A complete wonderland; with some of the best beaches in Central America, abundant tropical wildlife, wild nature to explore and hike in, plus some pretty tasty food, Costa Rica is a great place to start for a Central American adventure.
But sometimes we hear scary things about Costa Rica – about the occasional illness, theft, and even rare occurrences of violence. These stories may have you wondering if Costa Rica is safe or not…and we don’t blame you doing so.
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.
So if you’re concerned about whether or not Costa Rica is safe to visit or maybe you even want to know if Costa Rica is safe to live in long-term, then we’ve got your back. Whatever it is, our insider guide will be there for you.
Table of Contents
- How Safe is Costa Rica? (Our take)
- Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit? (The facts.)
- Is it Safe to Visit Costa Rica Right Now?
- Costa Rica Travel Insurance
- 17 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Costa Rica
- Keeping your money safe in Costa Rica
- Is Costa Rica safe to travel alone?
- Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travelers?
- Is Costa Rica safe to travel for families?
- Is it safe to drive in Costa Rica?
- Is Uber safe in Costa Rica?
- Are taxis safe in Costa Rica?
- Is public transportation in Costa Rica safe?
- Is the food in Costa Rica safe?
- Can you drink the water in Costa Rica?
- Is Costa Rica safe to live?
- How is healthcare in Costa Rica?
- Helpful Costa Rica Travel Phrases
- Final thoughts on the safety of Costa Rica
How Safe is Costa Rica? (Our take)
Costa Rica suffers from many of the same problems that plague most Latin American countries, like 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 threatened but we believe that most of the time Costa Rica is 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. 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. For this reason, we highly recommend staying in a good hostel or lodge in 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.
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? (The facts.)
We’re going to break this to you first: crime is definitely a thing in Costa Rica.
Over the last several years, criminal offenses have been on the rise. Since 2015 the murder rate has risen above the World Health Organisation “epidemic threshold” of 10 per 10,000. This is a very new trend – and is quite converse to Costa Rica’s paradisaical reputation – but experts are starting to target the causes.
The increased violence is not stopping tourists from visiting though. Foreigners have been traveling to Costa Rica since the 1990s and the country had a record-breaking year in 2015, with over 2 million tourists visiting the country. That’s pretty popular if you ask us.
The really crazy part – Costa Rica is still not on the top 10 of Latin America’s most visited countries. Many of the more popular Latin countries, like Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, are among the most dangerous countries in the world too! Local crime certainly doesn’t people from traveling to these countries and, in the grand scheme of things, Costa Rica isn’t nearly as bad as these.
Of course, there are ways to make sure you’re as safe as possible, which we’re going to get into now.
Is it Safe to Visit Costa Rica Right 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.
But it’s stable, it’s prosperous, respects freedom of the press, and the rights to expression. That doesn’t mean everyone is happy and rich, but it does mean you won’t have to worry about political unrest.
Crime has been steadily on the rise, however, this is mainly gang-related.
Costa Rica Travel Insurance
Get insurance! Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun while visiting Costa Rica, but take it from someone who has racked up thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! We highly recommend World Nomads.
To find out why we recommend World Nomads, check out our World Nomads Insurance review.
If you want to shop around a little, then read up on competing companies and what they can offer. There are lots of insurances out there, so don’t feel limited.
17 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Costa Rica
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 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.
- Stay at a good lodge with genuinely good reviews – not worth staying somewhere dirt cheap that doesn’t have helpful staff in case something happens, or if you need advice. To start with, you can check our guide for the best hostels in Costa Rica.
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!
Keeping your money safe in Costa Rica
Pickpocketing happens all the time in Costa Rica. To guard your cash against would-be thieves you’re going need something smarter than they are…
Introducing the Active Roots Security Belt. This travel money belt is simple, straightforward, and gets the job done. This belt is versatile and can be used at home or abroad. Your money is 100% hidden and nobody will know it is there except for you. We love it and so should you.
It features a large zippered pouch on the underside of the belt so hiding and accessing your cash is easy. The belt itself is made from a super durable nylon material that can take the inevitable beating traveling brings.
If all that wasn’t enough, for every belt sold, some of the proceeds go to supporting an Elephant Conservation Center in Laos.
If you are looking for a practical, stylish money travel belt that will protect your cash on any given backpacking adventure, look no further than the Active Roots security belt. For the price, you absolutely cannot beat it.
Is Costa Rica safe to travel alone?
Traveling to Costa Rica by yourself is totally doable and is one of the best ways to experience the country!
So many solo travelers head to Costa Rica every year for its incredible beaches and amazing trekking opportunities. It’s all geared up for tourists here, plus there are tons of hostels and guesthouses so you can meet other solo travelers, too.
Sure, it may be easy but that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze.
But don’t worry. It isn’t difficult to travel to Costa Rica by yourself, but there 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 of course Tamarindo.
- Excursions and tours are a good way to meet other people and getting to do cool stuff like hiking through Arenal Volcano National Park.
- 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.
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?
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.
This isn’t a reason to NOT visit Costa Rica. Incidents like this happen everywhere, even in your own home country. We, as humans, just tend to focus on tragic events, which are, in reality, rare occurrences.
So 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. Don’t worry about saying a firm ‘no thank you’ and walking away if someone is bothering you.
- Avoid walking alone at night. That is a surefire way for negative attention from the wrong sort of people. Get a licensed taxi home or walk with a big group of friends from your hostel, but don’t walk home alone. It just isn’t worth it, even if the distance seems 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. Hang around the touristy areas to meet fellow travelers.
- Look at what the local women your age are doing – what they’re dressed like, how they’re behaving. If people seem to be covering up with long skirts and shoulders covered, it’s probably a good idea to do the same. Beach areas are different, of course.
- 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.
Generally speaking, Costa Rica is safe for female travelers. Keep your wits about you, follow your gut instinct (if something looks dodgy, it probably is) and you should be fine. It’s about being sensible as much as it is about keeping an open mind and having the best experience you possibly can.
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. If you’re traveling with kids this is a great chance to unplug from technology and get out into nature.
The best way to have a safe trip to Costa Rica with your family is to plan your trip beforehand. Spend time doing research and find accommodation that suits your family’s needs. You can even use a company that will plan your trip for you.
Renowned for jungles and beaches, 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.
Ask your doctor about vaccinations. Otherwise make sure you bring all the usual medical supplies (just in case), sun protection, and get ready to have a blast in Costa Rica.
Is it safe to drive in Costa Rica?
If you don’t want to rely on buses (and their crazy time schedules) and want to be a little more independent in your travels, renting a car could be a good idea. Before doing so though, you’ll need to have an idea of what driving is like in Costa Rica.
Road conditions vary from spotless highways to bumpy dirt tracks and spontaneous river crossings. Around the capital, roads are usually smooth; it’s once you get out into the countryside that things turn practically offroad.
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.
Police checkpoints are a thing close to borders with neighboring countries. They might want to see your passport and might want to know where you’re going: don’t panic. It’s standard procedure.
So if you’re a confident motorist (offroading experience is a plus), then driving in Costa Rica is going to be a positive experience.
Is Uber safe in Costa Rica?
Uber is actually very normal to use in Costa Rica. It’s most popular around San Jose, but Uber also covers Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia.
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, as we’ve said already, is RED. That’s the legal type and anything else that calls itself a taxi most likely is not.
But are taxis safe in Costa Rica? Depends on what kind of taxi you use.
If you take the legal kind, then yes, taxis are safe in Costa Rica. The cars themselves are decent and the drivers tend to be pretty good. It’s a legal requirement to use the meter (called a MARIA) and you can report them if they refuse.
It’s the taxis piratas or literally “pirate taxis” that are not safe. The cars they drive are old, they often have no insurance, and they charge whatever they want. You’ll know them from the old cars and the fact they run over to you and ask if you want a taxi.
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!
It’s been said a million times, but make sure you carry small denominations. Use a big bill and you may be greeted with the old ‘no change’ line.
And it wouldn’t hurt to learn a bit of Spanish to direct you from A to B. Plus for a bit of conversation with the taxi drivers themselves.
At the end of the day, taxis are safe in Costa Rica. Like all aspects of travel and staying safe in Costa Rica, using taxis just requires common sense.
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.
Most of the time, your biggest problem will be figuring out the timetables and systems. You’ll be battling with confusion while riding the bus in Costa Rica, which may or may not make the situation worse.
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. So if a bus says it’s going to Guadalupe, that’s where it’s going.
As we mentioned earlier, the 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.
When it comes to safety, start with paying for your bus tickets in Costa Rican colones. You don’t want to be sharing a bus for hours with a potential thief who thinks you’ve got loads of US dollars. Plus, the bus driver isn’t a currency exchange.
If anyone looks suspicious, they may well be. Keep an eye on them.
