When faced with the choice to visit a town on the east of Brazil, many people choose to travel to Salvador or Natal. True, these have wonderful beaches, but not as wonderful as the city of Recife! The capital city of the Pernambuco region not only has award winning beaches, but also a glut of rivers, tiny islands and bridges connecting them, lending it the title ‘Venice of Brazil’. But exactly how safe is Recife to visit on the Brazil scale?
This is the lesser explored part of the country, but it has some beautiful areas to admire. And whilst Recife doesn’t seem to have quite the buzz of Sao Paulo, largest city in Brazil, it does have some exciting draws! Here you can experience the delights of the Portuguese language, coastal Brazilian food, dance the traditional forró, and generally basque in the tropical glory.
But before you go, you need to know: is it safe? We cover the best updated safety advice, how female travelers fare out there, and that all-important nightlife. Will you be hooking up in Recife? Can you get around with ease? And what are the top travel safety tops we can offer. It’s all here for you, right now!
Is Recife Safe in 2023?
Recife does have a high crime rate with incidents of gang violence very high, so travelers should always be wary of their surroundings. Even when in areas of hight tourism. Petty criminals such as muggers and pickpockets operate throughout the city, and even organised scams are common. While the criminal activity is higher than many southern regions of Brazil however, Recife is actually said to be the most safe state capital in the North of Brazil. With its glut of industry, modern hospitals and medical procedures, and high levels of education, it is a fairly affluent area too.
Other capitals such as Salvador and São Luís actually have higher crime rates. But as with anywhere in the world, if you are careful in Recife, or any other of Brazil’s cities, you can leave unscathed. This is a country of huge economic disparity, and so each city has areas that are safer than others. When traveling around the city, only take licensed taxis. Ensure you negotiate the rate before you get in, and the meter is running. Make note of the best taxi companies at the airport, or ask your hotel for updated information. You may also want to avoid taking the bus. Whilst buses can be safe during the day, pickpockets and muggers tend to target tourists on public transport. If you do get the bus, always sit close to the driver.
If you choose to walk around the city during the day, walk in groups and in densely populated areas, and aim to not walk long distances. It always helps to pre-plan your route as deserted streets leave you vulnerable to attack. Safety can be ensured when sightseeing by not carrying expensive items, or too much money. Do not flash your cell phone either. The general rule is to always keep a low profile while traveling, and you should avoid danger.
Is Recife Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Females traveling solo in Recife may baulk at the high crime rate, and women would do well to be vary wary. But, so long as you don’t walk around alone at night (which we will explore further later), and use taxis as opposed to getting the bus, you can feel safer. Though it is always going to be safer when traveling in groups. If you are planning a trip to Recife, it would be much safer to travel with other men and women. Especially if they speak Portuguese!
Sticking to the more affluent tourist areas is the surest way to feel safe, and many tourists choose to pitch up in Olinda just north of Recife. The architecture, music and handicrafts, and especially the views, are worth staying for, and its only 13km from Recife’s center. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
You will find the beaches are often safer throughout the day. Citizens tend to avoid downtown on Sundays, as streets are often deserted meaning thieves can operate largely without police detection. Whilst 800km up the coast from the beautiful beaches of Salvador in Bahia state, the beaches in Recife are equal, if not better! The famous shoreline of Porto de Galinas has been awarded the title of finest beach across Brazil many times. As such it brings a wealth of tourists from across the globe.
Is Recife Safe to Live?
There is no doubt about it, Recife has a high crime rate, and so it is not a safe place to live per se. With a population of 1.6 million, however, it’s still habitable. So long as you are careful. But there are a couple of things to watch out for. Residents have reported issues with the sewage systems in the city, with even affluent areas plagued by pipes leaking waste into the street around the city. That being said, like Rio de Janeiro, the city does have some safe neighbourhoods, and these are usually the more affluent areas by the beach.
Boa Viagem is one of the most visited spots to the south of Recife, and has one of the loveliest beaches. Populated by affluent middle and upper class Brazilian people, it is also known as the social center of the city! This helps to keep the tourists as citizens safe as the police are fairly in evidence here. By day, it is safe, however it is worth staying close to the bars and restaurants at night, and not venturing to the shore. Danger lurks in the dark!
Recife’s tropical climate is another reason to stick close to the shore in daylight hours. Whilst never reaching over 95°F, it is nearly always humid, and rains regularly between April and August. This is another thing to consider when looking at safety. Higher humidity can cause common health problems such as muscle fatigue, dehydration, heat stroke and can often exacerbate asthma. Being an area like the ocean means more cooling breezes.
The general line is that this is not a safe city to live in, so we would suggest you only visit for a short holiday!
Is Recife Safe at Night?
This city can be dangerous, and the risk increases at night for sure. Of course, there are some safer spots like Boa Viagem and Soledad. These parts of Recife do give you the opportunity to experience a bit of nightlife, however, as long as you are careful. The same rules apply as when touring around the city in the day. Only take licensed taxis, avoid dark streets and don’t walk any long distances. A street with plenty of light, restaurants and bars is safer to stick to, and police often patrol these areas. If you are heading out at night, ask your hotel for more information. They may be able to point you in the direction of a great little dance spot.
In both Boa Viagem and Soledad, the party life is big. Though, perhaps not as big as places such as Rio and the southern beach town of Florianopolis! These parts of town are largely free from violence, though crime rates throughout the city do rise as night sets in. The only way to stay safe is to guard your drinks (spiking does happen here sadly), ensure you keep to largely populated public spaces, and guard your belongings. Getting overly drunk is likely to make you a target, so please drink responsibly!
The bottom line is this: like much of Brazil, Recife is not especially safe city at night. It is only passable in the daytime. And whilst nightlife can be found in the more affluent areas, there is still plenty of room for danger. If you plan on hitting the bars, it is wise to have an exit strategy with a well-known taxi firm. Commit your hotel or apartment address to memory, and know exactly where you are and how you will get home.
Is the tap water in Recife safe to Drink?
Not long ago, it would have been super dangerous to drink the tape water, but this is not the case today. But whilst tap water throughout the country is becoming safer to drink, the treatment it undergoes makes it taste a little, funky. You will find that citizens and tourists alike tend to buy single use filtered bottles of water. This results in huge amounts of plastic waste produced each year, which as we all know is bad for the environment. You can combat this by staying in a hotel that has a filtered water tap, or large water dispensers, and bring your own water bottle.
If you aren eco-conscious traveler, you might also like to check out our review of the best sustainable backpacks!
Top 7 Recife Safety Tips
Throughout the country, you will find cities with areas of danger. But you will also find pockets of low crimes, and these are often well-worn streets full of tourist spots. Police in Recife are fairly in evidence, especially in the more affluent areas, and if you stick to these top safety tips, you should be able to visit this region without feeling the high threat level.
1) Don’t take expensive items out with you. Carry what you need, and leave valuables locked in the safe in your hotel. If you are staying in an apartment, hide things well. If you can, leave valuable at home, though Passports and additional credit cards are largely unavoidable essentials. Make sure you leave these in the safest place possible. It also helps to have a ‘decoy wallet’ with you at all times, with an old card and some small change in. If you get robbed, it could save your real wallet.
2) Don’t walk the streets at night, ever. If you are going out to eat or party, make sure you stay in densely populated areas and use the number of a reputable taxi company. If you must walk, ensure it is a short distance and the area is heavily lit, and travel in groups. But if you can, avoid even that.
3) Pick accommodation in a safe region. Do your research before you go, and book a hotel or apartment in a well-known area that is fairly affluent. As mentioned, locations like Boa Viagem and Soledad are safest.
4) Avoid ‘looking like a tourist’. Don’t wear overly flashy clothes, dress down as much as possible, and avoid looking ‘wealthy’. This is apt to make you a target before you have even realised it. Similarly, try to avoid wearing hiking boots or any other ‘tourist gear’ that might give you away. Buy some local clothes when you arrive and you’ll fit right in.
5) Watch your drink. Brazil’s bars can be havens for muggers, and even prostitutes operate in some areas, drugging their victims and stealing their belongings. If you must experience the nightlife, which we totally understand, be very careful. Monitor how much you are drinking, never leave drinks unattended and don’t accept drinks from strangers. No matter how hot they are!
6) Book your taxi from the Airport. This may seem obvious, but it is worth stating. There have been instances where taxi drivers have stolen everything from the freshly arrived traveler, and left them on the side of the road. There have also been roadside hold-ups, often where the taxi driver is in on it and receives his pay-off later. Book taxi services from inside the airport is the surest way to never experience this harrowing tale.
7) Avoid street-side ATMs. Only take out cash from tellers inside banks and malls. These will often be open after the banks have closed, and some might even have a guard. Street ATMs are often targeted by petty criminals, so these are safest to avoid at all costs.
Many people avoid Recife when visiting the eastern region of Brazil. But, whilst the crime rate is high, it is actually lower than some of the better-favoured beach towns. The truth is, this can be a great place to spend some time, perhaps coupling it with a trip over to the west of the country. If you have the time and resources, a stop over in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro followed by a couple of days checking out the Iguazu Falls would be perfect. Share this with your travel buddies to see if they agree!
Just ensure you stick to the better parts, and utilise our 7 top tips for a safe experience! And they it will be, as the Brazilians would say, bao viagem! This is not just a region of Recife, it also means ‘good travels!’