Top Picks For You
Brazil Travel Guide

11 Tourist Traps to Avoid in Rio de Janeiro and Throughout Brazil

Before you get on a plane to Brazil, be aware of these scams.

If you’re heading to Rio de Janeiro, beyond the sun, beautiful beaches and caipirinhas are a slew of tourist scams you need to be aware of. Knowing (and preparing) for potential tourist scams can make you less vulnerable and allow you to navigate the wonders of Brazil confidently. From the beach to the airport, from nightlife to sightseeing, here are a few well-known scams that target tourists in Rio.

Imposters on the Beach

A fake peddler approaches tourists to offer something for sale and, with the help of a partner, draws attention away from the victim while their partner steals your belongings, such as cellphones, purses, and wallets. This is a common scam happening on Rio’s more popular beaches, such as Copacabana, Leblon, Leme, and Ipanema. Usually, the scammer will use a styrofoam box (used to sell popsicles) to hide the stolen objects. Always be wary when approached by a street vendor on the streets and beaches of Rio.

Baptized Drink (a.k.a. the Spill)

This is one of the most common scams in the LGBTQIA+ community, targeting primarily gay men in Brazil. This scam occurs in nightclubs, pubs, dating apps, or any other place with alcoholic drinks. In a moment of distraction, the scammer will put a drug in the drink. In a few minutes, the victim begins to go into a lethargic state, and that is when the scammer induces the victim to reveal his bank passwords or even take him home, where he steals his belongings. There have been cases where the scammer has worked with a server at a nightclub to drug a victim. As a rule of thumb, do not accept soda unless it is sealed, never leave your drink unintended, and watch the bartender open your beer.

Continue Reading Article After Our Video

Recommended Fodor’s Video

INSIDER TIPCaipirinhas are a popular drink to drug because the lemon disguises its off-taste. Don’t accept drinks from strangers.

The Paid Photo

While this scam is more common in northeast Brazil, it can also happen in other regions of the country. The scam involves a group performing a traditional dance or folkloric fight before asking tourists if they want a photo. Once the photo is taken, they’ll demand a fee for the image. This scam can also happen with the sand sculptures found on popular beaches like Copacabana but will typically have signage warning they charge for photos.

INSIDER TIPAlways ask permission before taking a photo, and, if photographing performers or the work of local artists, ask if the photo has a fee.

A Bracelet That Appears to Be Free but Is Not

Don’t accept anything that someone says is free. This is just a tactic to sell a bracelet, necklace, or keychain at an expensive price and of poor quality. In Bahia, the religious ribbon scam is very common. The street vendor ties it to the tourist’s arm and then charges an above-average amount. Nothing is usually free–it is just another way to scam tourists.

Shining Your Shoes

One of Rio’s most common tourist traps is the shoe polish trick. Usually taking place on the Copacabana beachfront and at the entrances of bus stations and airports, the price of a shoe shine will always skyrocket after the service. If you refuse to pay, the shoe shiner will intimidate and persist until the tourist feels coerced into paying the higher rate. Sometimes, these scammers will even soil tourist’s shoes with mustard without the tourist noticing and then offer to clean them.

Diapers and Milk for a Mother

This scam involves a mother with a child on her lap (sometimes a teenager carrying a baby) asking tourists to buy diapers or powdered milk for her as opposed to donating money. The scammer indicates the place where they can buy the necessities, but in fact, there is an agreement between the shopkeeper and the scammer whereby an amount is given to the beggar after the tourist walks away. This scam is widespread in Ipanema, Leblon, and Copacabana. Sadly, in some cases, babies are even “rented” for this crime.

Overpriced Products at the Beach (When the Tourist Is a Foreigner)

Some of the items sold on Rio’s beaches are alcoholic drinks, coconut water, towels, and bracelets. It is common for street vendors on the “carioca beaches” (as those born in Rio call it) to sell products at high prices to foreign tourists. Sometimes prices can be three times as much as the item’s worth. If you want to buy something from a street vendor, always negotiate. Ask the price before picking up the item, and if you suspect the value is too high, don’t buy it.

Credit Card Scam at the Beach

Scammers disguised as street sellers apply scams using credit card machines. Some international cards do not require a password, but they have a much higher value, and the tourist only realizes this later. This scam happens in beach huts, especially in Ipanema and Copacabana. It is common for scammers to insist that tourists pay the bill using a credit card. In some cases, the card machines have their displays broken so that the victim cannot see the excessive amount being placed by the salesperson.

INSIDER TIPAlways pay in cash.

Rental of Chairs and Umbrellas Is Only Available With Food Purchases

With this scam, the rental of the item is only done if the tourist buys drinks or food from the renter. The tourist rents the beach chair but has to buy drinks and food from the owner. This scam is common on Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.

INSIDER TIPThis practice, like the others, is illegal. If there is a demand from the owner of the hut, refuse it and look for someone who will rent it without making the sale of one product conditional on purchasing another.

Fake Tour Guides

In February 2022, the police seized 14 fake tour guides for illegally exercising this profession. They tend to boast exclusive access to Corcovado (the mountain with the Christ the Redeemer statue), sightseeing services, and day trips not sanctioned by a travel company. Only take guided tours with accredited guides. If in doubt, arrange a tour through your hotel concierge or hire a guide via a travel agency.

The Dishonest Taxi Driver

Some taxi drivers (not all!) try to take advantage of foreigners on Brazilian soil. To avoid paying more than the standard rate for the ride, check beforehand for an estimate of the price and distance from the airport to the hotel, and follow the route using GPS so that the driver doesn’t take a longer route to make the trip more expensive.

INSIDER TIPIn Brazil, it is very common to use transportation apps. They are cheaper and more reliable, and you can pick up the car at the airport.