travel q&A

Staying Safe in Rio

By Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2004

Q My husband and I have heard about the high crime rate in Rio de Janeiro. Some of the information is conflicting. What is the real scoop?

Lila Letow

Silver Spring

A Rio de Janeiro saw a wave of bold attacks against tourists in November, including the shooting of a Spaniard during a mugging, the stabbing of a Japanese woman in front of the well-known Copacabana Palace hotel and the robbery of 20 Angolans on a group tour. Crimes against tourists rose 9.6 percent from January to September compared with the same period last year, according to the Sao Paolo newspaper O Estado. The State Department warns that "the city continues to experience a high incidence of crime" and that tourists are "particularly vulnerable."

Peter E. Tarlow, an international travel security consultant based in College Station, Tex., recently returned from Rio, where he gave a lecture to the city's police officers. Tarlow said Rio's favelas, or slums, in the past had been contained to the hills above Rio but now are creeping closer to the city's popular tourist areas. A bad economy has contributed to the increase in crime, and tourists are easy targets. Plus, urban areas along beaches generally see more crime worldwide, he said.

The government has added more police foot and helicopter patrols and security cameras. Still, if you do go, Tarlow suggests that you don't walk anywhere alone and always carry enough money to satisfy a robber if you're approached (leave the rest in your hotel safe). On the beach, don't leave anything unattended; if you want to swim, have one person stay on shore to watch your possessions, he advises. The State Department also warns Americans to avoid city buses, to be cautious when using ATMs and not to venture into the favelas. These tips, and others suggested by the agency, are essential if you visit during February's Carnaval.

Info: Embassy of Brazil, 202-238-2700,; State Department,

Do any airlines still allow smoking on board?

Jana Marney Nelson


As much as it makes non-smokers grimace, this is a legitimate question for some fliers, particularly nervous passengers who might seek comfort in a cigarette. Unfortunately for them, all U.S. carriers ban smoking, whether they're flying in the United States or overseas, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Likewise, flights in and out of the United States on major airlines are smoke-free, and these days very few small international carriers still allow smoking. Even the stalwarts like Aeroflot and Olympic Airlines have stopped permitting it.

One we did find was the small airline Aero California (800-237-6225), which flies between Los Angeles and Mexico. It allows smoking on flights more than an hour long, such as those to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta. Also, some charter flights permit smoking, depending on the clientele. The Web site of Eurowings (, a Lufthansa affiliate, says some of its flights let you light up.

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