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4 Hugely Important Things Travelers Need To Know About Visiting Rio In 2023

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Rio de Janeiro is one of the trendiest destinations for U.S. travelers in South America.

As Brazil's most easily recognized postcard and a city where modern development zones are interspersed with majestic peaks and emerald patches of Atlantic forest, it continues to draw in millions of visitors every year.

Woman overlooking Rio, Brazil

Though it is set to continue rising in popularity in the years to come, it is not somewhere you would visit without doing extensive research in advance or keeping up to date with recent developments.

In this article, we bring you 4 hugely important things about Rio tourists must know, and if you're an American citizen, you might want to read on even if you don't plan on visiting the city in the near future:

Staying Central Is Not Always Best

Tourists often favor staying in downtown areas when traveling to an international destination, but they should definitely think twice about booking a hotel or AirBnB in central Rio.

Tourists Taking Pictures Up And Down Escadaria Selaron, A Famous Colorful Tile-Laden Staircase In Lapa, A Central District Of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

It may seem like the wisest choice, as neighborhoods in the Central Zone, especially the Bohemian district of Lapa, encompass several iconic landmarks, including the Instagrammable Selaron Steps, the Lapa Aqueduct, and rows upon rows of colonial houses, but it is truly one of the riskiest areas to be based in.

Walking the run-down streets, you will soon notice it is awash with rough sleepers, drug users, and dodgy-looking individuals, and famous spots like the Selaron Steps may be safe enough to visit, as they are heavily surveilled and touristy, but the general feeling is that security is not as tight.

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Colonial Era Houses In Downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Rough sleepers and individuals with substance use disorder wander the streets day or night, and at times the atmosphere can feel menacing.

Only 55% of local residents consider it safe, and while you are unlikely to be targeted by pickpockets or other criminals by maintaining a high level of situational awareness and keeping valuables in your hotel while sightseeing, Downtown Rio can be particularly dangerous to stroll at night.

Instead, consider staying in the tourist areas of Copacabana, where some of the top-rated hotels are located, dubbed one of the safest for foreigners, Botago Beach, Leblon, or Ipanema, as they are close enough to the city center for you to visit sporadically without compromising your safety.

Maintain A High Level Of Situational Awareness

Candelaria Church In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Still on the topic of safety, travelers should know safety levels in Brazil can be much lower than in their home countries, especially when coming from the United States or Europe.

Before you begin jotting furiously in the comments section on crime rates in Europe or the States' liberal gun policies, you should know the concept of danger in the Northern Hemisphere is drastically different from Brazil's, as well as several other crime-stricken countries in the Global South.

Ghettoization is common in large urban centers, including Rio, where the infamous favelas provide the backdrop for the well-developed resort zones and pristine beaches, and petty crime is rife. As reported by Numbeo, Rio has a ‘very high' rate of crime, and tourists should be extra careful when visiting.

A Tourist Carrying A Camera And Backpack Having His Wallet Stolen Unbeknownst To Him, Pickpocketing In Europe

Pickpocketing and gun violence can occur sporadically in the U.S. or Europe, surely, but in Brazil they are a matter of severe concern.

This means researching areas they will be visiting in order to establish whether or not they are tourist-friendly, and if police may offer protection, never leaving drinks unattended in bars – if you've read our safety advice for neighboring Colombia, you will know why – and avoiding unregistered taxis.

A majority of visitors will fulfill their trip stress-free, but this does not mean you are not faced with a higher risk of getting mugged, at times violently, when walking Rio with your expensive iPhone in hand or taking your wallet out in public.

Sugarloaf Mountain Cable Car, Rio de Janeiro, South America, Brazil

Play it safe, be vigilant, and do not look like an obvious gringo.

Careful Using Google Maps

As you will soon learn while exploring Rio, the shortest route is not always the safest, and Google Maps can't always be trusted.

As a frequent visitor, I have lost count of the number of times I felt uneasy getting from point A to B, as it involved driving through the nether parts of a favela, or bypassing them closely, as Google often gives you the quickest possible route, and that can be an issue for tourists in Rio.

Unlike what you may believe, favelas are not in a far-out zone, away from the upscale Copabacana and the upscale shopping streets.

person using google maps

They are everywhere to be seen, at times sharing boundaries with some of Rio's most affluent neighborhoods, and you don't want to take a wrong turn at the wrong time.

It's important to stress favelas are merely incredibly poor housing complexes, often lacking any sort of urban infrastructure, mostly inhabited by Brazil's African-descendant population, and they are places where honest and hard-working people live, just trying to get by in spite of the daily difficulties they face.

Unfortunately, they are overtaken by gangs, who run the favelas in the absence of security battalions, and you should do your best at avoiding finding yourself in one, if you're not a local, at all costs. Piece of advice?

Beach in rio

Familiarize yourself with Rio's city map before undertaking trips, and ask your host or hotel concierge to pinpoint the no-go zones in the vicinity.

Asking your Uber or taxi driver to deliberately avoid underdeveloped districts, even if it means taking a longer route, can also prove helpful.

You May Need A Visa To Travel To Rio

Finally, there is a change to Brazil's entry requirements set to impact all American travelers entering the country as tourists in the near future.

A Female Hand Holding A United States Passport, American Passport, United States Traveler, American Traveler

The country will reimpose visa requirements on third countries that require tourist visas of Brazilian nationals due to reinstated reciprocity measures. This includes the United States and Canada, as both countries have stricter visa regulations applying to Brazilians.

From October 1, U.S. passport holders will no longer be eligible to travel to Rio, or any other Brazilian destination, carrying only a valid travel document. They must obtain a pre-issued tourist visa online.

In sum, you should avoid booking trips to Rio from October onwards until the country's new visa policy is unveiled and entry requirements for Americans are set out. All we know for certain is U.S. citizens are no longer visa exempt.

The change in policy does not affect Europeans, British citizens, New Zealand nationals, and much of the Western World, as Brazil has signed visa-waver agreements with those countries.

Aerial View Of Christ The Redeemer In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Should You Visit Rio?

You should absolutely visit Rio.

Rio is indeed a ‘Marvellous City', and one of the most exciting city breaks in the world – it's no wonder so many tourists love it, and keep coming back year after year.

Despite its vibrant culture, colorful Carnival, and paradisaical beaches, caution is required, as urban violence continues to be a pressing issue. With that being said, as long as you follow general safety advice, maintain a high level of situational awareness, and avoid risky zones, you will leave Rio with nothing but fond memories.

For more information, refer to Brazilian authorities and the U.S. State Department for advice.

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