Mugged in Fortaleza, how a bad experience can spoil your holiday (plus some safety tips!)

On my very second day in Brazil I was mugged in Fortaleza while strolling along one of my favorite beaches, Beira Mar. Before you think “You should have known Brazil is dangerous”, let me tell you that yes, I know many Brazilian cities bear a very sad record when it comes to street crime, but Fortaleza apparently wasn’t so high in the Brazil crime rates. Clearly, I wasn’t up-to-date.

Fortaleza street crime has reached pretty worrisome levels in a very short time.

Getting mugged in Fortaleza

Beira Mar beach, not such a nice place for getting mugged in Fortaleza

I’d arrived about three weeks ago and have taken advantage of the tranquility of the city for catching up with some work before a new hectic season from March on will start. Although I had initially contemplated the idea of exploring Fortaleza for at least two months and do some travel in the neighboring states, this unforeseen occurring of events made me change my mind and future destination.

It was Carnival time, and apparently in those days Fortaleza street crime levels skyrocket and pickpockets feel entitled to rob passers-by since the police doesn’t deem necessary keeping the streets under control.

Also, because I know of the upsetting figures and because I’m constantly reminded by locals, who never forget to warn me every single time I go out, I usually don’t carry anything with me.

That morning, barely 7 am (pickpockets don’t sleep??), before the unforgiving sun would start hitting too heavily, I left home to go for my usual beach walk with my tiny shoulder bag with inside literally only my keys, money worth about 10 euro for some water, and a tissue.

Getting mugged in Fortaleza, Brazil

Beira Mar at sunrise, just when I got mugged in Fortaleza

Before reaching the beach, a guy approached me and tried to sell me some canvas. When I refused to buy the painting or whatever he was selling, he followed me to the beach and asked me point-blank “You are Italian? Give me your bag!” My first, impulsive reaction got spoken before I could activate my brain (I’m a morning bird, but it was still 7 am): “No!” I said, and immediately waking, my wiser self shouted out to the irresponsible side of my mind “What are you stupid or something? He can have a gun, give him your dress if he asks for it!”

But it was too late, the damage had already been done, and since I didn’t volunteer to give him my scant beach possessions, he came to take them. He grabbed my bag, held down my protesting arm, and kept working on pulling out my tiny purse. Since I haven’t learned to shut up in awkward moments, and since I was aware he had already decided my bag was going to be his first loot of the day, I gave it another try: “There is nothing in the bag!” Very clever attempt, to which my aggressor,  rather unsurprisingly replied: “Let me decide about it, I’ll take it anyway.” Flawless argument.

Getting mugged in Fortaleza, Brazil

Waves on Beira Mar beach

Hopeless and nearly bag-less, I tried my last attempt: I started to scream, in the vain hope someone on the long beach could hear and/or care. No help arrived, the guy was already running away with my bag. I ran after him, he even looked back, not sure if he couldn’t believe I was actually following him or hoping I would.

After I got out of the beach and emerged in the paved avenue, a lady who (finally) realized what was going on asked me pretty much the same way as if she was asking me if I’d fancy a coffee: “Did he have a weapon?” I froze, I looked at her and I replied: “I don’t think so, at least he didn’t show me one.” In that moment, as he turned around a corner, I stopped and gave up altogether, scared that someone was waiting for him and knowing full well that I really didn’t want to put myself in that situation. Fortunately, his catch was not nearly as big as he might have expected from a foreign tourist.

Now I might be giving the impression I took it with breeze and irony. However, at the moment, and for about two days after getting mugged in Fortaleza, I was frightened. The fact that it happened near my house didn’t allow me to stop for a moment thinking that I might have seen him again should I go back to the beach, and in the very next days I barely went out only when strictly necessary, without any bag and not without a constant sense of fear.

I had been mugged before, once in Rome and once I was with a friend when she was robbed in Seville. It made me angry, annoyed and caused me troubles, but I was never scared. Why? Because the pickpockets at least tried not to be seen, they sneaked their hand into my bag and ran away. This time the guy really didn’t care if I remembered his face. He came out of one of the beach kiosks carrying a series of paintings to sell (or pretending to sell) and just decided to steal my purse.

fortaleza brazil crime

Another angle of Beira Mar

Fear was replaced by a sentiment of anger. How was it possible that no police was around knowing that Carnival days are a pickpockets’ feast? How was it possible that everybody takes it for granted that if you go out with a bag you are likely to get mugged and nobody is doing anything about it? The first thing that comes to my mind is that this is not exactly an incentive for tourists to come, but then I remembered this is not exactly Fortaleza’s first priority.

I’ve been coming to Brazil every two years for the last twenty years, and the changes I have witnessed unfold in such a huge country in so little time since Lula got to power are incredible. Even who didn’t vote for him recognizes that now the poor can eat. This is why I fail to understand why the local administrations are not addressing the issue of street crime in Brazil properly.

Although I know they won’t rob you every time you go out with a bag, don’t underestimate the problem, especially because thieves can be armed.

