Rio de Janeiro: How to get there, where to stay, what to do and more
But I’m not worried about my security or the pack on my back, which contains, among other items, a $1,200 camera. And my relative insouciance in this place could signal a major shift for tourists in Rio.
Even if you haven’t seen the fictitious “City of God,” the more sensational “Elite Squad” or the documentary “Bus 174,” you probably know about Rio’s long-standing rep as dicey: beautifully situated and a heck of a party, but, say the warnings, if you dress flashily and stray from well-trod tourist paths, you can count on being mugged. And the favelas? Only on organized tours, my friend. They will pick your bones clean in there.
I’m not comparing the Rio of yore to wartime Baghdad or asserting that crime turned travelers away in droves. Rio has been a top tourist spot for decades. The city’s tourist ranks swell by the hundreds of thousands for Carnival in February. But crimes targeting tourists rise every year during the raucous festival. And the very prominent word in globe-trotting circles for years has been that in Rio, more than in most major tourist cities, petty crime and fairly violent muggings are serious concerns for visitors.
It’s October, and I’ve come to Rio to see how safe I would feel navigating the city alone. I’ve traveled extensively, including in some sketchy parts of the world, but I arrived in Brazil feeling nervous. A friend of mine was mugged twice on one visit to Rio five years ago. In the late 1990s, an acquaintance in the air travel industry reported touring the Rio airport and seeing the bodies of children — executed, it was widely believed, by corrupt police on behalf of drug lords — washing against the rocks at the end of a runway, a scene that drew only mild interest from his hosts.
I spend the cab ride to my hotel peering out the window for evidence of a city run by the underworld.
But I see no such thing.
I do see stark evidence of the yawning class divide here. Ramshackle favelas cling to hills citywide, looking like misplaced puzzle pieces between leafy upscale neighborhoods. The slums — neighborhoods first established by former slaves in the 1700s and notorious in modern times for lawlessness, drug trafficking and violence — have been a priority for city officials who hope to confront crime ahead of the 2014 World Cup (in cities throughout Brazil) and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.