How to Travel (Safely) to Rio de Janeiro as a Solo Woman

Solo travel is hugely popular for women! Mila Rojas shares her recent experiences traveling solo to Rio to offer tips for fellow travelers who might want to enjoy a similar experience.

I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil for the very first time in October 2020. The trip from Buenos Aires, where I reside, to Sao Paulo was very uneventful as it is just a three-hour flight. If you are coming from the US, Europe, or other continents, the flight will be longer, but trust me, it’s worth it!

Brazil is a country filled with contrasts, where you can find people of all colors, classes, and backgrounds sharing one space at the beach or eating at the same beach hut. While I started my trip in Sao Paulo, I also visited Rio de Janeiro and want to share some insights from my trip for other solo women travelers.

Get to Know Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is not a beach town — it’s a beach city and it lets you know it. You can be at Copacabana and within a 10-minute walk, you are right at a subway station, surrounded by street vendors, residential buildings, and stores, without any sign of the beach nearby. 

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro by the sea
A view of Rio de Janeiro, the city by the sea

Now, when I first arrived at Copa on the subway, I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people. While I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, I was well aware that I needed to be on the lookout for pickpockets, which is why I would have my purse towards my chest instead of towards my back. 

This is something I did when I was using public transportation, too. There are subway cars in Rio that are female-only during rush hour. Feel free to get on one of these during these times!

The hectic feel of the city is intimidating! And also amazing. 

In contrast, the beach vibe can be felt whenever you interact with a “carioca”, which is how people from Rio de Janeiro identify themselves. I think they have a deeper understanding of life, simply because they have the sea right at their feet. 

Before you travel, there are some general considerations to keep in mind when going to Brazil, such as how to get a SIM card and the type of electric plugs they have there. But after getting that done, you will be ready for some beach photos, so keep reading! 

Rio is all about beach life.

Research Your Stay in Rio de Janeiro

I’m a big Airbnb fan, and I excitedly made my reservation for Rio a few weeks in advance. The photos of the place were amazing and the reviews were outstanding. 

However, as my Uber neared the area where it was located, I grew increasingly worried.

The apartment was located in Gloria, a neighborhood that’s only 10 minutes away from the Santos Dumont airport, which is where most national flights arrive as I was coming from Sao Paulo. While the short drive was ideal, Gloria looked very run-down, and the two blocks that surrounded the apartment where I was staying felt downright dangerous.

Fearfully, I entered the building, not knowing what I was going to find. However, once I reached the door of my Airbnb — with an electric lock and everything — things were entirely different. The place looked absolutely amazing! Exactly like the pictures.

This can happen very often in Rio, which is a city filled with contrasts. Only two blocks away from where I was staying, the feel of the area was entirely different. Therefore, when booking for Rio, try to find out a bit about the neighborhood before you book.

That said, I would go for my morning walks and would go out at night without feeling in danger at any time. However, I always used Uber at night, which picked me up and dropped me right at the entrance of my building. I would not recommend walking alone at night in this area, which is something I never did as I didn’t feel it would be the smartest idea. 

There were small local bars where guys would stay drinking until very late at night. I was worried about a confrontation with a drunk guy late at night. However, I never had any issues leaving and coming back in an Uber at night, regardless of how late I arrived. 

Based on my experience as a visitor, my advice would be to avoid the Gloria neighborhood completely. If you are looking for affordable stays, Flamingo, which is close to Gloria, is an entirely different setting. Of course, Copacabana and Ipanema are even better if you can afford it! 

Something else to add is that the prices were very low when I went, due to the pandemic. This made my stay a lot cheaper when it comes to the Airbnb stay. I would definitely compare between hotels and Airbnbs to see what is more convenient before booking. 

Tips About the Food in Rio de Janeiro

The food in Rio de Janeiro is simply amazing. One of the benefits of staying in Gloria was that everything nearby was very cheap as it was a lower-income neighborhood. I would often go across the street, where there was a restaurant offering delicious meals at great prices.