Here are my personal tips on how to stay safe and avoid getting mugged in Fortaleza (and Brazil in general).

1. Wear safety clothes

Brazil crime rate is notoriously high, so when traveling there you need to pay extra attention to some safety rules. To avoid getting mugged in Fortaleza and any other city in Brazil, instead of carrying a purse or visible wallet, wear pickpocket-proof travel clothes including the great Active Roots Security Belt that contains a zipped pocket where you can hide your cash when traveling. They are made with secret and secure pockets where you can keep money or any small object you need to carry with you such as cash, mobile phone, credit card, house keys, etc.
Click here for more information on the types of safety clothes available and the latest prices.

2. Dress modest

Linked to the first point, due to the high rate of street crime in Fortaleza, whenever you go out, be it day or night, don’t wear jewelry, avoid carrying a purse, and in general, don’t wear anything expensive.

3. Don’t carry too much cash

Whenever you can, try to avoid carrying too much money, but if you do, prefer wearing safe clothes with secret pockets and distribute your cash all around instead of only one place. Don’t pull out your money in the streets, always prefer closed places such as shops or restaurants. Obviously, if you need to withdraw cash you will need to carry your credit or ATM card. Although, warn your bank because they are likely aware of Brazil crime rate and they might block your card.

4. Don’t carry your passport

Unless you have to, avoid carrying your passport at all times. Prefer a copy instead, and keep the original in the safe of your hotel room. Same for all your other papers, credit or ATM cards, etc.

5. Don’t resist

If it does happen that you get mugged in Fortaleza or anywhere else in Brazil, do not react like me. Give them your bag and forget about it. Pickpockets in Fortaleza often carry a weapon and don’t think twice before using it, so your purse should be the very last of your concerns.

Street crime in Brazil, getting mugged in Fortaleza

I know it looks like a sunset, but it’s still the sunrise

As per the old saying, after a storm comes a calm, so after my anger for getting mugged in Fortaleza got sedated I signed up to a Yoga course. So, a good amount of workload, a fantastic Yoga class twice a week around the corner and no plans to visit the city’s attractions (also because I have already visited most of what Fortaleza offers) made me experience the place like a local, taking advantage of the great food, fruits and veggies it has, wonderful weather every day and a relaxed environment to carry on with my work and get ready for my next adventures.

 

**Update** In a report of the most dangerous cities in the world in 2016, Fortaleza ranks in the 12th place, followed closely by other cities in Brazil such as Natal, Salvador, Sao Luis, Manaus. As of now, Brazil crime rate is still at very upsetting levels, the local administrations failing to provide their citizens with basic safety measures.

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29 Comments
  1. Bello il racconto dello scippo, da sgradevole l’hai fatto diventare un’interessante avventura di viaggio!

  2. L’important c’est que cette aventure ne te dégoute pas de la merveilleuse Fortaleza!

  3. wow! u r very brave! enjoy the yoga! maybe u can go to the beach again but with precautions! like a local!

  4. I’m sorry about your experience, but I always think bad things happens for a good reason, at the end you are fine and learned about a situation that could save you from a more dangerous situatuion in the future, I see it that way, love reading your posts.

    PD. I was in Brazil just a few months back and I was followed by someone at night, I was pretty sure I was going to be mugged, I speed up my walking and when I reach the street corner run like crazy to avoid being reached…

  5. Oh I said “always” but I would have to clarify that in most cases is that way…

  6. Nestor a raison, cette aventure qui s’est bien terminée en a peut-etre evité une plus dangereuse!

  7. Hi Marie, I completely agree as I said in my first post; I also think Angela will agree and that will help her view this experience in a different and even positive way.

    • Hi Nestor and Marie, thanks for your comments :) I agree with the fact that it could have been dangerous and I have to be thankful the guy was not armed, but is it really a positive thing having to be grateful for not being pointed a gun on my face? Of course I’m overcoming the stress and getting on with my normal life, but in no way I will see it in a positive manner. These things must not happen, ever, anywhere. Writing that when it happened the same in Rome and Seville I was not scared was by no means intended to be a justification, the very opposite, it’s always a stain in a country’s reputation.
      In Beira Mar I wasn’t showing off jewelry, or camera or anything valuable, I was carrying a small bag like pretty much everyone else, probably my foreign accent triggered the guy’s impulse to rob me as he saw me an easy target, but there’s not much I can do about it, pretty difficult for me to acquire Brazilian accent :P

      Brazil has a huge potential to attract quality tourism, the northeast has some of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few!), I think authorities need to address the issue, otherwise tourists won’t feel safe.

  8. Hi Angela, I have to clarify when I say that it may seem a positive way, I say it because it could have been worse and also as an experience that could posibly help you handle a future situation that could end bad if you don’t know how to handle it. This is not anyone want to experience, so my expresion of “positive” is not to be meant as most people could think.

    I’ve been mugged only once in my life in Russia by the police themselfs… that is just incredible, who else would you go for help?

