Costa Rica is commonly stated as one of the safest countries to travel to. However, there are some things to keep in mind so in this post, we will answer your question Is Costa Rica safe?
Costa Rica and COVID-19
First, you may be wondering if Costa Rica is open for travel. The answer is yes. Costa Rica opened their borders to all countries in the world in November 2020. They closed their borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic for several months but now in 2021, Costa Rica is completely open to all countries.
Please read our Costa Rica COVID-19 post for entry requirements and restrictions. You can also read our Costa Rica coronavirus post for the latest statistics.
Is Costa Rica Safe for Tourists?
Yes, Costa Rica is a safe country to visit. Costa Rica is safe for families, solo travelers, couples and all types of tourists. Since the country greatly depends on tourism for its economy, Costa Rica has taken many steps to ensure the safety of their tourists.
The most common crime in Costa Rica against tourists is petty theft. Despite low crime rates against tourists, you cannot let your guard down when traveling in Costa Rica, you must use your common sense at all times.
Interesting fact: Costa Rica does not have an army. They abolished their army back in 1948 after a civil war and since then, it has relied on local police and their judicial investigation police force to keep the country safe.
Costa Rican Police
Costa Rica has a standard police force, a special task force called OIJ and another one called GAO. The OIJ, or Judicial Investigation Police is the main police force tasked with crimes in public action. If you have to report a crime, you will file it with them.
Pro tip: 911 works in Costa Rica and they have an English speaking line.
How are the Police in Costa Rica With Tourists?
The Costa Rican police force is generally very nice to foreigners.
You don’t have to be worried about them shooting you for no reason or immediately suspecting you for doing something illegal if they come up to you.
The Costa Rican police force do a great job upholding the positive reputation of Costa Ricans being friendly people. Most of the time they will come up to you to see if everything is OK or if you have any questions unless they are specifically looking for something.
In the picture above, the Costa Rican police was checking in with the tourists. They handed them safety pamphlets and left.
Here Are Our Costa Rica Safety Tips
Never Leave Your Belongings Unattended
If you are at a restaurant, never leave your purse or backpack hanging on the back of your chair, under your chair or anywhere where you can’t see it. Always put it on your lap or somewhere you can see it at all times.
Don’t leave your valuables unattended on the beach, at the river or anywhere. Anyone can easily steal it in two seconds even if you’re looking at it just 20 feet away.
Always Roll Up Windows and Lock Your Doors Of Your Rental Car
This seems like common sense but we have seen many tourists leave windows open and their backpack in the backseat. NEVER do this, it is so easy for thieves to reach in through the open window and grab whatever they can.
Additionally, never leave anything visible in your car and don’t leave valuables in your car. If you have to leave something, never leave it visible in the car. Thieves see a purse or backpack in the backseat or passenger seat and that’s all it takes for them to decide to break into your car and not the one next to you.
For more Costa Rica car rental tips, check out the link and also get our car rental discount with no hidden taxes, charges or last minute fees!
Never Leave Your Passport or Any Valuables Hanging Outside Your Backpack
We have seen tourists put their passport on the outside pocket of their backpack, just hanging out there. Do not ever leave valuable items like this hanging outside your backpack!
This also goes for your expensive DSLR camera. When you’re not using it, put it away. Don’t leave it hanging out. This is especially important in San Jose, the capital city and the touristic beach towns.
Make ATM Withdrawals During the Day
If you have to take out cash, use the ATM during the day and always put the cash away in a safe place before you go outside.
Additionally, never pull out all your cash when paying for things. Take out only the cash you need. Never bring all the cash you have with around either, just bring a bit.
Read more about handling money in Costa Rica here.
Never Walk or Park in Isolated Dark Streets
If you’re trying to find parking, never park in dark empty streets. Don’t walk down those either, find a well lit street with other people.
If you get lost, go to a safe place like a business, gas station or restaurant and ask for help there. If you can find the police station, that will be the best option.
Don’t Walk on the Beach in the Dark
The sun rises around 6 AM and sets around 6 PM every day in Costa Rica. Don’t walk on the beach before sunrise and after sunset when it is dark, especially alone.
Get a Costa Rican prepaid SIM Card
Having a prepaid SIM card gives you a Costa Rican phone number so you can make phone calls in case of emergency. The SIM card is cheap and super useful in case you get lost and need to call your hotel or whoever.
If You’re in the City, Wear Proper City Attire
Don’t wear your beach clothes in the city. Wear good shoes (sidewalks and roads have lots of holes), don’t wear just your bikini and booty shorts or just board shorts around in the city.
