Costa Rica Travel Safety

Costa Rica is generally considered to be a very safe country and Costa Ricans on the whole are honest and friendly people. Any crime that does exist tends to be opportunistic, rather than involving out-and-out assault. The main things travelers have to worry about in the city are street mugging and pickpocketing.

In downtown San Jose you need to be wary at all times. Street crime, especially chain and watch snatching and pickpoketing, can be a problem, specially in isolated or poor sections of the city. Gangs of kids called chapulines (grasshoppers) too young to prosecute under Costa Rican law, which had turned into a major problem a few years back, have all but disappeared now.  Wear a money belt, and never carry anything of value in an outside pocket; it is also wise not to wear jewelry or carry expensive equipment, such as cameras while walking around downtown. Do not carry large wads of bills and do not show all your bills when paying for what you buy. Other good advise includes:  Do not get drunk in public so as not to invite mugging, do not argue with inebriated persons, do not walk around in secluded areas or in the city during the night.  If you decide to take a companion up to your room, be forewarned that prostitutes are notorious for cleaning out their customers pockets before leaving.

Safety for travellers - imagen 1

Recreational drugs other than alcohol and tobacco are illegal in Costa Rica.  Do not deal with drug dealers, specially on the street and perhaps more importantly, do not carry drugs while walking around the city, and especially while leaving or entering the country.  Sentences for international drug trafficking go from 3 to 25 years in prison. On these subjects, trust only what your Tico friends tell you

It has been also known for luggage to be stolen while you are distracted or while it is being kept supposedly secure in a left-luggage facility. Never hand your baggage top strangers, except the airport porters, who have official identification. If storing your luggage in a hotel or guest house while you are traveling around the country, make sure it is locked, has your name prominently written on it, and that you have left instructions for it not to be removed by anyone but yourself, under any circumstances.

Car theft – both cars and the things inside – also occurs, so always lock your car. You should not leave anything of value inside your car, even locked in the trunk, anywhere in Costa Rica, day or night. If you must leave something in the car make sure it is in plain view and that it is apparent that it is of no value.  In addition, never park your car on the street in San Jose, the Valle Central towns, Puntarenas or Limon; use the parking lots, this might seem overly paranoid, but it may save you a headache. Heavily touristed National Park parking places are also vulnerable, unless they are within the park where the park rangers can keep an eye on them.

If you take the common-sense precautions outlined above, you should get by unscathed. In addition, keep copies of your passport, your air ticket and your travelers cheques, plus your insurance policy at home; and if possible, extra copies in your hotel, as well as a little cash should calamity strike. If the hotel offers safety deposit boxes, use them.  In Costa Rica you have to carry an ID on you at all times, and for foreigners this means carrying your passport. A photocopy will do, but if you are stopped and asked for ID, make sure you can produce the real thing from your hotel just in case the police demands to see it.

Outside San Jose, specially in the parks, be cautious and respectful of nature.  Stay on trails in parks, if you don’t, chances are you will get lost.  Pay attention to warning signs, recently a tourist decided to ignore a “No swimming. Crocodiles inhabit this pond” warning with tragic consequences.  If the trail looks too dangerous, turn back, even if there are no warning signs, this applies specially around volcanoes and mountains. Also, beware of dramatic changes in temperature atop mountains. Do not cross rivers or estuaries that flow into the sea.  Rivers can turn into huge torrents in matters of minutes from upstream rain so be cautions while bathing.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of our country are the beaches which every year claim tourist lives.  Be very respectful of waves, riptides and the ocean in general.  Stay always near other bathers, do not swim into the ocean, even if you are a good swimmer.  Be specially wary of open beaches, which tend to prolong in a line, as opposed to safe harbor horse-shoe shaped bays. Be cautious while bathing in any beach with a river mouth.

A word of caution to women, do not follow or be led by any impromptu tour guide impersonator to far away or secluded places.  Always stay with your group, if you are alone, do not trust men you have not been properly introduced to by someone you know.

After summing up all the bad things that could happen to you the only thing left to be said is: “Don’t Panic! If you use common sense none of this will ever happen to you.”

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