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Is Brazil safe to travel? Why tourists shouldn't worry

A newspaper front page with a little girl covered in her dead mother’s blood declared “Terrorism in Rio is everyday”. In the grisly story from July, Cristiane Andrade, 46, was stabbed in the neck in her car's front seat sitting next to her daughter in a supermarket carpark. The girl ran to a nearby taxi who raced them to hospital where the young mum died. Afterwards the driver recorded a short movie of the little girl, 7, distraught, blood-soaked next to his taxi, a police officer and hospital staff alongside, her life horribly changed.

The harrowing clip spread like fire through social media and the newspaper took a still shot from it for their dramatic cover story. Another victim of a Rio robbery gone wrong was suspected.

It later came out that the woman was killed by her estranged boyfriend upset at being broken up with, however the powerful message still reflected a genuine Rio and Brazilian problem - 'urban terrorism'.

While aiming to seek no political goal as per the dictionary definition of terrorism, the other element is certainly shared, and that is residents living in fear of what could randomly happen to them one day if they are not lucky.

It might not include being blown up, beheaded or run over with a truck, but it could realistically be being robbed or shot depending on where you live.

So the parallels between this form of fear and that sweeping Europe and other parts of the world from Islamic terrorism are understandable (And as background, Brazil is a Catholic country and the presence of Muslims here is almost zero).

Brazil has high levels of violence and murder amongst gangs and some petty crime committed on tourists. Europe on the other hand has low levels of gang violence with functioning law and order but a relatively high prevalence of terrorism in tourist areas.

So the questions are as a tourist where do you feel safer and where are you actually safer?

The most recent Global Terrorism Index, which ranks countries by terrorist activity, had Brazil at number 76 while the United Kingdom was number 28, USA 35, France 36, Germany 53 and Australia 59 (GTI map below).

On Numbeo, the rate of people's perceptions for just about all crimes in Brazil from muggings to corruption falls into the high or very high categories, with a couple of moderates.

The sole low category was for 'Worries being subject to a physical attack because of your skin colour, ethnic origin or religion' - suggesting that hate crimes here are the one thing most residents do not worry about.

On the other hand, crime scores in Europe were generally low to moderate, highlighting that living there is by and large safe and peaceful.

Speaking from my experience in Rio for six months I’ve never felt unsafe, I haven't even had a bad look my way (at least not to my face). I did have my phone pick pocketed but there was no violence, and a taxi driver once ripped me off.

For these times Rio actually has its own specialist tourist police, called the Delegacia Especial de Apoio ao Turismo located in Leblon, who deal with crimes committed on tourists.

The DEAT state that most criminal activity that affects tourists in Rio involves theft and robbery but that they mostly don't have physical violence.

I’ve been to the beach more times than I can remember, visited favelas, had late nights out in the city and walks home alone in the early hours. It helps living in Ipanema in Rio’s south zone, which is where most tourists stay.

Europe on the other hand has seen mass killings of its residents and tourists in airports, waterfronts, trains, buses, concert halls and cafes. Nothing comparable to these acts have occurred in Brazil.

Even though the chances of finding yourself in the middle of an act of terror are low, I've heard some Brazilians saying they're going to avoid Europe because of the threat and they're not alone in doing that.

Australia hasn't been untouched by terrorism too, with two boys arrested in Sydney just the other day allegedly plotting to behead someone, after a string of other lone-wolf type attacks in the past few years.

In Brazil though the recent Olympics held under the darkening cloud of global terrorism went smoothly, with robberies the worst but expected stories. Even then the huge security effort by the Brazilian Government kept them low.

That doesn’t change that for many Brazilians life can be tough and a struggle especially in the most poverty-stricken parts which spills over affecting all levels of society.

But if you ask me, as a tourist I feel safer in Rio than in Paris which is the most visited city in the world. Imagine saying that just a few years ago?

Of course this is just my experience and most holiday-makers there have no problems. I’ve also met the odd tourist here who has been robbed.

But just about everyone I’ve made friends with here has had no issues - none, zero. Instead they’ve had the times of their lives, as anyone thinking of whether to come here will almost certainly do too.

So if you have no worries about hopping on a flight to Europe then you've got nothing to worry about catching one to Brazil too. Don't wait!


Safety tips translated from Rio's Tourism Police:

• Find out exactly how to get to the desired location;

• It is recommended to use regulated public transportation like bus, subway or taxi; • Take care when parking your vehicle; Look for accredited parking; Do not stop in poorly lit or isolated areas; Do not rely on street valets; Do not leave objects inside the vehicle, such as bags, clothes, mp3 players, etc;

• Avoid going out alone because often, when returning, you will be more vulnerable to the action of criminals both in public transport and in the vehicle itself; • Due to the large concentration of people there is always a high risk of theft, as well as possibility of turmoil. So stay tuned to avoid such risky situations, acting preventively; • Avoid the use of jewelry or other valuables; • Take only the necessary amount of money with you to cover transportation and meal expenses. Keep your purse / wallet and other valuables at home or in the hotel;

• Keep all personal belongings in front of your body (wallet, mobile phones, bags, etc.); • Be wary of bumps or jostling. After a bump check immediately that all belongings are with you; • Be friendly, if you are being harassed look for another place or event security; • Avoid discussions. Apologize and move away;

• If the victim of some criminal act do not react and immediately contact the police.

Global Terrorism Index Map credit to: Andrew G. - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

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