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

Supermarket in Liberia, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most stunning travel destinations in Central America. Costa Rica’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, and the folks you’ll meet here are some of the kindest people around.

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

Since picturesque beaches and lush landscapes cover Costa Rica from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean Coast, there’s plenty to do for fun, irrespective of your budget. 

Costa Rica has also recently seen a rise in money laundering and drug trafficking. However, don’t have to worry too much about either of these crimes as a tourist unless you’re intentionally seeking them out.

Arenal Volcano Scenery

Don’t forget to look into securing yourself and your trip with travel insurance by using TravelInsurance.com to find the best possible policy before you head to Costa Rica.

Depending on your coverage, any medical services you may require will be covered by your temporary insurance, and any potential theft or loss. If you are a digital nomad or a younger traveler, get a policy with SafetyWing to get coverage on health and digital nomad insurance.

Is Costa Rica Safe to Travel To?

Playa Flamingo Beach Overview

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 lot of violent crime; on the whole, Costa Ricans or Ticos are a pretty friendly bunch.

Costa Rica consistently ranks in the top 20% of the 163 countries in the Global Peace Index. Of the dozen countries in the Caribbean and Central America, Costa Rica is often considered the most peaceful.

Costa Rica offers, in many ways, a haven for all kinds of travelers. I was less concerned for my personal safety in Costa Rica than in many other parts of the world.

That doesn’t eliminate the threat of crime and violence. In recent years there has been a steady rise in violent crime in the otherwise peaceful Central American nation, leading to calls for stricter security measures to keep locals and tourists safe.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for South America

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 ways to experience the beauty and culture of this spectacular country, especially in an incredible place like Manuel Antonio National Park.

Though being a solo traveler is not a challenge, it doesn’t mean you won’t face any problems. Since you will be alone in a foreign country, you must bear some things in mind to have fun on your trip. Here are some ideas to make your Costa Rica journey hassle-free and fun:

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.

See Related: Essential Solo Travel Luggage & Accessories

Is Costa Rica Safe for Group Travel and Families?

Restaurante El Callejero, Liberia, Costa Rica
Editor-in-Chief, Kyle Kroeger’s Family in Costa Rica (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Traveling in Costa Rica with your family or a group is even safer as you’re less likely to become a victim of theft in larger numbers. Similarly, traveling with your spouse or in a group with friends will be much safer in the country. 

Make sure you’re always together at 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–especially at night.

See Related: Best Family Vacations on a Budget

Is Costa Rica Safe to Travel for Solo Women Tourists?

Women tourists in Costa Rica Bird watching

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.

Should you prefer the amenities of a proper hotel, we recommend staying in one of the country’s most well-respected and highly reputable hotels. Some of our favorites include the posh JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa, the lush El Mangroove Papagayo, or the hot spring haven of The Springs Resort and Spa at Arenal.

See Related: Reasons Why Traveling is Important

Common Crimes in Costa Rica

The crime rate is increasing slightly in Costa Rica, and tourists are frequent victims, particularly for petty crime, especially US citizens. Most criminals operate in groups but work alone, depending on what they’re after.

While most criminals are non-violent, some use violence against locals and tourists to achieve their goals. 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 occurs are hotel rooms, beaches, cars (locked or unlocked), and bus luggage compartments.

You must be alert throughout your trip to avoid becoming a victim of petty crime, especially around tourist attractions or big cities like San José. You’ll also want to be mindful of your surroundings on public transport, where thieves prey upon distracted riders.

The best way to keep your expensive items safe is to leave them home. Try to pack only those items you may need the most while 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 also struggling with increased human trafficking. This involves sex exploitation, labor exploitation, and organ trafficking. The main reason behind human trafficking in the mostly peaceful country is the lack of job opportunities and resources.

The local authorities constantly try to eliminate human trafficking and other dangerous, illicit activities. Though compared to other countries (or even US states like Minnesota), the problem is almost negligible.

3. Gang Violence

Though not frequent, gang activity can often be linked to particularly violent crime. There are links in local media and international media alike connecting the rise in violent crime to surging gang violence. Over the past few years, there has also been a rise in home invasions, carjackings, and armed robberies from tourists.

These events have occurred on the highways in the Central Valley area and on beaches, even in broad daylight. If you encounter a gang of criminals while exploring Costa Rica, try to do as they say. Any resistance may lead to the escalation of violence. Your life is worth more than your belongings.

To avoid gang violence, avoid taking isolated or remote areas, including trails and roads, and avoid walking alone at dawn or after dusk. It’s also good to stay with your designated tour operator, who can keep you away from high-risk areas.

