Like many Brazilian cities, the differences between rich and poor in Belo Horizonte are stark. Rather than the gradual change from wealthy to poorer areas that you find in Europe or the US, the rich often live right across the road or round the corner from a ‘Favela’ (slum). Another aspect of the city which causes a shock to the system is the amount of street children who ask you for money while stopped at traffic lights or on the street. The city’s government wants the public to stop handing money to street children in order to encourage parents to send their children to school. It’s difficult, however, not to be affected by the poverty around you, especially when this kind of existence is unheard of in your own country. I personally feel that giving food instead of money is a sensible alternative to doing nothing, but each person must do what they think is right.
When a city contains a very rich and a very poor group of people living in close proximity, it’s not surprising that crime can be an issue. Almost all houses in rich areas have electric fences, CCTV, and large dogs, and in my experience, crime is often at the forefront of local inhabitants’ minds. It’s hard to tell, however, how much of this is due to fear of crime and how much is based on experiences of crime. Whatever the explanation, it’s wise to take precautions when you’re travelling around Belo, especially if you’re white and don’t speak Portuguese, and particularly at night. I recommend not taking your whole wallet when you go out. Instead, carry your credit card and only slightly more cash than you think you will need. Divide the cash into a larger and a smaller amount and keep them in separate locations, so that if someone asks for your money, you can hand over the smaller amount--don’t bother discussing it with them. Apart from that, the rest of my advice is just common sense–-don’t walk down dark alleys on your own, don’t get into cars with strangers, and don’t flash your wallet, phone, camera, or expensive watch all over the place. I’m happy to say that during the year in total I’ve spent in Belo, I have never had any problems. So, at the same time as being sensible, don’t worry about safety so much that you can’t enjoy your stay.