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Is Costa Rica Safe To Visit? (A Guide for Travelers)

Is Costa Rica Safe To Visit? (A Guide for Travelers)

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful travel destinations in Central America. However, is Costa Rica safe to visit? Here is a detailed answer to the question.

A paradise for nature lovers, Costa Rica sits between the Latin American countries of Panama and Nicaragua. The country is the hub of eco-tourism and a dream destination for people from all across the globe. 

Since picturesque beaches and lush landscapes border the country, there’s plenty to do for fun, irrespective of your budget. 

However, recently, the country has seen a rise in money laundering and drug trafficking.

But then again, that’s not much of a concern for tourism unless you don’t want to partake in these two illegal activities.

Arenal Volcano Scenery

So, is Costa Rica safe?

For the most part, yes, considering they don’t even have an army. Costa Rica is generally safe. This incredible country does not have a ton of violent crime, and on the whole, Costa Ricans are a pretty friendly bunch.

But how safe is Costa Rica?

Can LGBTQIA+ folks, women, and solo tourists travel safely in the country?

Keep reading to find the answers to all your questions!

Is Costa Rica Safe to Travel To?

Playa Flamingo Beach Overview

Is Costa Rica safe to travel to?

According to the Global Peace Index, yes, it is.

According to the Global Peace Index, yes, it is.

Judging from the 2020 Global Peace Index that ranked Costa Rica 32nd out of 163 nations, the country is relatively safe.

In fact, Costa Rica has gone two points up since 2019, which indicates the improvement in the peace level in the region!

Of the 12 countries in the Caribbean and Central America, Costa Rica is listed as the most peaceful country.

However, that doesn’t eliminate the threat of crime and violence. 2020 also saw a rise in homicides going from 11.9 per 100,000 people to 12.3.

Again, this is a relatively minor threat, and most travelers have a smooth vacationing experience when they travel to Costa Rica.

See Related: Practical Tips for Working While Traveling

Common Crimes in Costa Rica

The crime rate is increasing slightly in Costa Rica, and tourists are frequent victims, especially US citizens. Most criminals operate in groups, but they may also work alone as per their intention.

While most criminals are non-violent, some tend to use violence against locals and tourists. Here are some common crimes that you may come across in Costa Rica:

1. Theft

Petty theft, especially from foreigners, is the most common crime you might run into in Costa Rica. The most common places where theft incidents occur are hotel rooms, beaches, cars (locked or unlocked), and bus luggage compartments.

You need to be alert throughout your trip not to become a victim of such activities and try not to leave your belongings unattended.

The best way to keep your expensive items safe is to leave them at your home only. Try to pack only those items you may need the most while out on the trip. When you don’t carry valuables while traveling, you don’t have to worry about them.

2. Human Trafficking

Like many places around the globe, Costa Rica is increasingly a source of human trafficking. This involves sex exploitation, labor exploitation, and organ trafficking. The main reason behind human trafficking in the country is the lack of job opportunities and resources.

Since most of the Costa Rican population is living in poverty, they are participating in these illegal activities to make money.

However, the Costa Rican Government is making constant significant efforts to eliminate human trafficking in the country, and compared to other countries (or even US states like Minnesota), the problem is almost negligible.

3. Gang Violence

Though not frequent, gang violence against tourists in Costa Rica is another concern. There has been a rise in reported incidents of home invasions, carjackings, and armed robberies from tourists over the past few years.

These events have occurred on the highways in the Central Valley area and on beaches, even in the broad daylight.

In case you come across a gang of criminals while exploring Costa Rica, try to do as they say. Any kind of resistance may lead to the escalation of violence. Your life is worth more than your belongings.

To avoid gang violence:

  • Avoid taking isolates or remote areas, including trails and roads.
  • Avoid walking alone at dawn or after dusk.

4. Kidnapping

Several cases of express kidnapping have occurred in the past few years. Victims are often picked from parks or streets and then forced to withdraw money from ABMs (Automated Banking Machines). These incidents are sometimes executed at gunpoint.

5. Drug-Related Activities

Drug trafficking is a growing problem in Costa Rica. The country’s geography, neighbors, and its marine network encourages drug trafficking on an international scale.

The maritime jurisdiction of Costa Rica is over 11 times the size of its land mass, making it challenging for police to monitor trading activity.

The trading of drugs is leading to territorial battles and violence between local drug gangs. Since drug trafficking is affecting tourism in Costa Rica, the government is all set to enforce more strict laws against these illegal activities.

Safety Tips for Visiting Costa Rica

Security Personnel on Elevator

Though the country is mostly safe, you should take some precautionary measures to stay safe in Costa Rica.

Since it’s easy to reach out to different tourist spots in the country, you might be at a higher risk of scams and frauds.

