Costa Rica, literally translated as ‘rich coast’, is a little piece of paradise. Bordered by the Pacific and Caribbean Ocean, this Central American gem boasts a vast landscape of majestic volcanoes, enchanting rainforests, and colorful wildlife.
This rugged landscape entices many a tourist year on year. Whether they are seeking adventure in the many national parks, animal sightings in the lush rainforests, or simply a tropical beach getaway, Costa Rica provides something for every occasion…But is it safe for tourists? Well, like many countries, the answer would be yes and no.
While Central America has its fair share of gang violence, drug trade, and corruption, Costa Rica is actually considered the safest country in this region (and of Latin America). However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any dangers to watch out for while you’re touring around the country. So, sit back, relax, and let us take you through all you need to know to make sure your Costa Rica vacation is smooth sailing.
Is Costa Rica safe for tourists?
With welcoming locals and a high value placed on education, it’s easy to see why Costa Rica consistently comes out on top in the safest places in Central America. However, while you can generally feel safe enough venturing around, there are a few things to be aware of.
Costa Rica is one of the prime locations for drug trafficking, and crimes related to warring drug gangs is not uncommon. In recent years, many have flocked from the poorer neighboring countries seeking work on Costa Rica’s shores, however, with many not finding employment, they turn to crime in desperation. And this is where the danger lies.
Petty theft is the biggest threat for tourists, so as much as you might want to be wearing your best bling on vacation, it’s not the smartest idea to draw attention to any signs of wealth. But, while theft is by far the most common problem to watch out for, there have also been cases of murder and assaults on tourists, so like many places in the world, just being cautious is key.
And these are just the dangers posed by the human population. Be sure to check out The 9 Most Frightening and Dangerous Animals in Costa Rica to see what deadly creatures could be lurking nearby.
However, that being said, the tourism industry is of great importance in the country, and it is one of the growing numbers of places to introduce specialist tourist police units, specifically for tourists. So, if you do run into any trouble, they are there to help.
Is Costa Rica safe for solo travellers?
Sometimes vacations just call for a little solitary time and it’s normal to want to know what dangers that may entail at your chosen location.
But the good news is that, unlike many other countries in Central America, Costa Rica is generally considered safe for solo travelers, due in large part to their best efforts to keep tourism strong. However, that’s not to say you should throw all caution to the wind. Female solo travelers especially should take extra precautions at night, and it is widely recommended to avoid walking alone on the beaches after dark.
And of course, bigger cities such as San Jose carry more risks such as pickpocketing in crowded areas and locals looking to scam vulnerable tourists. So, if you are wise to potential threats, you should be able to keep out of harm’s way.
Is Costa Rica safe for nightlife?
So, you’ve spent the day relaxing on the beach and you’re ready to get out there and hit the town for some partying, but just how safe will it be? Well, as there are many different areas in Costa Rica, there are varying levels of safety. For example, the chilled-out beach town of Tamarindo poses relatively fewer risks than the buzzing club scene of the country’s capital, San Jose.
There have been several reports of violent incidents involving tourists taking unofficial taxis, so when it is time to call that cab, make sure it is official, with the driver’s ID visible.
But as long as you follow the general guide to nightlife safety, such as never leaving drinks unattended and not walking home alone, you’re bound to just have a night to remember for all the right reasons.
Is Costa Rica safe to live?
Having a thriving expat community, Costa Rica is no stranger to luring potential settlers. And with its affordable living, stunning beaches and happy-go-lucky locals, it’s easy to see why. But just how safe a destination is it to call home?
Well, for the most part, this is a safe country, but unfortunately, there is a serious problem with break-ins. In fact, it is not uncommon to see housing completely gated, with barbed wire, and we’re not just talking about the rich ones. So, living here is all about picking the right location. While San Jose can have the dangerous downsides of city life, suburbs like Escazu shouldn’t bring much trouble, although bear in mind it is nicknamed the Beverly Hills of Costa Rica, so you might need to be earning top dollar to afford this affluent neighborhood.
But overall, if you pick the right location to put down roots, you’ll be settling into the Costa Rican way of life in no time.
Is the tap water in Costa Rica safe to drink?
Ahh, the home comforts that we so often take for granted, like just being able to grab a quick glass of water from the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, when it comes to vacations, we can never be quite so hasty with this simple act. But is Costa Rica one of the countries we need to take extra precautions in?
Well, compared to many parts of the world, tap water in Costa Rica is generally considered quite safe to drink, outside of the more isolated, rural parts. However, as a tourist, the unknown can often be our worst enemy, so to avoid any possible stomach upsets, you may still want to just purchase bottled water for complete peace of mind.
And if you are opting for the bottled water, you are best to extend this mentality to drinking out and opt for no ice – after all, you don’t want to undo all your hard work of steering clear of tap water, only to end up nursing a bad case of tummy ache from one bit of ice.
Top 7 Costa Rica Safety Tips
Always carry a bottle of mosquito repellent. Yep, the plague of many an exotic land is sadly a part of the Costa Rica experience also. They are generally found in the lowland areas and become more prevalent in the rainy season between May and November. Cases of Malaria, Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya can occur if bitten, so always best to do a full-on body spray of repellent before heading out.
Go for a better quality car when renting. The roads in Costa Rica are not so forgiving and are filled with potholes, narrow portions, and poorly maintained markings and lighting. Due to this, driving outside of the capital at night can be highly dangerous, so the best bet is to equip yourself with the right car and always be prepared before starting out on any journey.
Avoid remote areas. Although getting out of the hustle and bustle of tourist central is often just what the doctor ordered, it’s important to keep in mind that crime in the lesser traveled areas can be a problem. Gang muggings, robberies and carjacking are just a few of the scenarios that could befall you off the beaten path, so always best to stick to the recommended areas if possible.
Don’t leave valuables lying around. As mentioned previously, theft is a common problem throughout the country, so as smiley as the locals may seem, one or two might have a nasty little thieving habit. The snatch and grab is quite common, so hold tight to all valuables while out and about, and especially be careful on beaches. Never be tempted to go for a quick dip and turn your back on anything you wouldn’t want to risk losing.
Don’t resist if you are a victim of theft. While no one wants to think of this eventuality happening on their eagerly awaited vacation, it is advisable to be aware of what to do if it does. Therefore, the biggest piece of advice would be to not resist and to simply allow your belongings to be given away (no matter how precious). After all, not many things could be more precious than you or a loved one’s life.
Don’t take unofficial taxis. As touched on briefly above, there have been several reports of tourists harmed by unofficial taxi drivers throughout Costa Rica. To avoid any potential dangers, look for the red taxis (or orange at the airport), with a yellow triangle painted on the sides and be wary of taxi drivers telling you there are no more buses running, as this is a common way of trapping the vulnerable tourist.
Research your area before heading out. As much as you may want to feel like the ultimate adventurer while exploring new lands, many areas of Costa Rica do have potential hazards and scams you’re best to know about. If staying in hotels, why not ask the receptionist for some tips on where to go and where to avoid. After all, no harm in having a few authentic suggestions up your sleeve, as well as possibly being saved from areas even the locals wouldn’t venture into.
If you want to see how Costa Rica compares to other destinations in Latin America, check out our guides to staying safe in Mexico.