I can't count how many times someone told me to watch my back or to be careful or to stay safe or really just not to go, when I told them I was going to Rio de Janeiro by myself.
Going alone wasn't my original plan, but life happens. Shit happens. And you just gotta roll with the punches. I never would have gone on my own had "shit" not happen. Not once in my life have I thought that I'd be brave enough to venture to a foreign country alone. But that cliché saying about facing your fears is very relevant here. There's this feeling of adrenaline and anxiety that I crave now that I've experienced the whole "facing your fears" thing. In this case, travelling alone was that for me. For any of you who haven't done it, it's exhilarating. Eye-opening. Strengthening. Inspiring. And being a wuss wasn't going to stop me from visiting friggin' RIO DE JANEIRO and experiencing this amazing opportunity.
Rio de Janeiro isn't exactly seen as the safest place to travel. Let alone as a single female. But in all of my 7 days there, I only felt unsafe once. And that one time was a lack of common sense on my part. So to sum up what I'm about to dive into detail about: if you stay smart, you'll stay safe.
The one time that I did feel unsafe was during the Samba street party after some time of excessive drinking. Caipirinhas are THE Brazilian drink and they taste awful and hit you hard. So downing a few of those before heading out definitely saved on cost, but not so much on my mental abilities. Every Monday evening there's a Samba party in the streets of Rio in a little neighbourhood called Centro, where local musicians set up shop along the narrow streets and blast music, and where street vendors make strong and expensive caipirinhas to help you along your merry way (read more about it here). The streets get filled to the brim and all in all, it's a great time. Until you lose the people from your hostel you went with. One of the locals I had met earlier who spoke zero English, thankfully understood my charades attempt at asking for his help to find my possy. So off we went, I followed close behind him in the crowded streets of Rio. I lost count how many times men grabbed at my arm and pulled me into them, or tried to dance with me when I clearly didn't have it together. How many times I had to pry their fingers off of me - those Brazilians are persistent, I'll give them that. But in the end, I found my gang and made it back alive and in one piece.
Besides that one experience, I personally didn't have any trouble while I was there. There are, however, a few other things you might want to know before you go:
Beware of thieves
The thieves in Rio de Janeiro are pros.
Their game is on point.
They've got superpowers to locate vulnerable tourists from miles away.
So leave behind anything valuable at your hotel or hostel - things like your passport and the majority of your cash. Don't wear any jewelry that you don't want stolen right off of you. Because thieves in Rio aren't afraid to cycle nice and close to you just to snatch the necklaces right off your neck and keep on riding.
ESPECIALLY don't bring your valuables to the beach. Even if you're not going to leave it unattended. If you're distracted for just a moment, they'll swoop right in and take your things no matter how close by you're keeping your belongings.
Beware of children
During my favela tour (read about it here), I learned a lot about Rio's crime industry. This is where I learned that gangsters in Rio employ children to do their dirty work because they're protected by the law. They have absolutely nothing to lose. They can commit crimes ranging anywhere from assisting in the sale of drugs to downright murder, and all that the police can do is hold them in custody for a day or two and then let them go. And when these children turn 18, their records are wiped clean. So if there's anyone you have to watch your back from, it's the kids.
Warning: Cat Calls?
The more-than-obvious staring and cat calling was something that I experienced in an excessive amount during my time in Rio. And normally it would make me feel fairly uncomfortable, but it became so normal by the end of the trip that it didn't bother me anymore. And most of the time they were speaking in Portuguese, so I could easily tune them out and keep walking like I didn't know they were talking to me, because I certainly didn't know what they were saying. If it weren't for the whistling and the "ooooh so beautiful" comments thrown into the mix of their foreign cat calling, I could have easily assumed they were talking about the weather or whatever else. Although it was a re-occurring annoyance during my visit to Rio, it's harmless.
All in all, Rio de Janeiro is not as dangerous of a place as most people think. Yes, some cities might be more dangerous than others, but you'll be able to find danger in any city in the world if you're looking for it.
Just use your common sense and you'll be fine.
If you stay smart, you'll stay safe.