as the closing ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, its demise is reflected in the whole area with reports of violent muggings of tourists in the vicinity of the iconic venue. If you are keen to visit the stadium you can take an organised tour to the neighbourhood which might also include visits to other attractions such as the Quinta da Boa Vista Park, the Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão market as well as some of the city’s celebrated Samba Schools. In terms of accommodation tourists are strongly advised not to stay in the Zona Norte which borders on some of the city’s most dangerous favelas.
Rio de Janeiro West Zone (Zona Oeste)
This residential suburb is centred mainly on the districts of Jacarepaguá and Barra da Tijuca which lie around 30km from Copacabana Beach. Whilst there are some great beaches in the area the distance from the city means that there’s little to encourage tourists to stay out this way.
Transport to Hotels in Rio de Janeiro
The number one piece of advice for first-time visitors is to pre-book an airport transfer from Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão International Airport. Having a professional driver awaiting you on arrival ensures that you won’t fall foul of taxi scams or theft on public transport on your way to your hotel. You’ll then have time to rest and get your bearings before heading out to explore the city. Transfers from Rio’s Santos Dumont domestic airport can also be pre-arranged.
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