Brazil is home to some pretty amazing sights. It holds not one but two UNESCO world heritage sites, some absolutely stunning beaches, a vast proportion of the Amazon, and some mammoth cities. One such city is the sprawling mega-metropolis of São Paulo. What it lacks in beaches and natural beauty, it more than makes up for in shopping, nightlife, entertainment and culture. Plus, as the Brazilian epicentre of economics and finance, it is the place to escape to for expatriates. But, is São Paulo really safe to travel in 2020?
How does the largest city in Brazil, home to 11 million people and more than 20 million in the metropolitan area, keep its people safe? As one of the most diverse cities in the world, does it see much inter-racial violence? Does the great nightlife and culture make up for the violence and hardships its inhabitants face? Just how dangerous is the city at night? And how well would a female solo traveller fare in the city?
We answer all these questions and more. So by the end of the this article, you will feel confident to explore the largest city in the whole of South America.
Is São Paulo safe for solo female travellers?
Much of São Paulo is safe for females travelling solo, and moving freely through the city during the day is easy. As night falls however, dangers can arise, so it is wise to avoid dark and empty streets and walk in groups if possible. If you do run into trouble you can call 180—a special unit of the police that is dedicated to women who require assistance. To avoid danger, always choose a cab or public transport over walking.
Whilst there are some neighbourhoods that both tourists and citizens should always avoid (we will come to those shortly), there are some safe zones. Centro, the old city centre, and Praça de Sé in particular, has a heavy police presence, making it fairly breezy for tourists walking in the area, day or night. Here you can find plenty of cultural and architectural sites, such as the Catedral da Sé, the Municipal Theatre, and the famous Galleria Do Rock, a must for all music lovers!
Vila Madalena is a great place to visit and stay if you are planning a solo trip. Up and coming, a little bit hipster, and full of gorgeous boutiques, bars and eateries, it also has a great selection of hotels, hostels and Air BnBs for tourists. It also has a stop on the city’s metro green line, so you can get to anywhere in the city quickly, easily, and pretty safely.
If you are a solo traveller who is fairly green, it is advisable to meet like-minded travellers by staying in a Hostel. Whilst São Paulo can be safe for tourists, it is still a place to be wary, and most suited for those who have a bit of experience. There are many Hostels across the city, and you might well find some friends for life while staying there!
Another spot to visit is the neighbourhood of Pinheiros. Slightly cheaper overall than Madalena, great for shopping and with the added benefit of the wonderful Parque Villa-Lobos. This is a large urban park, often full of people, and with a prime spot to watch the sunset. At night, the neighbourhood becomes a lively and thriving spot for bars and restaurants, and feels safe for tourists.
During the day time, however, most of the central districts are safe for solo females to walk and not be hassled. Just be sure to avoid any deserted streets, and walk in groups avoiding dark streets at night.
Another top tip if travelling alone in the city, São Paulo has its very own female only taxi service. Femitaxi can be booked online or through their facebook page, and will set the solo travellers mind at rest. Well done Brazil!
Is São Paulo safe at night?
Whilst much of downtown São Paulo is safe by day, as night falls it can become dangerous. However, there are small neighbourhood pockets that are safe at night for hitting bars and clubs. But always have the number of a cab ready. Sadly, thieves and gangs are much more likely to operate under cover of darkness, and the police are not always around to help.
São Paulo is not really a pedestrianised city, and walking anywhere at night can be dangerous. Especially when alone. But, like so many places, the city has its good and bad parts. Aside from the world-class shopping available in São Paulo, there is an astonishing amount of entertainment and nightlife here too. And likely you will want to see some of it. Whilst some parts of the city are safer to walk at night than others, this is generally not a walking city. If you find yourself downtown after dark, it is best to be in groups and walk only short distances. And never walk alone at night!
Whilst central areas like Consolação and Santa Efigênia are interesting areas to visit by day, they should be avoided at night. Most locals wouldn’t even take a trip to certain parts of these neighbourhoods. The same applies to places like Liberdade, a thriving hotbed of Japanese art, Asian food and culture by day, but a sketchy locale by night.
Incidentally, with such a rich and diverse range of nations living in the city, you will find small cultural enclaves allover the city. Chinese, Lebanese, Korean, Italian, you name it! And the best thing about this? The food! Sure, you can gorge on Brazilian Barbecue, but you also have every other cuisine under the sun. Perhaps you are wondering if there are any cultural clashes amongst the citizens of the city? Fortunately this is not the case. Whilst large parts of the city can be dangerous at night, this is general and not specific to multicultural areas. Truly a melting pot of cultures and traditions. Each one celebrated in their own special ways.