Large platters of food at a sidewalk table for a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro
Food at the Local Restaurant

A word of advice: the sizes of the dishes in Brazil are massive. The language barrier can add to this confusion; I ended up taking a bunch of food home after misunderstanding the order. I’m happy to report that, by the end of my visit to Brazil, I was able to order more sensible sizes than these ones! 

Honestly, I hardly ever ate my entire portion, so keep that in mind! More often than not, you might find yourself bringing leftovers back to your hotel or Airbnb.

A grilled plate of chicken at a streetside restaurant in Rio de Janeiro
Chicken at the Local Restaurant

Visit Sugarloaf Mountain for a Breathtaking View

Sugarloaf Mountain is an iconic place in Rio de Janeiro — and for good reason. The view is simply stunning, and the ride is super friendly for people of all ages. 

First, you have to get to the top of Morro da Urca, which you can do on the cable car or by trekking. I chose the cable car because I was falling a bit short on time. 

Milagros Rojas standing in front of the view from Morro de Urca over Rio de Janeiro
View from Morro de Urca

From here, you get on a second cable car which goes from Morro da Urca to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. While I’ve been on cable cars that go a greater length and reach a higher altitude, they’re usually surrounded by mountains.

Instead, Sugarloaf gives you a direct view of the city, and you can notice how small the boats and the people seem from up so high. It’s especially breathtaking. 

I felt perfectly safe during the entire ride and my only advice would be to bring some snacks or drinks with you because the prices at the shops and coffee places up there are considerably higher!

Misty view from Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro
View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Sand, Sun, and Sea in Rio

Everyone loves the beaches in Rio de Janeiro. I got to experience the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, and while I didn’t bathe in Copacabana, I walked on its iconic promenade. You have the option of renting chairs and an umbrella or just putting down your towel and making the beach your own. 

Ipanema Beach with crashing waves and a few other beach-goers
Ipanema

The sand almost feels like flour and there are no annoying stones. The sea is a bit cold, at least during my visit in October, but nothing that kept me from getting in!

When walking on the famous promenade, be aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, I was warned to beware of pickpocketing as that can be a common problem. The key is to not wear anything flashy and be aware of your surroundings as you enjoy the wonderful views.

Something to keep in mind is that there are many vendors walking around the beach. As it tends to happen, the beer will be much more expensive than at the supermarket or a small deli. The food can also be more expensive. If you have any bartering skills, this is the time to let them shine!

Although these are public beaches, they are very well-maintained. However, there aren’t security guards looking out for your things. 

I recommend getting one of those waterproof pouches; I would put my phone and money in it and go into the sea with the pouch around my neck. I had no issues  with people coming near me or my things, even when I went into the sea.

I always kept my belongings within sight, although the current can be quite strong and it dragged me at times. That’s another safety tip to keep in mind: the ocean is powerful and the tides can be too strong for those who aren’t used to swimming in these waters!

A Corona beer in the sand at Ipanema Beach
Beer on the beach
A mostly empty sandy beach in Rio
Leblon Beach

As for feeling safe leaving my property on the beach while I swam, I never saw anyone approaching my things in a suspicious way. 

From what I saw, Cariocas often go into the sea and ask the people sunbathing nearby to keep an eye on their belongs as they tend to be very trusting in that regard. I didn’t do that but it might not be a bad idea if you get to meet your beach neighbors and feel they can be trusted!

Buzios: An Exceptional Beach Experience

Something I strongly recommend for solo women traveling to Rio is making the trip to Buzios. It’s approximately 2.5 hours away from the capital and it’s the most adorable beach town there is. I splurged on this one and just took an Uber; however, there are more affordable bus rides. 

I chose the Uber because I was going for such a short time and I wanted to make the most of it. I want to highlight that I never had any issues with an Uber driver during my trip! That said, Uber Brazil recently launched an initiative that allows you to choose a female Uber driver if you prefer it.

Something that impressed me at Buzios was the red sand in Praia João Fernandes, which is one of the most beautiful beaches there. You can also choose to do some kayaking, paddleboarding, or snorkeling if it’s something you enjoy. I did paddleboard for the first time and loved it!

Red sand of Buzios Beach near Rio de Janeiro
Red sand of Buzios
Milagros Rojas taking a selfie with a pina colada in hand
Happy with a cold drink!

