Wondering whether Costa Rica is safe to visit? You’re in the right place to find out.
Costa Rica is a true wonderland with jungles, beaches and friendly people. But, there are some very scary stories going round which may make you wonder whether it’s worth it?
Don’t worry! We are here to make sure you know the score when it comes to safety in Costa Rica! The travel experts at The Broke Backpacker have written this guide for staying safe in Costa Rica to help assuage your concerns.
In this guide, we are going to be covering a wide variety of topics ranging from transport to traveling alone to traveling as a female in Costa Rica. We’re going to answer a whole lot of questions along the way, like “is the food safe to eat in Costa Rica?” (Spoiler alert: yes!) and more.
As a group of adventurers, enthusiasts and fearless travellers, it pains us to tell you this, but the fact is that most travel is currently not safe, and in many countries, not possible because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Nations across the world are fighting to contain the outbreak and flatten the infection curve – an effort that every citizen and responsible traveller should be part of.
For the most up-to-date safety information and what you should be doing to help, please consult the WHO and your local government.
How Safe is Costa Rica? (Our take)
How safe is backpacking in Costa Rica? The country suffers from many of the same problems that plague most Latin American countries – drug trafficking, poverty, and economic struggles. That being said, Costa Rica is still pretty safe when compared to some of its more violent neighbors. There are moments where you may feel unsure but we believe that most of the time and most areas in Costa Rica are safe.
It’s important to know that security in Costa Rica is still developing. Petty theft (pickpocketing around tourist areas/on public transport) definitely happens. Violent crime such as muggings, particularly late at night, isn’t uncommon either. Gang-related crime is on the rise, but it mostly occurs in and around San Jose.
Don’t let this spook you – crime is often a case of wrong place, wrong time. Being vigilant and listening to your gut is a good way to avoid danger.
The government also has your back as it’s keen to keep Costa Rica a comfortable place for people to travel – after all, the tourism industry contributes significantly to the country’s GDP. Overall, it’s helping to reduce poverty in the country.
We’re guessing that being robbed or dying isn’t top of your itinerary for Costa Rica right? So let’s talk about facts and get into the nitty-gritty of how to stay safe in Costa Rica…
Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit Right Now?
Over the last several years, criminal offences have been on the rise. Since 2015 the murder rate has risen above the World Health Organisation “epidemic threshold” of 10 per 100,000. This is a very new trend – and is quite converse to Costa Rica’s paradisaical reputation – but experts are starting to target the causes.
Now, you may be surprised to know that Costa Rica is actually one of the most stable Latin American countries. No army (abolished in 1949!) means funding goes to better things – like amazing healthcare.
With tourism contributing majorly to the country’s GDP, and those tourist dollars going some way to eliminate poverty (albeit slowly), the government is focused on making the country accessible and comfortable for tourists.
Crime might have been steadily on the rise, including violent crime. However, this is mainly gang-related and rarely impacts visitors.
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Travel mishaps can and do happen and it is well worth thinking about insurance before you leave home.
We have used World Nomads for years now and I have personally made several claims. Why not get a quote from them yourself?
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Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Safest Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a massive tourist destination and overall pretty safe. However, there are some areas that are sketchier than others. We’ve listed Costa Rica’s best places to stay, and the “not-so-good” ones below.
Tamarindo is an incredible Costa Rican beach town that is packed with all that you could love about Costa Rica! Situated in the Guanacaste Province, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Tamarindo has plenty of incredible places to offer. It has beautiful beaches, a wild nightlife, and is actually a huge hub for surfers. While Tamarindo is definitely a popular destination to visit, it doesn’t attract as many tourists as other cities, so the safety level is still quite high.
Tamarindo is known for its stunning beaches and crazy nightlife. It’s also a paradise for surfers.
Drake Bay, also called Bahía Drake, sits on the coast in the southwest of Costa Rica. This is hands down the best city in Costa Rica to visit when traveling with your family! It is a remote village, not a crazy tourist hub and therefore one of the safest areas in Costa Rica. That means that you and your family won’t be fighting for a place to put your beach towel down! The main beach of Drake Bay is called Playa Colorada, which has a handful of restaurants and warm, peaceful water!
The remote village is one of the safest places in Costa Rica due to fewer tourists, but it offers amazing nature, hidden gems and a calm lifestyle.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca sits in the southeast of Costa Rica. It’s right on the gorgeous Caribbean coast and is renowned for its black sand beach, and epic surf break at Salsa Brava! There are also abundant rainforests and mangroves in the area— so you and your sweetheart will love exploring the land and the sea! Plus, there is a Wildlife Refuge center and even a jaguar rescue center in the area that is absolutely incredible to tour!
With beautiful black sand and a top location on the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is a hub for surfers and travellers that appreciate a laid back attitude and a relaxed atmosphere.
Places to Avoid in Costa Rica
As we’ve mentioned before, not everywhere on Costa Rica a paradise. While it’s always smart to keep your eyes open and stay aware of your surroundings, the following areas are better avoided than explored.
- Areas in San Jose: While San Jose is Costa Rica’s most popular tourist city, there are areas that you should avoid. These include any sort of parks at night. Also stay away from these neighborhoods: Los Guido, Desamparados, Pavas, La Carpio, Leon XIII, the El Carmen neighborhood in Cartago, and the “El Infiernillo,” sector of Alajuela.
- Quepos (gateway): Quite a few robberies have been happening in Quepos, a small town which acts as the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park. If possible try to stay away or just keep your eyes open.
- Matina: This is a small rural community along the Matina River in Limón. The violent crimes rate is significantly higher here, and while it might only target locals, it might be better to stay away, especially if you’re travelling alone.
So whilst Costa Rica is generally a safe place to visit, there’s always more you can do to make sure you’re as safe as can be. So here are a few top tips for staying safe in Costa Rica.
- Inquire with the staff at the hostel/hotel you’re staying at – they’ll know best about the area.
- Make friends – exploring urban areas with a group of travelers deters would-be robbers.
- Don’t walk alone at night – avoid streets that look sketchy…
- Take a taxi instead of walking at night. – remember that licensed taxis are red (or orange). Anything else is illegal and risky
- Avoid people that want to ‘help’ with your bags – this is a scam.
- Split up your cash strategically – don’t put one huge wad of bills in your luggage!
- Carry a small amount of cash when you go out – if something happens it’s a small loss. Using a money belt is an excellent way to hide cash.
- Don’t wear expensive accessories – seeming rich makes you a target for thieves.
- You HAVE to carry your passport – but avoid losing it by copying it (ID page + Costa Rica visa) instead.
- Don’t hang your bag or purse on the back of your chair – this is easy pickings for a thief.
- Don’t leave your bags unattended at the beach – this is a rookie-level mistake.
- Look busy at bus stations – looking lost is gold dust for scammers wanting a ‘tip’ for helping you.
- Don’t use the overhead lockers on buses – get a ticket for the luggage compartment under the bus.
- Use a flashlight or backpacking headlamp when walking at night in rural areas – you don’t want to step on something bitey!
- Speaking of which, don’t forget mosquito repellent! Costa Rican mozzies are relentless
- Stay away from drugs – it’s really not worth getting yourself mixed up in the gangs related to them. You’re not making the country any better by buying them.
- Know what to pack for Costa Rica – burning sun, annoying mosquitos… you have to be prepared!
By following our handy safety tips you’ll get to enjoy more of the amazingness that Costa Rica has to offer. It’s all about traveling smart so you don’t have to worry about anything!
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Some General Safety Tips from the OG Broke Backpacker
Travelling in Costa Rica by yourself is totally doable and is one of the best ways to experience the amazing country!
Sure, it may be easy but that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze. Here are a few things you can bear in mind to make sure you optimize having fun on your trip.
- Learn some Spanish. You’re in a Spanish-speaking country after all and it makes traversing the bus network much easier. Bus drivers aren’t famed for their English either. You can actually enroll in Spanish classes for a couple of days too.
- You’ll most likely want to meet other people on your travels, right? So unless you’re totally into your own company, then head to destinations where other travelers congregate. Some of the better places for solo travelers in Costa Rica are Santa Teresa, Nosara, Puerto Viejo and Tamarindo.