If you do run into trouble the number to call is 190 to reach the local police stations, or 128 if you are having an emergency. Be warned, you might need to brush up on your Portuguese!
Where to go at night
São Paulo has some of the most diverse and extensive nightlife on the planet. From Latin American dancehalls to rock bars, EDM and everything in between.
To the westside of São Paulo is the centre of business, education and also the hotbed of nightlife! So spending time here is apt to be safer at night than other areas. Alternatively, head to Baixo Augusta. This part of the city is a hot spot for revellers, with tonnes of bars and nightclubs. Throngs of people are found here at all hours, with no trouble at all. Just a stones throw away from the iconic Avenida Paulista.
Head to Vila Madalena and visit Grazie a Dio!, and go wild to an eclectic mix of soul. samba and Brazilian pop music. Alternatively, Bixiga and Bella Vista have some great haunts and are relatively safe areas. Café Piu Piu is there for all your rock requirements. Raucous music with a great bar serving food ’til late, and a mezzanine level for people watching. As with many places in the city, you will want to take a cab back to your accommodation. And this will often require cash. If you need to get cash from an ATM, avoid street side tellers. Look for the ATMs inside buildings, in well lit areas and with security cameras.
When traveling around the city in the evening, you can avoid walking on dark streets and between neighbourhoods via the subway system. Be warned, while public transport in São Paulo is generally safe, but has its share of nefarious characters and pockets of danger.
The Metro has various different lines, with the green line being the safest. Red and blue lines, have many locations that should be totally avoided between dusk and morning. Parada Inglesa, Corithians-Itaquera, Sé, Barra Funda, and Tatuapé are but a few. However it is always best to check the location of your accommodation, and do your own research around metro stops in your area, before arriving.
In fact, observing the following failsafe is invaluable. Memorise the address of your accommodation, and the best routes to get home quickly and safely from a variety of directions. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, this gives you a strategy. Also be mindful that all public transportation stops at midnight, and 1am on the weekends. If you are out later than this, and likely you will be as clubs don’t heat up before this time, have a cab number at the ready.
Is the tap water in São Paulo safe to drink?
While it is generally considered safe to drink tap water in São Paulo, however, most people stick to bottled water. Due to the filtration and purification process, the tap water can often have a strange taste to it. Most citizens will drink bottled water, and only use the tap water for washing or brushing their teeth.
This means that, when it comes to restaurants, ordering tap water is not really an option. You will generally have to resort to buying bottles of mineral water, which will cost you much more than it would in the market. When buying water in the supermercado, look out for labels stating sin gas (still water), and con gas (carbonated water).
It is also wise to look out for a few details. Especially when buying from smaller stores. Make sure the seal is not broken on the bottle before you buy. Some less than honest retailers will just refill from the taps and then sell as ‘fresh’ water. It is also advisable to steer clear of ice cures, especially from street vendors, as you cannot be sure of the quality of the water used.
Alternatively, bring your own water bottle and refill it from the water filter in the hotel or hostel. Companies like LifeStraw, also contain a filtration system that removes parasites, bacteria, chemicals and micro-plastics from the water you drink! Helping to save you money whilst saving the environment from single-use plastics! There are also clearly marked potable water fountains allover the city for residents and tourists to use.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, a high percentage of the Brazilian population has access to clean drinking water. And this is true for all cities.
A filter water bottle is an effective way of purifying water to remove any impurities or contaminants.
Are Taxis in São Paulo Safe?
There are a number of taxi companies in the city that are safe to use, and readily available. To ensure your trip is safe around São Paulo, be sure to look for a white car with a red license plate. Often there are are black taxi cars with a silver license plates too.
If taking a ride from Guarulhos International Airport, you can find licensed taxi kiosks for Guarucoop (a cooperative for the city) in arrival terminals 1 to 3. You will also find staff wearing uniforms, so ignore any unidentified persons asking if you need a ride. You can even pre-pay by credit card at the kiosk!
Additionally, you can book ahead with Taxi Guarulhos, and avoid waiting in line when you arrive at the airport. Another options is Coopertax, which generally have larger air-conditioned cars, though you must call to make a booking. Of course, there is also Femitaxi, with all female drivers. Great if you’re a female travelling solo! Use their Facebook page to make a booking.
When in an Brazilian city, always used licensed taxis only. If unsure, check with your hotel or host before getting in. Be mindful of charlatans out to kidnap of extort you for money! This is a very minor percentage of people however, and you can avoid disaster by asking your hotel to book a ride for you. All licensed taxis will also have a metre inside the cab. Speak with the driver to agree on your price before embarking on your trip. You will save yourself a lot of arguments, or paying through the nose when you arrive at your destination!