I would usually just put my towel down and enjoy the sun, but my beach day at Buzios (where I stayed for two nights) was a Saturday and the beach was packed! 

For a more comfortable beach day, I chose to drink a couple of piña coladas at one of the local stands, which allowed me to use a chair and umbrella. Most stands ask you to either pay a fee or spend money on food or drinks. 

A plus from choosing this stand is that when I decided to explore the farthest part of the beach, I asked the owner to keep an eye on my things for me. 

The people at the beach were super nice and I enjoyed my time there very much! If you want to skip the vendors, just bring your own things. However, I would advise to get there early so that you can get a nice little spot for yourself.

I loved the town of Buzios itself, where Rua das Pedras (Street of the Stones) is the place to be. There are numerous streets that are only open for walking, where you can enjoy yourself and try different things. 

Rua Las Pedras in Buzios near Rio de Janeiro
Rua Las Pedras

From a French crepes place to an Italian restaurant as well as an American bar with music sung in English! There is everything you might want right here.

Buzios felt extremely safe to me and there are people out and about until very late at night. If you are staying at the heart of the small town, you can walk to the restaurants and bars and shouldn’t have any issues when coming back. 

A plate of creamy pasta from a restaurant in Buzios called La Dolce Vita
La Dolce Vita Buzios

I even saw a couple of drunk folks who were happily singing along with a performer at one of the restaurants. It’s like everyone is chill and happy here!

Visit a Wonder of the World – Christ the Redeemer

Did you go to Rio de Janeiro if you didn’t visit Christ the Redeemer? 

I’m not a very religious person, but I figured there had to be a reason why Christ the Redeemer was a wonder of the world. Therefore, I made sure this was one of the places I visited during my visit to Rio.

Christ the Redeemer statue up close
Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, with Milagros Rojas sitting at the top step below it.
Posing in front of Christ the Redeemer

The statue is very impressive but the view is what made it incredible for me. You don’t truly comprehend how large Rio de Janeiro is until you are up there, seeing it for yourself. Feel free to ask anyone to take your picture while you are up there! Everyone is doing the same, and you shouldn’t skip on your amazing photo just because you are visiting the statue alone.

View from Christ the Redeemer in Rio
View from Christ the Redeemer

Something to keep in mind is that, when you go in the morning, you get a better view of the statue as the sun is right in front of it. I went in the afternoon, and the statue looked darker. This is more important for the photos than anything else as in person it still looks imposing and impressive.

A Must-See in Rio: Selaron Staircase – Escadaria Selarón

These steps are a must-visit in Rio de Janeiro. Despite their popularity, the steps are not in a touristy part of Rio and there usually is a police car with officers right at the start of the stairs. 

I saw people with professional cameras and I had no concern whatsoever about safety. However, on my way there, I got a little lost and didn’t feel safe continuing on my own, so I decided to just take an Uber that would leave me at the bottom of the stairs. 

The magic of Selaron steps is that there are tiles from everywhere in the world. There are tiles from more than 60 countries and there are a total of 2,000 tiles across 215 steps.

I even found one from Venezuela, where I’m from!

The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro
The Selaron Steps
Milagros Rojas sitting in front of the tile with a Venezuelan flag at the Selaron Steps
Finding my Venezuelan flag

There are also many tiles honoring Brazil and its culture, which go from tiles with flags of the local football teams, to tiles with the Brazilian flag, or tiles highlighting Black culture in Brazil. 

Brazilian flag tiles at the Selaron Steps in Rio
Brazil Tiles
Tiles celebrating Black culture in Brazil at the Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil Black Culture Tiles

I truly enjoyed my experience in Brazil and would definitely come back! While I felt that Sao Paulo is a great place to live, Rio is the place to go if you are looking to disconnect and enjoy an unforgettable vacation.

Safety was never an issue for me during this trip. I made sure to be aware of my surroundings, put my bag in front of me while using public transportation, and avoided using flashy items when walking around, and I felt perfectly safe at all times.

Enjoy the carioca lifestyle! It’s all about relaxing and making the most of life.

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