4. Kidnapping

Several kidnapping cases have occurred in the past few years–though the rate is drastically lower than in other countries, including the United States. Victims are often picked from parks or streets and forced to withdraw money from ABMs (Automated Banking Machines). These incidents are sometimes executed at gunpoint.

One way to keep yourself safe is to blend in on public transportation or walking the streets. Not drawing attention to yourself or dressing like an obvious tourist is the best way to keep yourself safe in major cities like San José.

5. Drug-Related Activities

Drug trafficking, as we’ve previously mentioned, is a growing crime in Costa Rica. The country’s geography, neighbors, and marine network encourage 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 gangs. Since illegal drugs affect tourism in Costa Rica, the government is set to enforce stricter laws against these illegal activities.

See Related: Things to Do in Liberia, Costa Rica

Safety Tips for Visiting Costa Rica

Though the country is mostly safe, you should take precautions in Costa Rica. Since Costa Rican tourism is such a big industry, tourists are especially at risk for scams and fraud.

While I love the notion of Costa Rica’s Pura Vida (pure life) lifestyle, here are a few tips that will help you stay safe on your magical trip:

  • If you’re heading out at dawn or late at night, consider going in groups rather than solo
  • Don’t put your bags in the overhead storage compartments on public transportation
  • Solo travelers should be careful on the beach when fewer people are around
  • Don’t flash your expensive belongings or go over the top with designer clothing
  • If you have a rental car, park it in well-lit areas
  • While surfing or swimming, don’t leave anything valuable under or on the towel in plain sight

See Related: Essential Travel Safety Tips for Trips

Avoiding Scams: What to Know About Costa Rica?

Taxi Scam

Taxis at Liberia International Airport, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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

Never get into an unmarked cab, especially if they’re soliciting riders in major tourist spots like the airport. Some of these locations will have taxi stands that can be trusted since they won’t pair you with a pirate taxi or taxi pirata.

To save money, you should know the standard taxi rates from your hotel to your destination before getting into a cab. In that same vein, 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, whenever you sit in a cab, check that the meter is running properly. If it’s going outrageously fast, tell the cab driver to pull over before your fare comes to an unbelievable amount for a short ride.

Uber is available in major metropolitan areas, including downtown San José and Liberia. This can help ensure you are taking a regulated and monitored transportation service.

Cheap Tour Scam

Costa Rica Tour Excursion Bus, Rincon de la Vieja
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The “Cheap Tour Scam” is another common scam in Costa Rica. 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 happily pay without considering it. 

Once you pay the asked amount, they will take your hotel details and tell you that a cab will come the following day to pick you up for the tour. However, no one comes the next day, and by noon, you realize you’ve been scammed!

To prevent this, only book tours only from authorized companies. You can also ask your hotel’s front desk; they’ll recommend reliable tours. If you’re booking online, check the reviews before buying any deal.

Money Scam

1 mil Costa Rica Colones
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Money scams are on the rise in Costa Rica. Scammers roaming the streets often give tempting exchange rates for currency.

These deals always make tourists lose money because the currency isn’t real. 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 pickpockets.

See RelatedBest Travel Hacks From An Expert Globetrotter

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

Aerial view of San José, Costa Rica

Like any large city, San José, Costa Rica, can be risky for tourists, especially if you’re in the downtown area at night. This capital city has higher crime rates than other areas of the country, though it’s still safer than many other cities. Use common sense; you are already in better shape than other, more nonchalant tourists.

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

While Costa Rica has some stunning beaches, they can threaten tourists after dark. Don’t camp on the beaches.

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 the capital city, Matina is a rural area along the Matina River with a higher crime rate than the national Costa Rican average. Other towns to stay alert include San Carlos, Santa Rosa de Pocosol, and Talamanca.

See Related: What is Travel Insurance?

Is Costa Rica Safe for LGBTQ+ Travelers?

Parade goers at the San José Pride Parade
Adrian Coto Rodriguez / Shutterstock

LGBTQ+ travelers don’t have excessive problems in the country while traveling. Costa Rica is more accepting of the queer community compared to other countries in Latin America and more so even than some parts of the United States.

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

So, 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 as welcoming as city folk.

See Related: Guanacaste Itinerary: A Week in Costa Rica’s Gold Coast

How Safe Is Costa Rica for Your Health?

Costa Rica Arenal Volcano

Besides crime, it would be best to consider a country’s health and safety 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.

The rainy season begins in May and goes until 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.

The country also experiences hurricanes, houses several active volcanoes, and can showcase other natural disasters like earthquakes. Hurricanes and tsunamis are expected in September and October, so prices are low. Luckily, hurricanes rarely impact the region to an intense degree.

Water Safety

Drinking tap water during your Costa Rica trip is safe except in rural areas. Generally, tourists will be in areas of the country with drinkable tap water, so this shouldn’t be a huge concern. Still, some travelers prefer bottled water to be safe and avoid potential health issues.

