Is it Safe to Travel in Costa Rica?
Make the most of your trip by learning how to safely enjoy Costa Rica during your next vacation.
last updated: 1/2/2020
One of the most popular questions we get from travelers is: “Is it safe to travel in Costa Rica?” Most of our Anywhere Travel Experts are based in La Fortuna, and have seen Costa Rica become one of the world’s most popular tourist hotspots over the years. Costa Rica boasts exciting terrain — volcanoes, cloud forests, and beaches — and fascinating biodiversity, and it attracts millions of travelers every year. Yet this peaceful democratic nation is still a developing one, making it important to exercise the same common sense you usually would when traveling in a foreign country or major city. Costa Rica does have some crime, but unlike other countries in Central America, most travelers report feeling quite safe here.
We’ve summed up a few things to keep cautious about when traveling in Costa Rica. After all, when you are in a foreign destination, safety issues are always top-of-mind. By following the below tips, you’ll find yourself enjoying an unforgettable vacation, while being safe and healthy!
1. Beware of petty theft
Because Costa Rica is such a tourist hotspot, it is inevitable that petty theft is the most common threat to tourists. It’s important to start being mindful once you enter the country. Airports are busy spots and popular with pickpockets, especially at the exit gates. Ensure that you’re always aware of where your wallet and passports are! During the entire vacation, don’t leave any valuables or luggage in your car. If your belongings are visible, there’s risk of having your car broken into. (Instead of renting your own car — which runs this risk —, we recommend reserving private transport or shared shuttles!) Once you have reached your accommodations, lock away your passport and valuables in safety deposit boxes (if provided) and carry a copy of your information when you are out and about.
2. Road safety
Even if you are an experienced driver, driving on unfamiliar and ill conditioned roads in Costa Rica can be a challenge. Rural roads are especially hard to navigate during the rainy season, so this is a risk if you are renting a car. Have caution when driving at night as street lights, signs, and guardrails are not very visible. In cities with heavy downtown traffic, it is still possible to encounter thieves and robbery that risk damaging your car! Avoid parking your car along the street in large cities such as San Jóse, Alajuela, Puntarenas, or Limón — try to find secure lots with attendants. For more information about renting and driving a car in Costa Rica, read here.
3. Staying healthy in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is rather close to the equator, so you’ll experience more intense UV ray exposure when you are visiting destinations around the country. Remember to drink lots of water and put on sunscreen, especially if you are visiting the Guanacaste region — one of the sunniest in Costa Rica.
When traveling, it is wise to always carry some first-aid items such as pain relievers, band-aids, and diarrhea medicine — especially when you are enjoying local cuisine that is different from your typical diet. Wash your hands before meals and use a hand sanitizer! Adventure activities may leave you a bit grimy and dusty before relaxing at a restaurant.
If you do happen to become sick, you can find over the counter medicine at local drug stores (farmacía) or a clinic (clínica). The emergency number is the same in Costa Rica as in the US: simply dial 911. If you have some minor disruptions during your vacation, feel free to contact your travel planners and they’ll do their best to help you out!
4. Be mindful of these neighborhoods…
Tourists have a very different impression of the Capital City of San José compared to Costa Rica’s gorgeous beaches and lush forests. Unfortunately, this city has a higher rate of crime than in other locations. We would advise you to avoid Hatillo, a district of San José particularly notorious for its drug dealing and bad reputation. There are a number of safe tourist attractions in San José during the day, but avoid walking around at night.
Some of Costa Rica’s coastal towns such as Jacó — on the Pacific Coast, and Limón — on the Caribbean coast, have also seen their fair share of crime due to an increased number of tourists. However, you will feel fairly safe when visiting the national parks and beautiful beaches in this region, if you remain with your tour group and don’t travel alone at night!
5. The safest places to visit when you are in Costa Rica!
Now that we’ve prepared you for the worst possibilities you may encounter, let us recommend some great places you don’t want to miss out on in Costa Rica!
- Guanacaste – Known as ‘The Gold Coast,’ is now a popular spot for expats. This area used to be calm, sleepy fishing villages, but it is now is teeming with bohemian vibes and is a relaxing place to enjoy sunny beaches.
- Arenal – With is majestic volcano and lake, Arenal’s friendly and rural atmosphere draws crowds of tourist every year. You’ll find beautiful and safe ecolodges and resorts to enjoy the scenery and have a good time!
- Southern Pacific Coast, including Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal – These jungle towns are spread along forested mountains and sleepy beaches, and the region has everything most people want from a Costa Rican adventure. Pickpockets may target travelers, but the area is typically nonviolent.
- Central Pacific Coast – Visit the national park of Manuel Antonio, which has the most amazing wildlife and biodiversity to admire. Only when you are in the tourist town of Jacó should you be more careful; still, crime is not much to speak of compared to San José.
Last Minute Safety Tips – Better to be safe than sorry!
- Leave your jewelry at home, and refrain from bringing valuable belongings out at night (like a high quality camera). You also don’t want your rings or necklaces getting caught or lost during adventure activities.
- Do not leave your phones unattended to at the beach — not even for a moment!
- Avoid strolling on the beach at night or walking on the street if it’s too late, as you may become targets for muggings.
- Avoid ATM machines that are isolated or in dark alleys. Refrain from withdrawing cash after dark. You don’t want to become an easy target for thieves.
- Beware of hustlers — street corner “tour guides” who may offer you some travel services. These types of distraction can also be a disguise for theft! Only accept tour guide services from reputable companies!
- Only ride in taxis that are orange or red (with a yellow triangle on the door).
Hopefully these tips can help you better prepare for your upcoming trip! Costa Rica, for all its imperfections, is still known as a traveler’s paradise. Most people return from their visit safe and sound. Use the same common sense you would at home, and you’ll return from Costa Rica with nothing but good memories and awesome travel stories. Pura Vida!