When going from A to B, be aware of your surroundings. Generally, maps on your smartphone will still show you the area, and where you are. You can check you are going in the right direction and ensure your own safety at the same time. and if in doubt, question the driver. It is always worth having a translation app on your phone if you don’t speak the language. If you are worried, call the police. Better safe than sorry!
However, if you really want to guarantee that São Paulo is safe for you, you always have Uber. Though Uber have had their share of bad press, this really is an invaluable resource when travelling in a new city! It is generally considered the cheaper than a taxi, and drivers are always close by. Added to this, Uber fleet drivers are required to have relatively new cars that are serviced yearly. This way, you are doing all you can to ensure a safe ride.
When calling a cab or Uber, time of day is a key factor. Most Brazilian people have a car, especially in this sprawling city. So, if you are driving during peak hours, you will run into some heavy traffic. Think New York style jams. This is the one downside of Uber cars—whilst taxi drivers can drive in the bus lanes, they cannot! Meaning at certain times of the day, they may get your there quicker.
Is São Paulo safe right now?
Whilst crime rates in certain areas are high, generally São Paulo is a safe place to visit right now. Especially if you know to avoid the outer regions of the city. You are not likely to run into danger with large criminal operations, but when downtown it’s petty criminals you should watch out for. Especially in the larger touristy areas, where things can be taken from you without your knowledge.
Whilst urban areas like Avenida Paulista, Vila Madalena are usually safe from robberies and muggings, there is the issue of pickpocketing. On Sundays the Avenida becomes completely pedestrianised, with market stalls, live music, food stands coming together to create a feast for the ears and eyes. It also becomes quite the hangout for vast swathes of Brazilian people, and tourists! Thick with local hang-outs, street food, clothing stores, bars and restaurants, this is where distractions can get the better of you.
It can be hard to spot thieves, though is a good rule of thumb to be wary of groups of teens hanging around. Often also conspicuous by their clothing, hinting at their poor background. These groups will often utilise distractions to get what they want. Either by approaching you in groups of two or more, or creating a scene somewhere close by. When busy talking or watching the unfolding drama, your pockets and bags get forgotten. By everyone but the pick-pocket! The same can be true when you are spellbound by a performer or musician, or admiring a purchase on the street. Be mindful of this, and ensure you keep you hands on your bag or belongings at all times.
Aside from health restrictions—which can only be advised by the government in your country—it’s a pretty great time to visit the city, and Brazil in general. As with all major cities, you only need to follow the rules of the road. And a lot of these are fairly common sense anyway. See below for our top nine safety tips to follow when heading to São Paulo.
Is São Paulo safe to live?
Every city has its fair share of crime, and São Paulo is no different. In reality, however, São Paulo is actually a fairly safe city to live in! You just have to know where to avoid, and be vigilant at night. Most citizens will have cars, so can avoid public transport and walking alone at night. Plus, there are some very nice neighbourhoods that are generally free of criminal incidents.
The sad fact of economic and population growth is that it often comes with a rise in crime. And as the largest financial and economic centre of industry in Brazil, it has a healthy population that is rising still. It is also the top choice for expats from around the world.
It is true that many people consider life in São Paulo to be safer than living in Rio De Janeiro. However, there are still some safety concerns. As with any large city around the world, one concern is air pollution. Another is the huge amount of road congestion caused by as many as 11 million living and working in a (relatively) small 576 square mile space.
Neighbourhoods located in the central southeast of the city like Vila Formosa, Parque da Móoca, Monções and Parque Bistrol are lively, thriving and have the lowest amount of crime. You will also see lots of investments made in the area, services offered and implementation for business and learning. In areas like Alto da Móoca, you will also find higher rates of middle class and Italian immigrants.
However, there are some infamously dangerous areas that give São Paulo a bad name. One such location on the outer edge of the mega-metropolis, Jardim São Luiz, has some of the highest recorded crime rates in the city. It is advisable to steer clear of the outer, poorer neighbourhoods such as the above, Campo Limpo or Capão Redondo. There are seven favelas in São Paulo, as well as the ‘red light district’ on Rua Augusta. Most residents of the city are aware of these, and will avoid them at all costs.
Sadly, however, there are some places that cannot be avoided, especially when driving. The intersection of Av. Rebouças and Pedroso de Morais st. in the city center is well-known as a hot-spot for crime. Robbers will try to open car doors and threaten the driver so always ensure you have your doors central locked when driving from A to B. Other spots to be conscious of are Consolação, Giovanni Gronchi, Morumbi Avenue.
In terms of healthcare, Brazil is fortunate enough to have universal medical care. This is free to all citizens, expats included. Care received through this medical program is generally accepted to be very adequate, though more affluent community members will opt to go private.
