Travel Safety in Costa Rica

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May travellers ask: is Costa Rica safe?

The short answer is: Yes! Traveling in Costa Rica is perfectly safe.

The long answer is: traveling Costa Rica is just as safe as traveling anywhere else in the world; nevertheless, like any other place in the word, travelers must be aware, prudent, and responsible.

Here are a few tips for staying safe while touring Costa Rica.

Be prepared for the tours and activities you plan to enjoy while on vacation in Costa Rica.

If you’re down for an active, eco-adventure kind of Costa Rica experience, pack a hybrid water/hiking shoe. These will be essential for river rafting and other water sports, hiking (through sometimes wet rainforests), and other adventures that require a full shoe (as opposed to a sandal or flip-flop) such as ATV tours, horseback riding, and other adrenaline pumping experiences. .

Layers work well, as the weather can be hot or cold, depending on where you’re at. The cloud forest of Monteverde can get chilly, while the beaches are hot and muggy. Lightweight, but long pants and long sleeves can help protect you from sunburn, insect bites, and other scrapes and scratches when hiking through the forest.  

Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, insect repellant, and a small, basic first aide kit with essentials such as band aids, tea-tree oil, neosporin ointment, allergy medicine, and aspirin, or tylenol.  

The drinking water is typically safe in Costa Rica. You can find bottled water everywhere or you can fill your water bottle water from the tap at the hotel.

Finally, keep in mind that almost every town has a pharmacy and pharmacies in Costa Rica usually have a doctor on staff who can advise you if you get sick.

Drive carefully and defensively

The roads in Costa Rica can be bad, especially during rainy season, and in very rural areas. Rain and fog can make it difficult to see at night, so avoid long overnight trips- especially Route 32 through Braulio Carrillo to Limon on the caribbean side.  Route 27, the Caldera Highway, takes you toward most Pacific side beaches, and is in good shape and pretty safe; nonetheless, can be dark in places at night so drive carefully.

Be a cautious and defensive driver in Costa Rica; watch out for those who are not. Take your time and drive the speed limit; you’re on vacation, so there shouldn’t be any rush! As anywhere in the world, don’t drink and drive, and do use your seat belt.

Beach Safety

Keep in mind that not every beach in Costa Rica is a swimming beach; in fact, many beaches can be very dangerous for swimming as there are strong currents and rip-tides. Your hotel concierge should be able to advise you about the nearest swimming beaches and those that are best for surfing or some other flotation device.  

Though it can be tempting to take a long, romantic walk at night, under the stars, as the waves crash nearby, it really is not safe. Unfortunately, there are people who pray on unsuspecting tourists who hang out on the beach at night. If there is a well lit beach area directly in front of your hotel or restaurant, by all means enjoy sitting in the sand for a bit and watching the waves; do stay close by, however.

Remember how close we are to the equator. No matter how sunny it is or isn’t, and no matter what time of the day it is: wear sunscreen! There’s not much more that’s good for ruining a vacation than a nasty sunburn.

Finally, keep your valuables with you or a friend at all times; stash your money, keys, phone, etc. and keep your beach bag or backpack close. Not only must you be concerned about people stealing your stuff, you’ve also got to be aware of monkeys and raccoons (especially in Manuel Antonio National Park) who will grab your bag and run, hoping to find a good meal.

Keep your money, identification, and valuables safe

Always choose to park your car where there is a guard to keep an eye on it, and avoid leaving your valuables inside (even in the trunk!). Stash your stuff in the hotel safe, don’t carry all your money and credit cards with you (leave some behind and just take what you need), and carry a copy of your passport, but leave the original back at the hotel.

When traveling, try to avoid logging into sensitive accounts like those at your bank when using an Internet connection that is unsecured, or even a secured connection that is publicly shared. Stick to travel related searches, if possible.

Travel with a smart cell phone so that you have communication and GPS

I always joke around that there is little chance of getting really lost in Costa Rica because if you drive long enough you’ll likely come to one coast or another. Still, it’s a good idea to have Waze or Google Maps when traveling and it’s important to be able to call for help if you have an accident or need roadside assistance.

Avoid using your home service provider’s roaming plan (expensive) and pick up a local SIM card at the Kolbi Kiosk in the airport so that you have a local phone number and data for applications such as Waze and TripAdvisor.

Stay sober and don’t buy drugs from street dealers

Use common sense when partying in Costa Rica, regardless of whether in the city or at the beach. Drink responsibly, and stay away from buying drugs from the street dealers that are present in every beach town.

Ladies, never leave the bar with that strange, surfer boy; no matter how cute and sweet he seems. Stick with your travel buddies or make friends with other female travelers in your hotel.

Guys, don’t invite her back to your hotel room. You could wake up without your wallet the following day.

While technically it is legal to be in possession of limited amounts of marijuana in Costa Rica, it is not legal to smoke it in public. You’re not going to get in the kind of legal trouble you would in some countries, but trouble could follow nonetheless.

Of course it’s fun to party, but when it comes to drugs and alcohol on vacation in Costa Rica, just be safe and sensible; the consequences of foolish behavior could be ugly, and really it’s just not worth it.  

Like anywhere in the world, Costa Rica travellers must be cautious and aware; be sensible, plan well, and take it easy, and avoid irresponsible behavior. A the end of the day, you’ll have a great vacation and you’ll be just fine.

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