Stay Alert on Public Transportation
When you are getting off the bus, be alert. There have been some thieves who take advantage of sleepy passengers and snatch their items when they’re getting off the bus.
Additionally, if you are waiting at the bus stop and someone offers to watch your stuff, say no. Never give your belongings to someone else, never take your eyes off your things and never ask anyone to watch your stuff. If you have to use the bathroom or get food, take all your belongings with you.
Read more tips on taking the bus in Costa Rica here.
Take a Taxi When Going Out After Dark and Make Them Turn on the Meter
Especially in San Jose, Puerto Viejo, Quepos, Tamarindo, Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Where available, take Uber as it exists in some of those places.
And take only official taxis. These are red vehicles with their province code and number on the door. Pay in colones and tell the driver to use the meter.
If the driver tries to tell you that the bus station is gone, your hotel has burned down, your bus no longer exists or restaurant you want to go to isn’t there anymore, ignore him. Most likely, they are trying to convince you to take their taxi to your next destination and they will charge you a stupid amount of money for it.
This is one of the tourist scams to watch out for.
Be Very Alert in San Jose
Especially in downtown San Jose. The capital city tends to experience the most crime and that does include crimes against tourists. Watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas.
Leave Expensive Jewelry and Unnecessary Credit Cards at Home
You won’t really want to be wearing it anyways as you’re hiking through the rainforest or swimming at the beach. Leave all pieces of expensive jewelry at home to prevent any chances of theft and also any chances of losing it.
As for credit cards, only bring the ones you plan to use. And make sure you call your credit card company to let them know you will be out of the country.
When Paying with Credit Card, Don’t Leave it Out Of Your Sight
If you’re paying with credit card at a restaurant, gas station, supermarket or wherever, don’t let it leave your sight. Watch the cashier charge it and check your receipt before leaving to make sure they charged you correctly.
Avoiding Scams in Costa Rica
Unfortunately there are also scams in Costa Rica. You can read about the common tourist scams in Costa Rica and how you can avoid them with our tips from a local.
What to Do in Case of Emergency
You must immediately report your lost/stolen passport to your country’s embassy or consulate. Then you have to report it to the OIJ and file a report. Your embassy will give you a temporary replacement passport. You do need to travel to your embassy or consulate which are all located in San Jose.
Car accident/break down
If you get into a car accident, the law has changed if you can move your car. You can move your vehicle if there is an agreement between both parties (or vehicle and object) and if no person was injured, one of the drivers accept responsibility or it is necessary to move for traffic.
You must also immediately report the incident or accident to your car rental agency as soon as it happens. If you don’t, you can be subject to additional fines or not be covered by insurance. In case of injuries or death, call 911 immediately.
Report it to the OIJ/Costa Rican police. Unfortunately and very unfortunately, you can report the theft but belongings are seldom returned. If you plan to bring expensive camera equipment, we highly recommend to get travel insurance to cover it in case of theft.
Call 911 and wait for the ambulance if needed.
If you are taking any medications, bring a list of the active ingredients. Also bring a copy of your prescription if you are taking opioids. Write down if you have any medicine allergies.
If you have a condition where you may need urgent care, take note of the closest hospitals and clinics to your locations. Always have a a paper with the conditions you have listed on there as well as medications and allergies.
Costa Rica has universal healthcare so public hospitals have to by law treat anyone. Additionally, the services and medications are not terribly expensive. If you go to a private clinic, keep the paperwork so you know how much everything cost for your insurance.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in Costa Rica?
Yes, in most places in Costa Rica the tap water is safe to drink, such as Monteverde, San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago. However, we do not recommend to drink the tap water in rural areas such as Osa Peninsula, Sarapiqui, Tortuguero and some coastal destinations.
You don’t necessarily need to buy bottled water all the time. You can bring a water sterilizer and your own insulated water bottle to help cut down on plastic use. Some hotels offer bottled water which you can use to refill your reusable water bottle.
Read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica in this post.
Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Travelers (Female)?
Yes. Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers! I and several of my friends have traveled to Costa Rica on our own. However, you do need to plan your trip out so don’t visit blindly with no research or preparation.
Book hotels/hostels in popular places, get a SIM card, leave your travel plans with a friend or family member back home and join the Facebook travel groups to meet up with other travelers. Plan your transportation beforehand.
Is Costa Rica Safe for Families?
Yes! Costa Rica is one of the best countries for families to visit. Costa Rica has a very family oriented culture so you will find plenty of family hotels and kid friendly activities. This is for families of all ages from babies to seniors.
Check out our Costa Rica family itineraries and best things to do with kids in Costa Rica post for more information.
Is it Safe to Eat Street Food in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica doesn’t have too much street food but you may see some locals selling meat kebobs on the street. We don’t highly recommend eating those because you have no idea how long that meat has been sitting out there under the sun and taking it all the gas, dirt, sand and car fumes.
We don’t have a problem with cold coconuts or shaved ice (copos or churchhills) but if it looks dirty or see the vendor without good hygiene or clean equipment, don’t get it.
You may also see some locals selling food out of the trunk of their car or carrying around a cooler selling ceviche or snacks. They are very common for locals and you can try it if you wish. But again, if you see the vendor without good hygiene practices or using dirty equipment, don’t get it.
Basically, if it looks dirty or unclean, don’t get it.
If you visit a local farmer’s market (or feria in Spanish), we definitely recommend trying the produce and snacks. Wash your produce well before eating or cooking it.
We also highly recommend to visit a local Costa Rican restaurant, called soda. It’s a fun local experience and you can try traditional Costa Rican food. If you have severe food allergies, please click the link so you know what to expect when eating at a soda with allergies or diet restrictions.
Is it Safe to Drive in Costa Rica?
Yes! Thousands and thousands of tourists rent a car in Costa Rica and drive for their entire vacation. You do need to do your research about Costa Rica car rentals (click our link above for our tips to have the best car rental experience in Costa Rica) and comparison shop so you know what to expect.
As for driving, Costa Rica does have paved roads and highways but the driving culture is very different. You do also need to find out if you require a 4wd/4×4. Learn more about driving in Costa Rica in our guide.
Save $$ and get our extra freebies with our Costa Rica car rental discount here!
More Costa Rica travel tips here!
Guide to finding accommodation in Costa Rica
Thanks for your website! It’s been immensely helpful!
You mentioned not to leave your card out of sight when paying by card at a restaurant. Do most restaurants and sodas bring you the credit card reader or do you pay at the register? Or is it like in America where the server takes the card?
Also, would you advise taking colones out of an ATM or just exchanging USD?
Depends on the restaurant, some have you go up to the register to pay, some take your card, whichever way it is, watch them swipe your card
You can read more about paying with CRC/USD here: Handling money in Costa Rica
Hi, do any of the beaches have life guards? If not, do you know how we could hire one for a day?
Yes, but only like, a tiny handful of beaches like Jaco and Tamarindo but even still, since those beaches are so long and there is only one station, swimming in the beach is at your own risk. Unfortunately I don’t know where to hire one 🙁 Maybe try the Costa Rican coast guard (Guarda costa)
I’m traveling solo to CR soon and plan to rent a car and spend time at several beaches in Guanacaste. Since I’m required to bring my passport while driving, and i won’t be driving without my phone GPS, I’m concerned i won’t be able to swim at all on the beaches without losing my valuables. I’ve read several of your posts (thank you) but I’m still not confident on what to do in my situation. I don’t feel comfortable taking my phone into the water in any type of pouch…but, I guess I will have to do whatever you suggest is best. What do you suggest?
I don’t highly recommend this still but if you are going to a popular beach like Coco Beach, Samara, Tamarindo, etc. and you leave your things near a lot of people, we have done that before in the past and we always cover up our stuff with our clothes and towels, etc. and then always keep an eye on it as you swim. But that’s still at your own risk. Then if you want to go to a more empty beach I don’t recommend leaving your stuff alone on the beach or in your car at all. I would get a phone pouch, I actually use those quite a bit and they work well (get a good quality one, not a cheap $2 one).
Your blog has been immensely helpful with planning our upcoming Costa Rica vacation!! Thank you!! We will be staying in La Fortuna next week and were planning on checking out of our hotel in the morning, driving to see Rio Celeste, doing the hike and then driving on to Monteverde. I hadn’t thought about the fact that this plan would leave our luggage in our renal SUV in plain sight while doing the hike. =( Do you have any recommendations for us on how to work that instead?
Hi Andi, if you can put your luggage in the trunk, it should be fine. The parking lot of Tenorio Volcano NP is actually very busy and there are “security guards” so if you can put your luggage in the trunk or at least not have it visible, usually it is OK because there is a lot of movement in that area (lots of tours, tourists, shuttles, etc.) If you have a lot of valuables, I recommend to contact a hotel in Bijagua to see if they can store your luggage there.
Hi Sammi, what a great blog! Thanks for so much helpful information! Do you think it is also ok to leave the luggage in the trunk while going to the Llanos des cortes waterfall? Because we plan a stop on our way from La Fortuna to Nicoya.
Can you recommend a repellent for children? Are there many mosquitos during the dry season in April (we plan not to go to the carribean side)?
Thanks again and happy weekend!
Hi Sarah, you can read our Catarata Llanos de Cortes guide here, there are always mosquitoes in Costa Rica all year long. Personally for me, DEET works best, sadly the natural ones don’t work that great for me (it doesn’t last long, only like 10 minutes so if I use natural I’m constantly reapplying) but citronelle works very well for some people.
Hi David, driving from San Jose to MA is about 3.5 hours, flying is only 30 minutes. If you want to save time and not have to worry about driving, flying is a great option as there is an airport in Quepos. Then if you don’t really plan to move around much, you don’t need a car in Manuel Antonio. There is a bus that goes back and forth Quepos and Jaco that is very easy (we have a guide to it here: Bus from Jaco to Manuel ANtonio).
Then most people just relax at the beach, go to the national park and do the activities that are in the MA area for a week. You can go ziplining, rafting and hiking all from Manuel Antonio.
So glad we signed up for your e-newsletter (recommend others do too!).
My wife and I are traveling to CR for the first time in early February. Landing in SJ and then staying just outside Manuel Antonio Park at an Airbnb. We’re wondering if we should one of the small airlines there (to Quepos I think) or rent a car for the week. We don’t plan to do much driving, maybe a day trip to Jaco.
Any thoughts on considerations: Cost? Time? Safety?
Don Nicholson says
We are planning our first trip for next March, 2019. Landing in San Jose and going to Tamarindo. Would it be better to take a bus or rent a car? ( Considering safety and getting feel for the country versus cost)
Hi Don, the best way to get around Tamarindo and Guanacaste is by car since buses are not very common and you will be super restricted on when and where you can go to places. You could take the bus if you don’t really plan to explore from Tamarindo though and want to take day tours which you can perfectly do too. But if you’d like to explore more places and be more flexible in time, renting a car is the best way to go. You can read more tips for renting a car here: Costa Rica car rental tips and get our car rental discount here: Costa Rica car rental discount
Hi Kristina! If you are renting a SUV and the car has the cover for the back, definitely use it and try to cover it up with a jacket or towel. If you have a sedan with a trunk, you can leave your luggage in there. Pick a rest stop where there is a lot of other people or at a gas station where you can park close to the bathroom. Have a great time!! 🙂
I believe this is my third post. I think I am done with questions and think of another. Thank you again for your help! I am heading to the Chirripo area from the San Jose airport and driving alone. If I am to stop and use the restroom, do you think it is safe to keep the luggage in the car (if out of sight)? Or am I better off bringing my luggage with me into wherever it is that I stop? I will probably have a large suitcase.
We are headed to Costa Rica in May. We are coming in at SJO and planning to head to La Paz Waterfalls & Gardens then to Del Toro Waterfall and then make our Journey to our Arenal Resort…. But will our luggage be safe in the car while we are at the parks? Since we will be stopping at these places on our journey to the resort we wont be able to drop our luggage off before stopping.. How safe is it to leave our carry on packs in the car at these locations while we enjoy the park?
La Paz Waterfall Gardens has a fairly secure parking lot, but as always make sure valuables aren’t visible and if possible, leave all your luggage in the trunk. Since the waterfall gardens are so touristy, you will see dozens of tour buses and shuttles there. At the del Toro waterfall, their parking lot isn’t quite as secure but it is in a kind of blocked off area off the road. You can ask the owners if they can take extra care to watch your car and park it as close as possible to the office.
Elizabeth Guide says
Hi! How concerned about petty theft do we need to be when going to the beach? We are going to be in Puerto Viejo and I’ve read stories of people coming out of the jungle to steal your flip flops. Is this accurate?? If so do you have any recommendations for us? For example, if we have towels or cheap sunglasses or water bottles with us can we leave these items on the beach while we swim or do we need to be much more careful even with small items like this? Even on a almost deserted beach like Punta Una, do we have to go as far as to swim in shifts? I planned to carry my backpack with sunblock, bugspray, water bottles, towel etc. with me to the beach but I’m wondering if even these items get stolen? If so, how do two people enjoy the beach together? Thank you for all your helpful info!!
Hi Elizabeth, petty theft is the most common crime and unfortunately, we have heard stories of people swimming at the beach and having their flip flops stolen. I always tell people to never leave their valuables on the beach because of this but if you’re bringing just water and towels, nothing of value or expensive and you won’t be upset if it’s get stolen, it should be OK (but you never know). Even on what seems like a deserted beach, you never know and Punta Uva is easily accessible and not always deserted. If it’s not electric, I do recommend tying your hotel key to your swimsuit if you can and swimming with it and if you have a car key, I do recommend not leaving it on the beach unattended. When Yeison and I go to the beach, we just swim in shifts or we leave our items really close to where we are swimming, never take our eyes off of it and don’t swim far away. It’s not the most fun, but we don’t like to take any risks when it comes to our things and we are always extra cautious.
Elizabeth Guide says
We are going for our honeymoon, do you recommend we leave our wedding/engagement rings at home or do you think it will be safe since they will always be on our person? They aren’t worth more than $5 grand together but obviously there is a lot of sentimental value and would be devastated if we were to lose them. Thank you for all of your fabulous info!!
Hi Elizabeth, you can bring them but honestly, if you’re planning on going into the ocean/hiking in the jungle/ziplining/white water rafting and things like that, you’re probably going to take off your rings anyways and put them in the safe of the hotel room. So it’d be easier to leave them at home so you don’t have to worry about it since you probably won’t wear them most of the time anyways. I’ve met a lot of honeymooners in Costa Rica and majority of them decided to do this because they knew they’d be in the ocean and in the jungle for their trip so they didn’t even want to have to worry about their rings at all.
I have read here and also on other sites that we should never leave valuables in our rental car. I am wondering how that is possible when driving a distance such as from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, or MA to Liberia? What are we supposed to do if we need to stop and use a restroom or would like to get out and look at the scenery? We will be renting an SUV so our luggage would be visible in the back. At this point my husband is thinking of having our suitcases locked and then cable locking them to the vehicle. Is this our best option? They could still slice open our suitcases I suppose?
Hi Pam, for long drives Yeison and I always take turns using the bathroom so one person stays with the car, another person goes. And if you want to stop and take pictures, never stray too far from your car and always have your eye on it as much as possible. Unfortunately theft is the more common crime in Costa Rica and Yeison and I have been victims of it ourselves. I went to the restroom and Yeison walked not even 10 meters away and someone immediately broke our side window and we don’t even have a nice car but you could see all our luggage in the back.
PLEASE UPDATE YOUR SITE.
The rules regarding moving vehicles and calling a Transito officer after a minor traffic accident has changed: Since the beginning of 2016, a Presidential Decree, number 39146-MOPT, allows vehicles to be moved if there is agreement between the drivers and: a) The collision was between two vehicles or between a vehicle and an object, b) That there are only material damages (meaning no person was injured in any way), c) That one of the drivers accepts responsibility for the accident and, d) It is necessary to avoid traffic jams. Both parties do need to fill out a minor accident declaration to be submitted to their insurance companies (along with any photographs, videos, or other evidence) with their claims, however. The accident declaration is called the Costa Rica Minor Traffic Accident reporting form.
Very useful and wise tips, many of which are applicable no matter where you travel.
Completely agree !
Don Enright says
Hi- I’d be interested in your thoughts on the relative safety/danger of the different regions. Is Puntarenas rougher than average, or does it just feel that way? Limon? How do the different regions compare to San Jose?
I have found Costa Rica in general to be safer, or at least feel safer, than Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia. Mind you, I did get robbed in the Coca Cola in San Jose.
Hi Dan, to be honest Limon gets some pretty bad rap in the media for being uber dangerous. It’s gotten more dangerous recently but there are still tons of tourists and expats who travel/live there who say it’s actually nothing drastic and that it’s not as bad as they make it out to be.
We go to Puntrarenas sometimes but never had any problems. Puntarenas is a huge province but in the city of Puntarenas, it’s super laid back, not dangerous at all. San Jose though has gotten more dangerous, especially in certain parts of town. There are more drugs, more thefts. Yeison got robbed once just a couple blocks from his house in Heredia once so robberies do happen unfortunately like everywhere in the world and he is a Costa Rican.
Here in Guanacaste it’s super safe. Even for me as a young woman I have no problem to walk around by myself at night (using common sense of course). I actually felt equally as safe in Nicaragua but in general, just use your common sense, don’t be doing stupid stuff or be an ass to people and Costa Rica is generally pretty safe. =)
Anna from The Blonde Banana says
I went to Costa Rica and never felt unsafe! But I also took most of these precautions :). People need to use common sense and they can travel almost anywhere safely.
Very true! Just don’t do stupid things and using common sense is pretty much the recipe for having a safe trip anywhere in the world. Too bad some people just don’t use their common sense too much ha ha 😉
Useful tips! You are right when you say that we should rather use our common sense than being apprehensive about a city/country.