    I agree about what you say about safety in Brazil, I was really aware of this and I don’t look foreing in Brazil, but somehow when you seem to be looking around is easy to tell you are not a local, sadly Brazil has this reputation and I was almost a victim myself, I was at the moment with expensive camera equipment but in a very discrete backpack. But then you are in a risky situation money or whatever you have has no value compared to your life.

    What is the most important is that you are safe and that is why I wanted to post a comment of support right away, just wanted to clarify my post :)

    • Nestor, I understood what you meant, of course it’s good the guy didn’t have a gun, otherwise I’d probably be still in shock by now! Also, I think letting these petty muggings go can be a fertile ground for pickpockets to do it again, and as you said, not always ends up well.
      This being said, I actually thought you were Brazilian. And you were mugged by the police! That’s terrible, really the people you would call for help!

  9. Oh I tried to emulate brazilian accent, but is hard :)

  10. Harrowing experience for sure, Angela!

    What is it with Brasil? It’s the only place I’ve ever had any problems. I thought I had been smart, leaving everything in the hotel safe, bringing only a little cash and a credit card in my bra whenever I was out and about. Then, when I returned home, I discovered that the two credit cards left in the hotel safe had been used – despite the fact they had been locked in a box with a padlock (which was mine and where I had the key) within the hotel safe. Fortunately my bank was understanding – and they hadn’t faked my signature very well.

    • My bank always blocks my card when I’m in Brazil! Literally every time I have to withdraw I need to call them! I don’t know really, Fortaleza was not like this, they should be more effective in fighting street crime and find job/house for everybody! Although, to be honest, the guy who mugged me didn’t really look starving, it was during Carnaval, so probably he was just looking for a booze or drug!

  11. So sorry to hear about this experience. I’ve never had a problem in Brazil but it’s definitely easier for me since I am always with locals and people must think I’m Brazilian. You’re right, the Brazilian gov’t needs to work on this to attract more tourism (e.g. more security). But they’re not working very hard to attract tourism anyway…

    • Hi Jenna! I’ve been going to Brazil for the last 20 years and I had never been mugged, but I know many people who have, all Brazilians! Of course tourists are more targeted than locals, but being Brazilian doesn’t really look the prerogative for being 100% safe… Also, I too am always with locals, but I have a house in Fortaleza, so when I go, I stay months, and in such a time span, it does happen to me that I go out alone. To be honest I find a bit ridiculous (and exhausting!) that I need a bodyguard or that I can’t carry a purse with me!

  12. I never thought I’d get mugged myself because I figure, I’m always careful and I always think before I do anything. But it’s a reckless way of thinking because no on can anticipate what will happen. I think when we travel alone, as females most especially, we become a little bit more of a target (one of the downfalls of solo travel). I, too, got mugged. It happened in Northern Ireland (of all places). And I thought to myself I’ll never travel alone again but as you have, I got over it. The experience is a life lesson and a reminder to always be thankful it didn’t turn out worse. I’m glad you are still in one peace and that you still love Brazil. As for me and Northern Ireland, I’ve have more than just the mugging experience there that made me realize I will never love it and I will never return.

  13. Reply
    Helga Maria Saboia Bezerra June 28, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Hi, Angela. I’m from Fortaleza. I’d like to ask your permission to publish your blog in a group on Facebook called FORTALEZA APAVORADA. I send you our CNN iReport, through which you can understand who we are, what we do.
    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    my best regards
    Helga

  14. Reply
    Lauren @ AllThingsGo.co.uk July 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    This sounds horrible, I’m glad he wasn’t armed. I think my responses would be fear and anger too. Well done for not carrying lots of money, I think I need to be more careful and less complacent.

  15. Thank you for sharing your experience. I found your website just before a trip to Fortaleza earlier this month for the World Cup. After reading your article and because I really enjoy sightseeing on foot (privileged, huh?), I thought about cancelling my trip, but decided to go ahead with taking some precautions (e.g., not carrying a bag at all, not walking too far from Beira Mar at night, leaving behind my camera). Needless to say, there were police everywhere, and I didn’t have any problems.

    • Glad to hear that nothing happened, I’m sure with the World Cup the local council might have thought to actually do something to prevent street crime, in the end, World Cup would bring money in..

  16. I am so glad to that you are alright. I’ve never been one to worry, but I know there are plenty of US cities where you are looking over your back all the time and not safe to go out at night as it used to be. In fact, the little US town I grew up and visited has changed drastically and is now filled with drugs and crime :( It’s just that way everywhere you go I’m afraid. I would love to visit Brazil one of these days though and Good luck and take care :)

  17. What a shame there was such an unpleasant event on your trip, Angela. Nevertheless, just like you said Brazil has been through big changes and it will certainly be reflected in the safety for tourists soon. Another place you should get know, if you haven’t visited already is the city of Recife, which is also very beautiful and surrounded by beaches. A great option is going by bus, on this website: https://brazilbustravel.com/from-fortaleza-ce there are bus tickets leaving from Fortaleza to Recife with a lower cost than the plane ones, it’s worth it checking out.

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