Here are some tips to stay safe:

  • If you’re heading out at dawn or very late at night, consider going in groups rather than visiting any tourist spot alone.
  • If you’re taking the bus, don’t put your bags in the overhead storage compartments. Theft from these bins is common.
  • Solo travelers should be careful on the beach when there are fewer people around. Exercise the same caution when you’re in wild places or national parks.
  • Don’t flash your expensive belongings or go over the top with your designer clothing.
  • Don’t carry your passport or a copy of your passport with you while you’re out.
  • Under no circumstances should you buy drugs or get wasted. Make sure you’ve got your wits while you’re in the country.
  • If you have a rental car, park it in well-lit areas and make sure you have proper car insurance. Most car rental companies in the country provide coverage for several damages. Even better, try to park your vehicle in a guarded parking lot. Lock the doors and don’t leave expensive belongings in plain sight.
  • While surfing, don’t put anything valuable under the towel. Consider taking a dry bag with you and putting all your essential items like car keys and hotel room keys in that.

See Related: Best Caribbean Overwater Bungalows

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Travelers?

Costa Rica Solo Traveler

Exploring Costa Rica all by yourself is completely doable. In fact, traveling alone is one of the best ideas to experience the beauty and culture of this spectacular country.

Though being a solo traveler is not a challenge, it also doesn’t mean you won’t face any problems. Since you will be alone in a foreign country, you need to bear some things in mind to have fun on your trip.

Here are some tips that can make your Costa Rica journey hassle-free and fun, even when visiting alone.

  • Since you’re traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, try to learn basic Spanish. It’ll help immensely.
  • Stay at hostels in Costa Rica. It can probably be the best idea to meet like-minded people, interact with them, and exchange travel stories & tips. It will only give you confidence.
  • Santa Teresa, Tamarindo, and Nosara are some of the best places for solo tourists in Costa Rica. Add these towns to your list and visit them whenever you get a chance to make the most out of them.

Though Costa Rica is safe for solo travelers, it doesn’t mean you are immune to danger. Don’t ignore the fact that things can happen anywhere. Therefore, it is suggested to be prepared for every situation.

Is Costa Rica Safe for Group Travels and Families?

Tourists in a Zipline Ride

Traveling in Costa Rica with your family is even safer as you’re less likely to become a victim of theft when in a group.

Similarly, you will be much safer in the country when traveling with your spouse or in a group with friends. 

Make sure you’re always together when you go to Costa Rican beaches or national parks. Even if you have to split up, create smaller groups.

Don’t let anyone go alone to any tourist site.

Is Costa Rica Safe to Travel for Solo Women Tourists?

Women tourists in Costa Rica

If you’re a woman traveling in a group, you shouldn’t have any problems.

However, if you’re a solo traveler, you must exercise caution, especially when hiking or traveling to remote places.

In recent years, there’s been an increase in solo women travelers being subjected to sexual assaults and harassment.

Therefore, it’s better if women stay in hostels where they can group up with other solo travelers to be on the safe side.

See Related: Reasons Why Traveling is Important

Avoiding Scams: What to Know About Costa Rica?

If you’ve planned a weekend or week-long itinerary in Costa Rica, you’ll definitely have to use the local transport during this time.

Here are two common scams you should know about:

Taxi Scam

Costa Rica Red Taxis
image by Eric Fredericks is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Like many other countries, some less than honest cabbies in Costa Rica are likely to charge you higher, taking advantage of your lack of knowledge.

To save money, you should have an idea of the standard taxi rates from your hotel to your destination before getting into a cab.

Also, make sure the meter is running. Some taxi drivers might charge a ridiculously high fare by fooling you that the meter is broken. If you find such a taxi, refuse to take it and find another with a running meter.

Moreover, every time you sit in a cab, check that the meter is moving properly. If it’s going outrageously fast, tell the cab driver to pull over before your fare comes to an unbelievable amount for a 2-mile ride.

See RelatedBest Travel Routers

Cheap Tour Scam

Handshake

The “Cheap Tour Scam” is another common scam. 

Suppose you’re busy doing fun activities in Costa Rica, and one gentleman, dressed impeccably, comes to you and offers a cheap tour.

In most cases, this person will tell you how their company is giving this tour for a much lower price than other tour companies.

They ask tourists for a deposit, and sometimes people pay happily without giving a thought. 

Once you pay the token amount, they will take your hotel details and tell you that a cab will come the next morning to pick you up for the Costa Rica tour

However, the next day, no one comes, and by noon, you realize you’ve been scammed!

To prevent this, book tours only from authorized companies. You can also ask your hotel’s front desk, and they’ll recommend reliable tours.

If you’re booking online, check the reviews before buying any deal.

Money Scam

Money scams are on the up and up in Costa Rica. Scammers around the streets often give tempting exchange rates for currency. These deals always lead tourists to lose their money. Therefore, never change your money anywhere other than a reputable bank.