- And a top tip for beating the solo traveling blues, just get out and about – new experiences and people will never be too far away.
- Stay at one of Costa Rica’s hostels – it’s probably one of the best ways to get to know like-minded travellers, exchange stories and travel tips. Even if you want to continue travelling alone, it might benefit your safety!
Costa Rica is safe to travel alone in but don’t forget that anything can happen anywhere. Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you’re immune to danger. Take care!
Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travelers?
Is it safe to vacation in Costa Rica for women? Unfortunately traveling alone and being a female can often mean you have to be extra careful. Costa Rica can be risky for women, of course.
Here are some crucial things to keep in mind when you’re out there in Costa Rica so you can stay as safe as possible on your travels.
- Be confident, even if you don’t feel like it. Looking confused, standing around lost, is a good way to attract unwanted attention – anywhere in the world. If you’re really lost, walking confidently (even if you have no clue where you are) to somewhere that looks safe – a shop, a library, etc. – and find a member of staff to ask for help.
- That’s another thing: don’t be afraid to be direct and ask for help or directions. This will most likely be better than accepting help from someone who initiates the conservation with you.
- Avoid walking alone at night. Get a licensed taxi home or walk with a big group of friends from your hostel, but don’t walk home alone, even if the distance is short.
- Once you arrive in Costa Rica, make friends – women more than men are often targeted by criminals and having a good crew with you helps to scare away attackers.
- Look at what the local women your age are doing – what they’re dressed like, how they’re behaving.
- Catcalls do happen. If you don’t want that kind of attention, ignore them and move on.
- Know the emergency numbers! Seems simple but it’s easily neglected. Keep them in your phone at the top of the list.
- Let someone know where you’re going – Even if it’s just the staff at the hostel or a friend at home – it’s necessar.
There are tons of ways to store valuables and goods while traveling but a travel scarf has to be the least obtrusive and the most classy.
The Active Roots Zipper Scarf is your run-of-the-mill infinity scarf but with a hidden pocket that’s big and sturdy enough for a night’s cash, your phone, a passport and (hell with it) some snacks too!
Costa Rica Safety FAQ’s
For a travel destination like Costa Rica, there are lots of different things you have to consider when it comes to safety. We’ve listed the most common question, answers and facts to make your trip as easy as possible.
Is Costa Rica safe to travel for families?
Costa Rica is a fun-packed place and a total playground for any adventure-loving families out there.
Both the jungles and the incredible beaches in Costa Rica draw tourists in, and these can be great fun for you and your kids. Make sure you ask locals about where is the safest to swim: riptides can be deadly. Go with a guide on hikes. They’ll spot dangerous wildlife way before you do.
Is it safe to drive in Costa Rica?
Driving in Costa Rica is no problem if you’re an experienced driver. Road conditions vary from spotless highways to bumpy dirt tracks and spontaneous river crossings.
There’s not a lot of signage, there are potholes, drivers frequently overtake at what you’d definitely call unsafe places, and you’ll need to be careful in the rainy season when landslides can occur and the road can literally wash away.
Is Uber Safe in Costa Rica?
Uber is safe in Costa Rica: it’s quick and cheap and you won’t be overcharged. It’s especially great to use from SJO Airport to your accommodation.
Are taxis safe in Costa Rica?
It’s common to take a taxi and you’ll see them almost everywhere. The color of licensed taxis is red. That’s the legal type and anything else that calls itself a taxi most likely is not. The legal ones are very safe to use.
It’s the “pirate taxis” that are not safe. The cars they drive are old, they often have no insurance, and they charge whatever they want.
For female travellers, sitting in the back seat is best. And as side note Costa Rican taxi drivers like their cars. So don’t slam the doors or make a mess and they’ll be happy with you!
Is public transportation in Costa Rica safe?
Thankfully, public transportation is safe in Costa Rica so long as you’re being as vigilant as usual.
The easiest thing to actually figure out about the buses in Costa Rica are the fact that their destinations are written on paper and posted on the front of the bus.
Bus drivers usually aren’t well versed in English so here’s where you’ll be busting out your bus Spanish basics.