And don’t be afraid of the luggage storage under the bus. We mentioned this earlier, but no one can get to your bag down there. Putting your bag in the overhead shelf puts it and your valuables at risk.
Bus stations can be hotbeds for petty theft like pickpocketing and people trying to help you with your bags (they’ll then demand money from you). Be aware of your surroundings and make sure that you hold onto your bag whatever you do.
The whole train network in Costa Rica was shut down in 1991 following a bad earthquake. There’s an urban service up and running in San Jose that’s safe and efficient. But like any place where many people congregate, train stations are perfect for pickpockets.
Is the food in Costa Rica safe?
Get ready for an absolute feast. Costa Rican cuisine is supremely delicious. Expect plenty of hearty portions of totally fresh ingredients that will have you asking for seconds every time.
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. This means that most of the time, the food in Costa Rica is safe to eat and shouldn’t be a huge concern for you.
But to be extra sure, you should follow our guidelines below. Do so and sampling everything that Costa Rica has to offer food-wise should be a piece of cake.
- 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. Otherwise, a cantina is good for food AND drink as well as a dose of culture.
- A good rule (for anywhere in the world) is to eat at places where a lot of people seem to be eating. Popular restaurants are less likely to have sanitation issues.
- 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. If you’re still worried, don’t be afraid to ask for fresh food (comida fresca).
- 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…
- And a basic rule of thumb: if it looks busy, it’s probably good.
- Traveling with an allergy? Research ahead of time how to explain your allergy. Keep in mind that store owners and restaurant staff might not know all the foods that contain allergens, so it’s helpful to know the names of some of these too. 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.
At the end of the day, thanks to the focus on freshness, the food in Costa Rica is safe, nutritional and tasty. Food is a source of national pride and will offer you an insight into local culture, too. All we can say is we’re pretty jealous of your trip right now.
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.
If you feel like being extra cautious you may want to buy plastic bottles of water. If your hotel has water filters for guests to use, we’d recommend you refill using those when you can.
Alternatively, take a decent water bottle and water purification tablets to be on the (extra) safe side. UV pens or steripens are also very effective and, if you drink a lot of tap water, can be very wise investments.
Is Costa Rica safe to live?
If the thought of all that healthy food and all those dazzling beaches have you wanting to move to Costa Rica, whilst your friends and family think you’re nuts, you could be in for an absolute treat; and an amazing adventure!
There’s a comprehensive expat community in Costa Rica, with many being retirees from the US (as many as 50,000 as of 2013). Many expats live in the Central Valley, an area close to the capital. If you want beach living, the Southern Zone is a good shout.
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.
Living in Costa Rica is safe but you need to be aware of certain issues. Burglary is one of the most common crimes, as are vehicle crimes, so you may want to invest in security and, obviously, insurance. And as a Westerner, you’ll stand out in tourist areas, so pickpockets may target you.
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!
And it goes without saying, but learning Spanish would be helpful.
How is healthcare in Costa Rica?
So how is the healthcare in Costa Rica? Really, really good.
The World Health Organisation ranks Costa Rica high when it comes to life expectancy; in 2000 a WHO survey ranked Costa Rica higher than the US when it comes to their healthcare system!
The public healthcare in Costa Rica is universal. It’s called caja and it’s open to all residents, insured, uninsured, undocumented immigrants – anyone. Emergency care is provided free of charge to all residents. Basic dental care is also provided for.
Given the quality of the system, the private healthcare makes Costa Rica a pretty popular destination for medical tourism.
Many medicines and drugs can be bought from pharmacies without a prescription. It’s common for locals to first visit a pharmacy: there’s often an onsite doctor who can diagnose and treat you there and then! Any further treatment and they’ll send you to the hospital.
Helpful Costa Rica Travel Phrases
Learning a bit of Spanish is a great way to get the most out of your trip. It is such a useful language to know! You can speak it in over 20 countries!
Here are a few helpful Costa Rica travel phrases with English translations for your backpacking Costa Rica adventure:
Final thoughts on the safety of Costa Rica
It’s no wonder that Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries in Central America to visit. 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. It’s an adventure alright.
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. With common sense and a good understanding of the country though, you can avoid these problems and be safe in Costa Rica.
Thanks to this guide, you’ll now have some great travel tips to know exactly how to stay safe while traveling in Costa Rica. That means less time worrying, more time having the best time ever. Having the right travel insurance will also give you peace of mind!
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! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means we earn a small commission if you purchase your insurance through this page. This costs you nothing extra and helps us keep the site going.