Is Rio de Janeiro safe? Our tale of a near-mugging

rio de janeiro copacabana beach

We had all heard the horror stories about Rio de Janeiro.

Before I had even left home, a girl told me about how she had been mugged at knifepoint in the middle of the day near one of the top tourist spots of the city.

We heard about how the Brazilians would put their belongings in plastic bags and bury them in the sand under their towels because theft on the city’s main beaches was so rampant.

A group we met at Carnaval told us of how they witnessed a gang of youths rob a couple with a bike, leaving a man openly bleeding in the middle of the street. This was during Carnaval again at daytime on Ipanema beach, the second most popular beach in Rio.

A fellow backpacker also told us the particularly grim story of a girl who had her phone robbed by the man she had been kissing seconds earlier…

And so we arrived in Rio, appropriately anxious.

We did everything we were told; wore no jewellery, brought out minimal items, stuck to the main tourist areas. We were constantly on our guard while out, our sense of anxiety never fully dissipating.

And yet by night three we were perhaps lulled into a false sense of confidence having had no incidents thus far. Perhaps our tension had also been dulled by a couple of Brazil’s [lethal] national cocktail, the Caipirinha.

We were out looking for the next bloco, Rio’s infamous street parties that come to fruition during Carnaval. We were in Centro where one had just finished so we decided to follow the music to the next one.

Unfortunately this took us down a quieter road, one that, in hindsight, we absolutely should not have walked down as three clearly non-Brazilian girls at night. 

On route to our next party, we bumped into a duo of Carnaval- goers from Brazil, a girl and a guy. In true friendly Brazilian form, they chatted to us enthusiastically, asking where we were heading to next.

Then mid- conversation, the girl turned to us in sudden seriousness: “You need to walk faster” and began to power-walk away from us.

We obliged her, our Rio anxiety bubbling back to the surface.

She eventually turned back to us and informed us of our impending danger:

“Those men behind you are going to rob you.”

Sure enough, behind us walking purposefully up the deserted street were two shirtless Brazilians, ominously becoming visible and then disappearing between the dim glow of street lights.

Panic set in and we broke into a light jog, desperate to keep up with our new-found friends until we we were back in the assured safety of the crowd. We reached a point in the road that was darker than the others, encroached by a looming skyscraper that devoid the area of any light.

The boy of our Brazilian saviours turned to me: “This is where they would have jumped you.”

Terror had set in and by the time we found ourselves back in the safety of the crowd, we could only stand there panting nervously and thanking our lucky stars for our two friendly Brazilians.

However, the crowd we had found was small and we were shaken so we took a taxi back to Lapa where we knew it would be busy all night.

I did not stop sweating for forty minutes. My friend faceplanted herself in the mad dash to a taxi.

But we had been incredibly lucky.

The moral of the story is that you can never let your guard down while travelling ever. And if you let it down in Rio, well then you are, like us, asking for trouble.

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