How to Stay Safe on Rio's Beaches

Etiquette, keeping your belongings safe, and which beaches to visit on your trip to Rio de Janeiro.

Sunset at Arpoador, Ipanema beach Photo © Getty Images/Ingo Rösler

Rio's beautiful beaches are a haven for petty thieves and bag-snatchers who routinely operate on the shore, but a more frightening type of crime has emerged.

Huge gangs of young thieves swoop onto a beach, rushing through crowds stealing bags and ripping jewelry from bather's necks. The experience is frightening and usually causes panic among beach-goers as they try to escape the drag net.

The arrastoes (Portugese for big drag) used to be common years back, but disappeared when conditions in the favelas (slums) were improved. Watch this video to see it happening on Ipanema beach in 2015. Scores of people were robbed, and there was a huge panic among the crowd.

Rules for Beaches in Rio

Copacabana is the most well-known beach in Rio, but the local favorites Ipanema and Leblon are growing in popularity among travelers. The water isn't particularly clean, especially around the channel at Leblon.

  • Although Brazilians are comfortable with bikinis crafted from dental floss, topless sunbathing is not allowed 
  • The huge crowds mean that a lot of petty crime goes unnoticed, so keep a watchful eye on your belongings
  • Don't take any valuables with you to the beach – and if you do have your phone or camera, keep it hidden well out of sight
  • If you want to cool off in the water, and you're in a group, have someone stay and watch your belongings
  • Otherwise, you can ask someone nearby to keep an eye on them, the Cariocas (Rio's residents) hate crime as much as you, and will be happy to help
  • The beaches are best avoided at night, as wandering travelers a target for robberies. If you do head down to the beach at night, beware of locals offering you drugs. They are usually working together with a nearby police officer, who will then extort a bribe from you.

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