If you’re going to catch a bus from San Jose to anywhere else during holiday time you’re going to have to book ahead of time at a bus station. Again, basic Spanish would be helpful.
Don’t be afraid of the luggage storage under the bus. No one can get to your bag down there. Putting your bag in the overhead shelf puts it and your valuables at risk.
When moving from place to place, you shouldn’t store travel documents in a bag, even if it’s under your seat or overhead.
A full-sized money belt that stays tucked under your clothes keeps your documents and cash organized during your travels and assures nothing critical gets left behind or stolen.
Is the food in Costa Rica safe?
Because the food in Costa Rica has a big focus on fresh ingredients being freshly cooked, the likelihood of getting sick from something you ate is actually relatively low.
But to be extra sure, you should follow our guidelines below.
- First of all, and always the most obvious thing: salads. These are always a little bit risky as they almost always involve no cooking. If it looks super fresh go for it, if not, pass.
- Eating at a soda (not to be confused with the beverage) is usually a good idea. Not only are these going to be pretty delicious, but spending your money here is going to be supporting the local community since they’re family-run.
- Street food stands are cheap and amazing. Things are cooked before your very eyes so you won’t have to worry about things sitting in the sun all day.
- The fruit here is so good and it’s not usually the fruit itself that will make you ill – it’s the amount you’re going to be eating! Remember: too much fruit can give you the runs, so limit yourself or you will pay the price…
- Traveling with an allergy? Research ahead of time how to explain your allergy. If you’re gluten-free, pick up a handy Gluten-Free Translation Card with descriptions of Celiac disease, cross-contamination risk, and local Costa Rican ingredients in Latin American Spanish.
Can you drink the water in Costa Rica?
Well, actually, yes. It’s safe to drink the tap water in Costa Rica. It’s actually pretty tasty too! (Must be all that volcanic soil).
That being said, more rural and undeveloped portions of the country may not have the same benefits that the cities have, so you may want to avoid tap water out in the sticks.
Alternatively, take a decent water bottle and water purification tablets to be on the (extra) safe side. UV pens or a Grayl Geopress are also very effective and, if you drink a lot of tap water, can be very wise investments.
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Is Costa Rica safe to live?
There’s a comprehensive expat community in Costa Rica, with many being retirees from the US (as many as 50,000 as of 2013).
Living in Costa Rica is not always as cheap as you think it’s going to be, nor as straightforward as you might want it to be. Work visas can be tricky to apply for: you have to prove that you’re filling a position that a Costa Rican can’t.
In rural areas, there can be power outages, and wildlife might get a little too close for comfort. Earthquakes and volcanoes can pose a risk wherever you’re situated, so knowing what to do when disaster strikes is very sensible!
Is it safe to rent an Airbnb in Costa Rica?
Yes, renting an Airbnb in Costa Rica is very safe. And not only that, you’ll get some incredible accommodation options. From private rooms in guesthouses to unique treehouses, there are endless places to choose from.
Airbnb’s are often run by locals which know the area best and with the two-sided recommendation system of the platform, you know exactly what to expect of the place you’re about to book.
Is Costa Rica LGBTQ+ friendly?
Costa Rica might be a very catholic and conservative country, but for most parts, same sex relations are accepted and tolerated. Same sex marriage has been legalized in 2020 and the LGBTQ+ community is growing.
We’d say as long as you stay respectful, you won’t have any problems with discrimination. Avoid public displays of affection in more rural areas to be on the safe side.
So, Is Costa Rica Safe?
Yes, travelling to Costa Rica is safe. Very safe in fact if you’re using your common sense. A wealth of history, crazy good food, and literally amazing nature make it perfect for many different people. And that’s not even mentioning its stunning beaches, which are as popular for sunbathers as they are for surfers.
There are things to bear in mind, of course – taxis can be fraudulent, female travelers can be more susceptible, and pickpockets are in full-force.
Thanks to this guide, you’ll now have some great travel tips to know exactly how to stay safe while traveling in Costa Rica. Having the right travel insurance will also give you peace of mind!
And have you thought about getting Travel Insurance for your trip? You can get a quote from World Nomads by clicking on the link below.
Disclaimer: Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels!
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