Is Costa Rica Safe?

costa rica safety

It’s no secret that Costa Rica is a huge tourist attraction, but is Costa Rica Safe?  Today I’ll talk about the safety in Costa Rica and share with you information and stories that I’ve experienced in 25 years of living and working in Costa Rica.

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Over time, Costa Rica has proven to be the safest country in Central America that has largely avoided conflicts and maintains a very stable government.  The most common crime in Costa Rica is petty theft, and this usually happens to tourists who are making themselves targets.  In recent years, I have seen crime become more in your face in the Central Valley, but mostly confined to San Jose, which has been a haven for drugs and crime for as long as I’ve been here.

Costa Rica remains very safe for tourists, and in the Global Peace Index it ranked #38 while the USA is #129.  Coming from someone who has lived all over the USA growing up, I can tell you that I’ve been much more fearful of my surroundings when being in Philadelphia or Oakland.  The only comparable place in Costa Rica where I’ve felt really scared by people lurking around me is the well known, must avoid La Carpio Ghetto.

Now that being said, you’ll want to take a few precautions during your visit to Costa Rica.  Never leave any valuables in plain sight in your rental car in Costa Rica while at the beach or observing tourist attractions.

Costa Rica Safety Tips

I’ve made a list of the best advice I can offer people visiting Costa Rica so that they can remain safe and have a phenomenal vacation.

  1.  Avoid Being Stranded in Remote Areas – if you are way off the beaten path, particularly at night, you increase your chances of petty theft or full blown robbery.  Try to spend your time in areas where there are many people, especially other tourists, and don’t ever be anywhere after dark alone unless you entirely know your surroundings.
  2.  Avoid Being Flashy – as I mentioned before, petty theft is the most common theft in Costa Rica.  Don’t show off your Rolex or walk around with expensive camera equipment unless absolutely necessary.  Wear clothing that blends in.  People who wear Gucci or Louis Vuitton are few and far between in Costa Rica and they stick out like a sore thumb.  People dress classy and normal in Costa Rica, quite the opposite in comparison to say, Miami.
  3.  Don’t Leave Your Valuables Alone – I touched on this early.
  4.  Use Public transportation With Caution I’m not against public transportation, but there are reports of crime, mostly theft, on the public bus system.  Never leave your baggage unattended or with strangers.
  5.  Don’t Use “Pirate Taxis” – pirate taxis are a thing in Costa Rica, and they will often make offers that will make their prices seem attractive.  Avoid them at all costs!  They are there to rob you one way or another.  If you do ride in a public taxi, make sure the meter is on and running. The most common scam is the taxi driver saying “My meter is broken” and trying to just dictate a price without any proof.  Exit any cab immediately that tells you this, as it’s a very common scam.

For this reason, I advise renting cars.  

6.  Be Careful When Exploring – Costa Rica has poisonous snakes and even poisonous frogs.  Be very careful on hikes and do not provoke the wildlife.  I’ve been eye to eye with a panther, and it was terrifying, but I have some amazing pics from the close encounter!

poisonous frogs costa rica
Costa Rica has poisonous snakes, and even frogs.

7.  Keep Your Head on a Swivel in San Jose & Limon – while most of the country is very safe, these two areas make up most of the crime.  You should be very careful when in San Jose, or the province of Limon, as this is where 95% of the crime happens.

In specific, there are a few areas in San Jose I like to avoid entirely, including:

  • Leon XIII
  • Desamparados
  • Hatillo Ocho
  • Pavas
  • La Carpio

While Puerto Viejo offers a lot of natural beauty on the Caribbean coast, you’ll want to be very careful when visiting as it’s not as influenced by tourism when compared to the Pacific Coast beaches of Guanacaste.  I feel much more safe in Guanacaste when compared to the rest of the country.

One place I like to enjoy with friends is the party scene in Playa Jaco. With prostitution becoming very rampant there at the Cocal Casino, there has been an increase in drugs and violence.  Remember that a lot of the prostitutes are drug addicts and may have some “security” in the form of a boyfriend or caretaker, around.

8.  Get Travel Insurance I can’t harp on this enough.  I recommend Safety Wing to all my friends and family who visit me.

You can get a free quote using the tool below.

How to Avoid Being Ripped Off in Costa Rica

#1:  As mentioned above, the most common scam is the taxi meter scam.  Do not fall for the “broken meter scam in Costa Rica.”

Always knowing your costs in advance and making a firm agreement prior to any transaction will avoid the locals taking advantage of you. I can’t stress this enough.

#2:  The Tourism Scam 

If you are at a national park or other tourist attraction and someone tries to sell you a private tour, just say no.  Often times they will be highly presentable, well-dressed, and perhaps even speak perfect English.  They will use a lot of charm and talk you into some sort of “deal.”  Never do these transactions as many times they are pure scams.  Always buy tickets from official event coordinators and authorized companies when you book a tour or excursion.  Ask your hotel for recommendations, as in the end, you can hold them responsible.

Is Costa Rican Street Food Safe?

costa rica tortillas
Tortillas are very common street foods sold in Costa Rica.

Whether it’s a hot dog or just something off of a mixed grill, you’ll be fine eating street food in Costa Rica and I engage in eating Costa Rica street food every week. This is something much more common than in the USA, minus if you count the budding popularity of food trucks.

Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Costa Rica?

Yes, tap water is safe in Costa Rica.  I still consume bottled water, however.

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Travelers?

Yes, Costa Rica is safe for solo travelers, however I do encourage you to avoid remote areas along with traveling alone at night.  Always use Waze when traveling so you don’t get lost.

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

While I’ve seen attractive foreign women get whistled at by the local men, Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers.  There have been isolated instances of rape, or worse, but again, if you are smart about your travel you will be safe as a solo female traveler in Costa Rica.  Don’t engage with the aggressive men in the street calling you “pretty lady” and other names and you’ll be fine.  This, like most harassment and petty crime, is largely confined to San Jose.  Avoid drinking alone in bars in San Jose, as it’s dangerous as is, and it’s not a place for single females.


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