When traveling to a new or foreign place, it’s always a good idea to look into the crime rates of the place you’re planning on visiting before you go.
And Costa Rica is no exception.
So before you get on the plane, it’s crucial to take some time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings you’re about to be immersed in and look up safety precautions – you’ll be glad you did!
What to Expect
Despite being an extremely popular tourism destination, Costa Rica is still a developing country. It has limited funds, an understaffed police force, and the occasional petty theft in-and-around San Jose (just like most big cities in the world).
But if you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone into conditions that might be different from what you’re used to, you’ll be able to fully enjoy Costa Rica’s many unique and exciting qualities (wildlife, surf, relaxation, cuisine, etc.).
And with some street smarts and planning ahead, you can also significantly reduce your chances of being robbed or held up (the main safety concern for travelers).
According to the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security,
“Petty theft continues to be the biggest threat in Costa Rica. Pick-pocketing, muggings, purse snatchings, and theft are common occurrences and seem to be the biggest issues confronting tourists.”
If you’re traveling to a rural area in Costa Rica, your chances of anything bad happening will be much lower than if you were traveling to a big city like San Juan.
But either way, it’s important to be prepared.
How to Stay Safe in Costa Rica
In addition to following the safety precautions we’re about to go over, it’s also helpful to travel with some sort of guidebook with information on cultural norms as well as basic (but important) travel components and how-to’s. Guidebooks can also assist with travel and provide phrases that will help you navigate your way through unfamiliar territory.
Lonely Planet’s Costa Rica Travel Guide is a great one. And as an added bonus, it has a picture of a really cute sloth on the front that will make you smile every time you look at it!
To further decrease your chances of becoming a victim of petty theft in Costa Rica, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. We’ll start with some basic safety principles…
General Travel Safety Tips
- Keep jewelry and other valuables out of sight as much as possible (especially when traveling to the bigger cities).
- Try to avoid going out after dark by yourself.
- Obviously try to avoid any confrontation (physical and verbal).
- Travel with friends/family and avoid engaging in activities with strangers.
- Place your passport and tickets in the hotel safe. (You can carry a photocopy if you’ll need it while traveling around.)
- Plan on using credit cards mostly to make your life easy. Most businesses and tourist establishments all prefer it anyway.
- But if you have to use cash, then only change money in banks or reputable institutions — street money changers sometimes use counterfeit currencies.
- Keep your bank’s phone number on hand in the event of a lost or stolen card.
- Avoid visiting the ATM after dark.
- Keep valuables out of plain sight in vehicles.
- Only travel in licensed taxis, which can be easily identified by their yellow triangle medallion number painted on the side.
- Do not stop in isolated areas.
- If you experience car problems, try to make it to the nearest service station for assistance. If this isn’t a possibility, be extremely cautious when accepting help from strangers.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep your doors locked and windows shut.
- Only venture out into the nightlife with groups of friends and family members.
- Avoid overly crowded bars and night clubs as much as possible.
- Do not accept drinks or food from strangers.
- When visiting popular and crowded tourist attractions, take extra precautions to secure cash, jewelry, passports, and other valuables.
- Stay “on the grid” and away from deserted properties or sketchy areas.
- Always explore with a trusted companion!
Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes.
While Costa Rica experiences everyday crime that is common to all big cities, the rest of the country (especially the Osa Peninsula), is much safer.
According to a recent report by FTI Consulting, Costa Rica was named the safest country in Central America and among the top in the rest of Latin America.
“[The Costa Rican government] continues with its plan to professionalize the security forces and its investment in public safety prevention programs. The country continues to maintain lower crime rates than other neighboring countries, although it has not been completely isolated from their problems.”
Costa Rica was also recently featured in the BBC:
“In Costa Rica, crime has also increased in the past few years, but the popular tourist destination remains the safest country in Central America. “If I was asked to visit a place in the region, I would go to Costa Rica,” said Bidois. “…[I]t is safer and more welcoming than most other nations in the area.”
Most importantly, always trust your common sense. If a situation doesn’t feel right, get out of it as quickly as possible.
With these tips in mind, remember to also HAVE FUN! The chances of anything bad happening on your trip are slim. But it still pays to be safe – as long as you don’t let your carefulness put a damper on your trip.