Costa Rica is blessed with tropical jungles bursting with wildlife, mountainous landscapes extending into the horizon, picture-perfect beaches on both sides of the country, and a never-ending supply of fun activities no matter your budget. While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for travel and backpacking in Central America, that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Here is some important information about how safe is Costa Rica to travel in.
Costa Rica suffers from many of the same problems that plague most Latin American countries – drug trafficking, poverty, and economic struggles. That being said, Costa Rica is still pretty safe when compared to some of its more violent neighbors. There are moments when you may feel unsure but most of the time and most areas in Costa Rica are safe. It is important, however, to know that security in Costa Rica is still developing. Petty theft (pickpocketing around tourist areas/on public transport) definitely happens. Violent crime such as muggings, particularly late at night, isn’t uncommon either. Gang-related crime is on the rise, but it mostly occurs in and around San Jose.
Over the last several years, criminal offenses have been on the rise. Since 2015 the murder rate has risen above the World Health Organisation “epidemic threshold” of 10 per 100,000. This is a very new trend, and is quite converse to Costa Rica’s paradisaical reputation – but experts are starting to target the causes.
Now, you may be surprised to know that Costa Rica is actually one of the most stable Latin American countries. Costa Rica has no army (abolished in 1949!), which means funding goes to better things – like amazing healthcare.
With tourism contributing majorly to the country’s GDP, and those tourist dollars going some way to eliminate poverty, the government is focused on making the country accessible and comfortable for tourists.
Crime might have been steadily on the rise, including violent crime. However, this is mainly gang-related and rarely impacts visitors to the country.
Avoid isolated areas – If you’re somewhere isolated, you’ll be at a greater risk of getting robbed, especially at night and in big cities. Try to stay where the crowds are. That’s the best way to avoid being singled out by potential muggers.
Don’t wear flashy items – Petty theft is common, so remove any jewelry or watches before you go out, and don’t wave your phone or camera around. Do your best to blend in, so you don’t become a target for pickpockets. If you happen to find yourself a victim of a robbery, follow the instructions of the robber and give up your valuables; these material items can be replaced but your life cannot.
Don’t leave your items unattended – If you are spending the day on the beaches in Puerto Viejo, Santa Teresa, or Manuel Antonio, do not leave your belongings unattended while swimming or walking along the sand; locals or tourists alike can easily take your valuables if you leave them around. Just take what you need with you and nothing more.
If you can, hit the beach with fellow travelers so you can each keep an eye on everyone’s things.
Be alert when using public transportation – Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime you’ll face in Costa Rica. Most of the theft in Costa Rica occurs while taking the bus. Keep your bag containing valuables and identification on your lap and stay vigilant.
Always take an authorized taxi – Crimes against cab riders are infrequent here but it’s best you use a licensed taxi. Also, pay close attention to the meter and make sure it’s running properly. Cab drivers can turn the meter off and claim it’s broken (a common scam).
Avoid people that want to ‘help’ with your bags – this is usually a scam.
Buy travel insurance. This is especially important if you plan to join in on activities like ziplining, white water rafting, or surfing. It protects you against unexpected costs that arise due to illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong.