Safe Travel Tips
Last Updated: Apr 07, 2012
Costa Rica is a very safe country to travel in, but it never hurts to take a few precautions to ensure an enjoyable trip.
Violent crime is extremely rare in Costa Rica, but theft is a concern. Petty crime is most frequent in the capital city of San Jose, where pick pocketing, mugging, and purse snatching occur. Be careful walking streets, especially at night, and always take the same precautions you would in any big city. Never let luggage or bags out of your sight, and store small valuables in your hotel safe. Always make copies of your passport, credit cards and other important information, in case your purse or wallet is lost or stolen. When withdrawing cash, better to use ATMs that are located in well-lit areas. Don’t allow strangers to stand near you and avoid taking unsolicited help.
If you lose your passport while abroad, the U.S. Department of State recommends you immediately head to your nearest embassy or consulate. The American Embassy is located in San Jose, and is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Passport services are available by appointment only; contact the embassy at 2519-2000. The cost to renew your passport is $135 and your documents will be ready in ten business days. In case of emergency, a provisional passport is also available for immediate entry back into the United States.
Costa Rica's drinking water is safe unless otherwise indicated. Don't worry about washing fruits and vegetables in filtered water, and you're free to drink smoothies and fruit drinks blended with tap water. In very rural areas, you may want to err of the side of caution and purchase bottled water.
Driving & Accidents
Your current driver's license from the States or Canada is accepted for up to three months in Costa Rica. Since signage is sparse and Costa Rican directions are often hard to decipher, a good map is an excellent driving aid. A GPS (preferably NavSat EzFind or GPSTravelMaps), which is available at most rental car companies, is even better. During the rainy season months of May-November, consider renting a 4WD vehicle to navigate the country's roads. Never leave items in your car unattended.
In the event of an accident, the most important thing to remember is not to move your vehicle. By law, you must wait at the scene of an accident until both the police and the insurance agent arrive. To make sure you're fully covered, you may want to purchase full insurance with your rental agency.
Many beaches in Costa Rica do not have lifeguards, so be careful to heed warning signs. When in doubt, ask locals about riptides and strong currents, locally known as "corrientes fuertes" or "corrientes de resaca." If you are caught in a riptide, remember to remain calm and not fight the current. Regain your footing if possible, call for help, and try to swim parallel to the shoreline. Eventually, the riptide will dissipate, at which point you should swim toward shore.
Illness or Injury
For minor concerns, such as a cold or a small abrasion, head to the nearest pharmacy. Pharmacies in Costa Rica are required to have a licensed pharmacist present at all time. The pharmacist is authorized to dispense many medications available only by prescription in the United States. Consultation with the pharmacist is free, and most medications are available at low cost and in individual dosages.
In the case of serious injury, illness or emergency, visit a public or private hospital. Costa Rica's health care system is one of the best in Latin America, and many doctors speak fluent English. Public hospitals have longer wait times, but are located in every province and provide excellent service at low cost. Some private hospitals, which are prevalent in the Central Valley, will accept your U.S. insurance; be sure to check with your insurance provider before travel abroad.
Insects & Snakes
Costa Rica has its fair share of insects and snakes. Most present no cause for concern, and a few simple precautions will ensure your safety. Dengue is tropical virus carried by mosquitoes, and is most prevalent along the Caribbean coast. Always carry bug spray to repel mosquitoes, and in coastal areas, you may want to use an insect repellent with deet.
Snakebites are relatively uncommon in Costa Rica, and in the event of an accident, anti-venom is located at most medical centers around the country. To prevent bites in the first place, hike smart: always look before grabbing onto a branch, tree trunk or hanging vine, and wear hiking boots that are thick enough to protect against a snake's teeth.