Similarly, pocket-picking is another thing to be aware of. Skilled pocket pickers can lift your wallet without you having any idea. Always be attentive and carry your cash safely to avoid a money scam.

How Safe is San Jose, Costa Rica? What about other cities?

San José Cityscape

Like any large city, San Jose, Costa Rica (the largest city and capital of Costa Rica) can be risky for tourists, especially if you’re in the downtown area at night.

Make sure to use common sense to ensure your safety while exploring the region.

Avoid going to parks at night since the chance to get attacked or robbed increases. Don’t leave valuables exposed, ensure you stay in safe areas, and avoid walking alone late at night.

While Costa Rica has some stunning beaches, they can be a threat to tourists after dark. Don’t camp on the beaches. Instead, look for nearby safe hotels or other accommodations.

Plus, here are some neighborhoods you might want to avoid:

  • Pavas
  • El Carmen in Cartago
  • Desamparados
  • Los Guido
  • La Carpio
  • Leon XIII
  • El Infiernillo

Apart from San José, there are some other areas where you should be extra careful.

For instance, Quepos, a small town near the Manuel Antonio National Park, is known for robberies.

Likewise, some visitors have reported incidents of crime in Jaco and Tamarindo too.

Matina is another rural area lying on the Matina River with a higher crime rate than the national Costa Rican average.

Other towns to stay alert at include San Carlos, Santa Rosa de Pocosol, and Talamanca.

See Related: Best Travel Credit Cards for International Travel

Is Costa Rica Safe for LGBTQ Travelers?

LGBTQ Flag

LGBTQ travelers don’t have excessive instances of problems in the country while traveling. Costa Rica is more accepting and tolerant compared to other countries in Latin America.

In 2020, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to give civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, the general tolerance varies from one place to another.

If you’re going to a rural area in Costa Rica, don’t indulge in public displays of affection to stay safe. Otherwise, you might attract unwelcome attention from the local population, who might not be so tolerant as city folk.

In general, the tolerance for LGBTQ in Costa Rica is a bit lower than what Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans, and North Americans might be used to.

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit with the Zika Virus Threat?

Costa Rica Beach Sunset

Zika Virus is still a problem in many countries across the world. Spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, this infection has no approved vaccine yet, which makes it a serious concern. 

If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, you have most likely seen the travel warnings and advisories related to Zika and its presence in South and Central America over the past few years. 

However, the good news is that there have been no recent reports of the Zika virus from Costa Rica. But the country had some cases previously.

Even though there’s a low risk, you should be careful when vacationing there.

Here are some safety tips to consider:

  • If you’re wearing short or sleeveless clothes, do not head out without putting mosquito repellent on.
  • Sleep in a mosquito net if you’re outside.
  • If possible, put on garments that cover your legs and arms when going to the beach or forests.
  • Keep the windows and doors of your room closed to prevent the entry of mosquitos.
  • If you’re pregnant or planning to conceive, consult with your healthcare provider before booking the trip.

See Related: Best Travel Backpacks

How Safe Is Costa Rica for Your Health?

Costa Rica Arenal Volcano

Apart from crime, you must also consider the health safety of a country before traveling.

Costa Rica experiences a dry season from December to April. This is Costa Rica’s high season and the best time for the tourism industry in the country as a whole.

Rains begin from May and go through till November. It’s also referred to as the green season in Costa Rica. The weather in the country is relatively cooler during these months. Also, you can expect afternoon showers.

Also, hurricanes are common in September and October. Although the prices are low during this time, tourism is the quietest due to the unpredictable weather and safety risks.

Luckily, hurricanes rarely impact the region to an intense degree.

Water Safety

Open Faucet

During your Costa Rica trip, it’s alright to drink tap water, except when you’re in Puntarenas and Limon.

Still, some travelers prefer bottled water to be safe and avoid potential health issues.

Methanol Poisoning

Making a Toast

In 2019, several people died in Costa Rica after drinking alcoholic drinks containing high levels of methanol.

It transpired that some hotels and resorts were trying to cut costs by cutting their liquor with methanol. Consequently, over 40 people died from methanol poisoning.

These drinks are dangerous and might cause dizziness, headaches, and vomiting. If you’re drinking high doses, it might lead to vision loss or death.

Therefore, be wary of spirits and avoid cheaply-priced alcohol on your Costa Rica trip.

Food Safety

Plate of Quesadillas

Costa Rica has mid-tier food safety, ranging from high-end restaurants to street stalls. Choose clean restaurants with sanitary bathrooms instead of eating from hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Ensure you find street food options that are well-known and are suggested by other tourists.

See Related: How to Travel with a Drone

Costa Rica Travel Advisory

Writing on a Travel Journal

No matter when you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, it is imperative for every tourist to go through the Costa Rica Travel Advisory page. Here you will get to know several things that can make your experience safe and comfortable in this country.

