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No swimming here | © Paweesit / Flickr
No swimming here | © Paweesit / Flickr

A Short Safety Guide To Costa Rica

Picture of Jenn Parker
Updated: 18 September 2017

Costa Rica is a relatively safe country to visit if you practice common sense, have some self-awareness and material awareness, and take the necessary precautions. While there are bad people and the possibility of “wrong place, wrong time” incidents regardless of where you are, Costa Rica doesn’t have a major violence issue for the most part. Problems relating to gangs, drugs, and violent crimes typically remain contained within the groups directly involved in those activities. The following easy-to-follow tips will help keep you safe during your visit to this outrageously beautiful country. 

Petty Theft

Petty theft is the most common crime in Costa Rica. It is also avoidable if you are conscious of your belongings and your surroundings.

Make copies of your documents and cards

Everyone in your group should have at least one copy of their passport. It is also a great idea to make copies of your driver’s license, travel insurance (if you have it) and at least one credit card. You should never carry your actual passport around with you. This should be locked in a safe at all times.

Only carry around only what you absolutely need

Don’t carry around all your credit cards and money. Split up your assets. You should only bring out with you what you think you are going to need for that particular outing. Keep the rest locked in your safe.

Don’t leave anything in your car

Never leave anything valuable in your car. If you have to leave something behind, make sure that it is locked in the trunk, glove box, or well hidden elsewhere in the car.

Don’t leave anything by the windows or doors

It is not uncommon to be staying in an open-air rental when in Costa Rica, and the open-air design is typically complete with metal grated windows and doors. It is easy for a thief to use a pole or hook to reach inside and grab whatever is nearest to the windows and doors. Even if you are staying in a place that has windows and doors that completely shut, if your place gets broken into, more often and not they will grab whatever is closest.

Don’t leave your stuff unattended at the beach

Unfortunately, beachgoers are easy targets. Flip flops, hats, and sunglasses are easy to take and often are taken when they are left unattended. Don’t leave anything valuable on the beach. If you do have valuable belongings (phone, camera, money, et cetera) make sure someone stays with it at all times.

On the Road

Costa Rica is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to drive in. Roads are narrow and often in subpar condition, street lights, stop signs, traffic lights, and road reflectors are rare, speeding and aggressive driving are common, huge cargo trucks are plentiful, and fog, rain, floods, rock falls, sketchy bridges, and animal crossings are all part of the drive.

Avoid driving at night as much as possible

Outside of San Jose and some of the bigger cities and towns, the roads are very dark at night. Most areas don’t have street lights or road reflectors. The roads are also quite narrow and can be very curvy, and they don’t have guard rails. If you do have to drive at night, be extra alert and take your time getting to your destination.

Don’t speed

While it might seem as if everyone around you is speeding (they probably are), there is no need to rush. Cows, dogs, horses, chickens, iguanas, monkeys, coatis, wildcats, and children can dart out into the road at any moment. Slow down and enjoy the scenery and accept that you will get to where you are going when you are supposed to get there. Speeding kills, and if you aren’t used to driving in Costa Rica, it is even more dangerous.

Avoid driving in San Jose

While the rest of the country is relatively easy to navigate, San Jose is a very difficult city to drive around, especially if it is your first time. There are one-way roads and dangerous neighborhoods, and it is all just downright confusing. It is best to use Uber, a taxi, or a private shuttle when in San Jose, or if you must drive, ensure that you have really good directions and it is light outside.

Body Safety

Costa Rica is a wild place. It is important to protect your body from the elements and the natural hazards that will come your way.

Always wear sunscreen

Costa Rica is located near the equator and the strength of the sun is intense. It is an unfortunate mistake to think that you can skip out on sunscreen. You will most definitely encounter at least one tourist during your trip who decided to “get a base tan” on the first day and now looks like a boiled lobster. Look for a natural mineral sunscreen to bring; sunscreen in Costa Rica is very expensive. Mineral sunscreens are reef-friendly and much better for the environment and your health.

Always use bug repellent

Mosquitos in Costa Rica carry both dengue and chikungunya. Both of these viruses are truly awful to have. Symptoms include high fever, nausea, terrible body aches, splitting headache, fatigue, extreme dehydration, loss of appetite, and a rash. Avoid ruining your vacation or coming home with one of these viruses by always wearing bug repellent. The mosquito that carries both of these viruses is typically out for blood during the day.

Stay hydrated

Costa Rica is hot, the sun is strong, and you will most likely be exploring the great outdoors, engaging in high-intensity activities (hiking, white-water rafting, surfing, paddle boarding, et cetera), and enjoying adult beverages. As a rule of thumb, especially in the tropics, you should be drinking 70–100 fluid ounces (two to three liters) of water every day.

Don’t go to the beach at night

Unless you are staying at a resort with a well lit and securely guarded slice of beach, this is not a safe place to be at night in Costa Rica. Robberies and other crimes are more common on the beach at night than in other areas.

Obey the signs

It is truly amazing how many people disregard signs such as, “no swimming,” “crocodile habitat,” or “strong rip currents.” These signs are displayed in both English and in Spanish. Heed the warnings that are placed before you!