Top 9 São Paulo Safety Tips
By now you should feel pretty confident about heading over to Brazil, and the behemoth that is São Paulo! With every country, and every city, caution should be exercised. You are a tourist, fresh blood, and if you don’t have your wits about you, the sharks can begin to circle.
The bottom line is this: São Paulo can be very safe to those that follow the following safety tips.
Locate dangerous areas and avoid them. This one cannot be understated. Get to know the surroundings of your accommodation, and places you want to visit. Do research on the areas to avoid and make sure you have a basic understanding of the geography. This is the ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best’ tactic that can save you a lot of hassle. It will also ensure that you aren’t caught in a dodgy area after nightfall. Never underestimate the benefits of being aware of your surroundings.
Walk like you know where you are going. Whilst it can be hard to act like you live in the country, you can at least pretend to know the area a little. If you aren’t sure where you are going, duck into a shop or cafe to check your phone or maps. That way you avoid looking like a lost tourist, and deter would be muggers or chancers.
Don’t carry valuables. Especially not to the beach, don’t wear expensive clothes/labels or jewellery/watches. If you must bring them on holiday with you, stash them in the hotel safety deposit box. If you are in an apartment and don’t have a deposit box, hide valuables somewhere in the apartment that is inconspicuous. In the bottom of a tissue box, in rolled up socks or underwear etc. Just remember where you put it, and repack it before you leave! If you must carry expensive items with you (cameras, phones etc) ensure you have a decent level of travel insurance.
Don’t carry cash. Or, if you must, carry the smallest amount on your possible. This will avoid you losing lots if you are pick-pocketed or mugged. In fact, one excellent tactic is to carry a second wallet with some dud cards and a little cash in. This way, you can hang on to your real wallet and give up the second one!
Avoid outdoor ATMs. If you need to get cash out, don’t leave yourself vulnerable to muggers. There are lots of ATMs inside bank buildings, in an anteroom that often stays open at night. These are well lit and have security cameras. When in doubt, opt for one of these. And while we are on the subject, it is a good idea to split up your bank cards. Keep one card with you when out, and the rest in the safe at the hotel, if you can.
Dress like a local. Again, you don’t have to study the attire of locals and emulate them exactly, but avoid being flashy. Wearing expensive clothes, shoes or accessories will likely make you a target. So, if in doubt, wear plain clothes without the loud expensive logos, and blend in with the crowds.
Be mindful of distraction tactics. Tourists are vulnerable to theft when distracted, and this is what thieves will be looking to capitalise on. Always ensure you have a good grip of your bags or valuables, and are aware of your surroundings. Especially when there is a lot going on!
Say no to free food/drinks. Drugging tourists is not uncommon, and so it is wise to be mindful of who you accept food and drinks from. If you are offered something by a stranger, be polite but make your excuse and walk away. This can make being chatted up in a bar a little awkward, but safety should always be your first thought!
Choose a licensed taxi. Be sure to take a white car with a red license plate, or look for the name Guarucoop, the name of the cooperative in the city. Pre-book from the hotel if you can, or alternatively ask the bar or restaurant you are in to order or suggest a taxi. Always agree on a price before you get in. You can also check prices with your hotel to get a good idea. Most taxi drivers will be fair, but there are always some out to make a quick buck. Be vigilant, there is no harm in asking questions before you get in. If you get a bad vibe, you are free to walk away and find an alternative driver.
Check the location of your accommodation. Similarly to avoiding dangerous areas, the location of your hotel or apartment should feel safe. Before you book, research the area, and get to know the streets via maps before you arrive. Make sure you have a safe route home from the local Metro station, and memorise the address! This will come in super handy when hailing cabs or coming from the airport.
A Travel Safety Belt is an effective and affordable way of protecting your notes, cards, and cash.
Stay Safe When Travelling in São Paulo Brazil
When you choose to visit Brazil, other people can trick you into feeling that the whole country is terrifying. And while it does have its dangers, like any country it all comes down to knowing the places to avoid. Get to the know the areas you want to visit, and avoid carrying expensive possessions, accessories or lots of cash on you. Visiting any new city can come with its dangers, but planning head will give you the best tools to navigate it like a pro!
Though São Paulo has its incidents of crime and violence, it is still a bustling, vibrant joyful city. What it lacks in beaches, it more than makes up for in culture, art, music, nightlife and shopping! You will even find some wonderful parks around the city, little oases of calm in the bustling metropolis. If you want to go to São Paulo, share this with your travel buddies. Maybe combine a few Brazilian cities with some beach time? Anything is possible in Brazil!