Rio de Janeiro will soon host the largest carnival celebrations in the world, with up to two million tourists traveling to the city to take part in the events. The main events will take place Feb. 21-26, though parties occur throughout the city before and after these dates. Most international visitors will participate in two types of events: the parades at the Sambódromo Marquês de Sapucaí, commonly known as the Sambadrome, and the street parties held across the city known as blocos. While most visitors experience these events without incident, the events present varied threats to visitors.
The parades of dancers in the Sambadrome are the most iconic Carnival events in Brazil. Nonetheless, the Cidade Nova neighborhood around the Sambadrome has high crime rates, posing a significant threat to people entering and exiting the venue. During Carnival, the area is likely to be especially unsafe, as pickpockets and other criminals gather near the venue and target foreigners, who are perceived to be wealthy. Thieves are particularly likely to target people carrying expensive personal electronics, including smartphones, those wearing expensive jewelry, or those who appear intoxicated. Criminals use the high consumption of alcohol at Carnival events to target people who seem disoriented. Visitors are less likely to experience crime inside the Sambadrome as criminals are less likely to purchase admission to it.
The Santo Cristo area immediately north of the Sambadrome also has high crime rates, and gangs are present in its poorer neighborhoods. Several international hotels are located in the area of Santa Cristo that borders Guanabara Bay and overlooks the port in Caju; this area suffers significant crime problems, especially at night. Additionally, several of the many abandoned warehouses in this area are occupied by squatters, who sometimes clash with police seeking to evict them.
In addition to events in the Sambadrome, many visitors attend the large street parties, or blocos, throughout the city. The largest of the blocos are attended by up to 100,000 people, with large crowds densely packed into a few city blocks. These conditions are ideal for pickpockets, bag-snatchers, and other petty thieves; theft is common at blocos. People who wander from the main streets where blocos take place toward smaller streets and alleys may find themselves isolated and subject to mugging, especially after dark.
More troublingly, sexual harassment and assault are serious problems at blocos. Many women attending the street parties complain of receiving lewd comments and unwanted touching, and harassers, who are often intoxicated, can sometimes become physically aggressive.
Elsewhere in Rio de Janeiro
Violent crime is concentrated in the shantytowns, known as favelas. These areas are located throughout Rio de Janeiro, including near the upscale neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, and locals often detour far to avoid them due to their high crime rates. The favelas located in the north of the city are particularly dangerous, and most travelers should avoid them. The government frequently deploys heavily armed police and military personnel to the favelas and the areas around them; the Military Police have a reputation for corruption and excessive use of force, and foreign travelers have reported being robbed by military police officers.
- Do not openly carry expensive items such as smartphones and cameras.
- Avoid wearing expensive jewelry.
- Use a trusted form of transportation to and from the Sambadrome. Do not linger outside or walk through the neighborhood, especially after dark.
- Consider traveling to blocos only if with a large group of trusted companions.
- Avoid all favelas. Because favelas are usually located on hillsides, walking up Rio de Janeiro’s many hills generally leads to favela areas.
- Rely on drivers who are familiar with the city. Do not rely on GPS systems, as they often route drivers through dangerous neighborhoods.
- Minimize contact with security forces, especially the Military Police, when possible.
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