Methanol Poisoning

In 2019, several people died in Costa Rica after drinking alcoholic drinks containing high methanol. Some hotels and resorts tried cutting costs by cutting their liquor with methanol. Consequently, at least 20 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

Fruit Vendor in Liberia, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Costa Rica has food safety protocols, from high-end restaurants to street stalls. Because the tap water is generally safe, so too is the food. You’ll find delicious (and safe) grub even in street-side sodas or diners.

If you’re concerned about stomach issues, try to remove fruit skins and have your food thoroughly cooked. You can also ask local advice on places to eat or find street food options that are well-known and are suggested by other tourists.

Costa Rica Travel Advisory

Tsunami Evacuation Sign in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

No matter when you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, every tourist must go through the Costa Rica Travel Advisory page. Here, you will learn several things to 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
  • Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for alerts and to make it easier for you to be found in an emergency
  • Check the social media pages of the Department of State while you’re in the country
  • Read the travelers’ checklist to prepare for emergencies.

You can learn almost everything on the Costa Rica travel advisory website. Speaking of emergencies, buying travel insurance is the best way to prepare.

Some reliable options include plans offered on TravelInsurance.com and by Travelex. Look for coverage for trip interruption, medical emergencies, evacuation, trip cancellation, baggage loss, and other conditions.

If you’re uncertain about the right travel insurance company, search for options on TravelInsurance.com. Enter your trip details, and the website will give you coverage plans from more than 20 insurers.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Diabetics

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

Costa Rica Beach Sunset

The 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. 

However, the good news is that Zika infections in Costa Rica are very, very rare. Even though there’s a low risk, you should be careful when vacationing there. Here are some safety tips to consider:

See Related: Best Travel Backpacks

What to Know About Costa Rica Laws

Photography Laws

Ask for permission before photographing official buildings since taking snapshots without permission is illegal. You should ask a local authority if you’re unsure about photographing a monument or special place, even in tourist areas. Don’t take pictures of kids or women, either.

Sex Crimes

Though prostitution is legal, sex tourism is illegal in Costa Rica. That may surprise some since up to 10% of annual tourists currently engage in sex tourism in the country despite its illegality. Therefore, do not engage in such activities to avoid breaking local laws. 

Drug Laws

Selling or buying drugs, including marijuana, is illegal in the country. You may be arrested and face prison time if you engage in illegal drug activity. Consuming, buying, or selling drugs is also illegal, although some locals might try to sell them to you.

Other Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Costa Rica

Toucan in Tree in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Here are some local tips you should know before visiting this beautiful country. Hopefully, these additional tips will make planning a stress-free and fun journey before you enter Costa Rica:

  • Costa Rica does not get snow, but the weather gets chilly in some regions due to the high elevation
  • The standard tourism currency in the country is US dollars, which eliminates money exchange
  • Though Costa Rica is smaller than Denmark and West Virginia, it may take longer to explore the country due to the infrastructure and landscape
  • Local and tourist police can stop you anytime and ask for your papers. Therefore, always carry a color copy of your passport and stamp while roaming around
  • The country is home to unique local wildlife like reptiles, tropical birds, and many monkeys, especially in the many national parks

See Related: Best All-Inclusive Resorts In Costa Rica

Final Thoughts: Is Costa Rica a Safe Tourist Destination?

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with diverse landscapes and many 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. Keep your doors locked, don’t leave your belongings unattended, and don’t walk around alone at night.

No matter how far you are into your travel planning, be sure your trip is protected with some travel insurance options. Not only will these temporary insurance plans protect your trip, but they can also help cover medical assistance if you need it.

FAQ

Is Costa Rica safe for tourists?

Petty crimes are more common in Costa Rica as an issue for tourists. That said, Costa Rica has far less crime than many other parts of the world — including the United States.

Is Costa Rica safer than Mexico for tourists?

Yes, Costa Rica is statistically much safer than Mexico. The country is more politically stable, has far fewer violent crime instances, and is safer overall for visitors.

What are the dangers in Costa Rica?

If you don’t overdo it, Costa Rica is a great place to visit. Some dangers in the country include traffic-related incidents, petty thefts, and environmental hazards such as volcanoes or hurricanes.

But you can avoid these dangers by gathering some knowledge about the place. The solution is simple: do your research and enjoy being there.

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

Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers if they are attentive to their surroundings. The first thing a female traveler should do, if alone, is connect with other tourists or residents.

Find out the place’s name and look into it 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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Amanda Finn
WRITTEN BY

Amanda Finn

Amanda (she/they) is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Their work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, "Chicago Like a Local" and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda's favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park they've visited.