Here are some things to check out:

  • Read the Covid-19 web page on the US Embassy’s website.
  • Be attentive to your surroundings.
  • If you’re being robbed, don’t physically resist the attempt.
  • Do not wear flashy jewelry or take along expensive items when you’re out and about.
  • Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get alerts. This will make it easier for you to be found in case of an emergency.
  • Check the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages of the Department of State while you’re in the country.
  • Read Costa Rica’s Crime and Safety Report.
  • Read the travelers checklist to prepare for emergencies.

You can learn almost everything on the Costa Rica travel advisory website.

Speaking of emergencies, the best way to prepare is to buy travel insurance.

Some reliable options include World Nomads and Travelex. Both travel insurance options offer coverage for trip interruption, medical emergencies, evacuation, trip cancellation, baggage loss, and other conditions.

If you’re uncertain about the right travel insurance company to choose from, search for options on Travel Insurance.

Enter your trip details, and the website will give you coverage plans from more than 20 insurers for travel insurance.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Diabetics

What to Know About Costa Rica Laws?

Judge Hammer

Before you enter Costa Rica, you should know some critical local laws, particularly in rural regions and top tourist areas.

Photography Laws

Man Photographer

Ask for permission before taking pictures since it’s illegal to take snapshots of Costa Rican buildings without permission. You should ask a local authority if you’re not sure about photographing a monument or special place.

Don’t take pictures of kids or women either.

Sex Crimes

Man Handcuffs

Though prostitution is legal, sex tourism is illegal in Costa Rica. Therefore, do not engage in such activities to avoid any hassle. 

Drug Laws

Pile of Pills

Selling or buying drugs is illegal in the country. You may be arrested and face prison time.

That sadly goes for marijuana too. Consuming, buying, or selling it is also illegal, although some locals might try to sell it to you.

Other Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica Nature and Skyline

Here are some local tips you should know before visiting this beautiful country. Hopefully, these additional tips will make it easy for you to plan a stress-free and fun Costa Rica journey!

  • There’s a misconception that a trip to Costa Rica is cheap compared to other countries in Central America. It’s not the most expensive place in the world, but it ain’t “cheap”.
  • Costa Rica does not snow, but the weather gets really chilly in some regions due to the high elevation.
  • The standard tourism currency in the country is US dollars, which eliminates the hassle of money exchange!
  • Though Costa Rica is smaller than Denmark and West Virginia, it may take longer than it seems to explore the country in the best way, due to the infrastructure.
  • The rainy season is the low season in Costa Rica. That means there will be fewer travelers. If you’re someone who doesn’t like the crowd, you can plan a trip to the country in the rainy season. September, October, and November are the rainiest months for most of Costa Rica.
  • Police can stop you at any time and ask for your papers. Therefore, always carry a color copy of your passport and passport stamp while roaming around.
  • There is no military in Costa Rica, and the most common crime against travelers is theft. This crime occurs commonly at bus stations.
  • The country is home to tons of unique species of animals, including sea life, reptiles, tropical birds, and a ton of monkeys! The common monkey species are white face monkeys, howler monkeys, and Central American squirrel monkeys.

See Related: Tips for Beating Post-Travel Blues

Final Thoughts: Is Costa Rica a Safe Tourist Destination?

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with diverse landscapes and plenty of activities to keep travelers busy.

However, as with any travel destination, it’s essential to do your research before you decide that Costa Rica is safe for you to visit.

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America, but just like any other place in the world, use common sense about where you stay, where you go, and who you approach.

Be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuable possessions in close proximity. In the meantime, enjoy the gorgeous beaches, stunning rural areas, and gorgeous national parks while in this incredible country. 

FAQ

Is Costa Rica safe for tourists?

Petty crimes, including homicide assault, sexual assault, and armed robbery, are pretty common in Costa Rica. However, the country’s government provides additional security in the most-visited areas across the country. Overall, Costa Rica is a safe tourist destination for solo travelers, families, and couples.

Is Costa Rica a safe place to vacation?

Yes, Costa Rica is a safe place to vacation as long as you stay away from isolated locations and don’t wave your personal belongings around.

What are the dangers in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a great place to visit if you don’t overdo it. Some dangers in the country include traffic-related incidents, petty thefts, and environmental hazards such as volcanoes or animals. But you can avoid these dangers by gathering some knowledge about the place.

The solution is simple: do your research and just enjoy being there.

Are there any tips for solo female travelers in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers as long as they are attentive to their surroundings and take some basic precautions with valuable items such as their personal belongings to avoid petty theft.

The first thing a female traveler should do, if alone, is making a connection with other tourists or residents.

Find out the name of the place before going there. Stay in touch with your family or friends and keep them updated with your travel plans to ensure your safety even when alone. 

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