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HomeCosta RicaTop 6 Expert Tips for Safe and Secure Travel in Costa Rica

Top 6 Expert Tips for Safe and Secure Travel in Costa Rica

Costa Rica remains at a Level 2 alert through the U.S. Embassy advising visitors to “exercise increased caution.” But, it must be noted that this U.S. level system has 4 different tiers.

The US Embassy security alert states:

“The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica advises U.S. citizens of increasing levels of crime, particularly violent crime, in Costa Rica and specifically San Jose. For this reason, the Embassy would like to remind you of the importance of personal safety and situational awareness.” 

One should not disregard Costa Rica’s drug and violence on the rise as recently reported in the New York Post. As well as being alert if you happen to find yourself in downtown San Jose. But for the average tourist visiting Costa Rica on vacation, it is one’s personal property that tends to be most at risk.

It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling and lose sight of common sense and awareness at times. Thus, leading to one of the easiest crimes, crimes of opportunity. This and petty crimes are one of the most common crimes in Costa Rica, especially among those visiting.

But, don’t cancel your plans just yet. If you were to speak to many of those that have visited or now call Costa Rica home, they would tell you they feel quite safe when out within the country. That ticos are friendly people and visitors fall in love with the pura vida essence of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica ranks #38 out of 83 countries on the Global Peace Index (GPI).  When comparing it to the other countries within Central America on the GPI it ranks as the most peaceful. The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is responsible for the Global Peace Index (GPI) and uses three categories to measure the state of peace. These are the level of Societal Safety and Security, the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict, and the degree of Militarisation.

So, here are a few safety tips to help you on your travels when visiting Costa Rica and to keep in mind when visiting other destinations across the globe.

1. Download the OIJ CR Safe App on Your Phone

One can download the free OIJ CR Safe app which provides safety advice and resources to those in Costa Rica. You can search for it by simply typing in OIJ app in your app store and Safety Advice for Tourists (Poder Judicial de Costa Rica) will come up.

Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (Organismo de Investigación Judicial) have put together many resources to have at your fingertips with some services not requiring an internet connection. You can choose your nationality whether a tourist or resident at the beginning as well as your choice of language between Spanish or English.

Within you will find the Emergency number 911 and non-emergency numbers as well. If you find yourself needing help or a victim of a crime do not hesitate to call for assistance.  There is also a Tip Line if you want to report a crime, a map of the location of their office locations, social media links, and an OIJ phone book with contact information.

The safety tip section has very valuable information for those visiting Costa Rica. Such as the Tarcoles Bridge and the high theft rate. You may be making a quick stop to catch a glimpse of the famous crocodiles. But there is also someone there ready to make a quick run for your unlocked belongings as well.  They make a note of “don’t leave your belongings in your vehicle unattended” as well as a few other tips for this highly visited attraction.

Another key safety tip is for those visiting Choyin in La Fortuna de San Carlos. It is reminded to not leave items such as passports and valuables in the vehicle. They also advise to not accept offers from those on the road who say they will watch your car trying to appear as security guards.

2. Don’t Bring Your Valuables to the Beach

Popular beach destinations are easy places for thieves to make a living off of. It seems like every day you are reading posts of bags being stolen off the beach. And what is more surprising, is what people are saying was inside their bags and the valuables they are leaving unattended as they go off to swim.

There really is no good hiding space if you are wanting to bring your valuables to the beach. And no burying your phone in the sand isn’t a good idea. I have known of someone trying this and they came and dug it up when the person was swimming. Someone seems to always be watching.

It doesn’t take long for your items to be stolen even if you aren’t far away. They are long gone by the time you come running out of the water.  Try and have someone stay on shore and alternate out if you can. But the best advice is to just come and enjoy the beach and leave your valuables at home.

Another good tip is that when the sun goes down, your beach umbrella should too. It is best to avoid being on the beach when it’s dark, especially alone. It gets dark around 6 pm every night in Costa Rica so one should plan accordingly.

3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

For those using backpacks or even purses, while waiting in line it is best practice to have your belongings in front of you. This avoids those behind from being able to unzip your bag. Especially in congested lines where it can be done very discretely.

Having your wallet or phone in your back pocket is a habit that many have, it’s quick and easy. It is also quick and easy for someone to slip it right out. Many just want the money or cards that are inside and then toss the wallet and id to the ground. Be aware of where you are keeping your valuables on you.

Restaurants are another place where it can be very easy to walk away with your purse and bag. With it hanging on the back of the chair or on the ground at your feet it can quickly be taken and you won’t even realize it until it’s time to pay the bill.

4. Be Alert When Travelling on Public Transportation

Costa Rica’s public transportation is a great way to get around if you have the time to do so. Be sure to purchase your bus ticket directly from the window, the bus driver when you board, or the official site online.

Public transportation in Costa Rica is no different than riding any other bus in the world in that you need to stay alert and keep an eye on your things.  Use the overhead space above you on the bus with discretion. Long direct bus rides give someone less opportunity to snatch and grab opposed to bus routes with regular stops.  Always keep sight of your belongings. Buses will even have signs reminding you of this as it can be an easy steal.

Having it out of sight and under the seat allows the person behind to be able to enter your bag, or steal it entirely, especially if you fall asleep. Many have lost cameras and other electronics this way and all the memories stored on the cards which haven’t been backed up yet.

Your telephone is also a shiny target especially when the bus is coming to a stop. Be conscious of your phone as you have it out in your hand nonchalantly. A common tactic of thieves is to grab it out of your hands as they are passing through the aisle to run off the bus. There has been camera footage of this in the past occurring on public transportation in the city.

5. Keep Your Valuables Out of Sight

If you are getting around with a rental car,  keep the items in the vehicle to a minimum so it appears empty. If there are bags in sight, it is easy for a smash-and-grab to occur and most likely will in many places.

If you do have items, then arrange things out of sight before you get to your destination. Wasting time at the back trying to organize things in the trunk to appear as if you have nothing only draws more attention to yourselves.

It should go without saying, close it all up! Time after time it seems that this tends to be forgotten. Close up the windows and lock the doors. Even your pile of small change laying out is setting you up for an unpleasant surprise of a broken window.

6. Don’t Accept Unsolicited Help

It’s always nice to find a friendly face on your travels, but be alert to those that seem to be a bit too friendly.

Avoid accepting someone’s offer to watch your luggage so you can use the washroom or offering their assistance to help you with your belongings. As well, one should be hesitant when someone is offering to help take your group photo or selfie you are struggling with. It is a common trick getting  you to hand off your luggage or telephone right into the hands of the thief.

Final Thoughts

Although much of this can come as common sense many tend to let their guard down a little too much getting into the carefree spirit of vacation. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder to keep us from finding trouble in paradise.

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