What the statistics state?
It is true that offenses against tourists have increased in Costa Rica in recent years. This has to do with the strong increase in visitor numbers as well. The official police statistics show a total of 1,728 reported cases in which tourists were the victims of a criminal act in the period from January 2017 to June 2018. (Source: Statistics OIJ / ICT). During the same period, around 4.5 million tourists arrived to Costa Rica. (Source Statistics ICT). From a purely statistical perspective, the risk of being a victim of a crime is 0.038%. Undoubtedly, there is an underreport of cases that have not been reported to the police. These are mainly theft offenses with manageable damage. Serious incidents are, however, included in the statistics.
91% of the reported cases are offenses against tourists’ property (i.e. theft of valuables, money or passports). In 94 cases, the life of the tourists was threatened (e.g. armed robbery) and 8 cases were reported as sexual assaults. About a 100 life-threatening serious incidents on tourists have taken place between January 2017 and June 2018. That is 0.002% of all visitors in the same period.
Statistically speaking, the risk is relatively small. However, it would be wrong to underestimate or mince potential dangers. That's why we give you some important tips to help reduce even more the chances of being a victim of a crime:
How to prevent being robbed
Opportunity makes thieves. Although, idyllic beaches and friendly Costa Ricans give the visitor the feeling of safety and lightheartedness, this is also true for Costa Rica. Traveling has a lot to do with cultural exchange, and it would be wrong to suspect a potential theft behind every local. This being said, you should always keep in mind:
- Your valuables should not be left unattended anywhere. This is especially true at the beach, in restaurants, bars, hotel lobbies, or busy places in general.
- Do not wear expensive jewelry
- Do not carry too much cash around with you ("Having a large sum of cash on hand will help you budget, but may not be safe"- Your RV Lifestyle)
- Valuables and passports are better kept in the hotel safe in your hotel room.
- Change money only in banks, exchange offices or in the hotel. Store the money and documents before you leave the place.
- If you must take cash and passports with you, make sure they’re safely attached to you.
Safety and Rental Cars
Costa Rica is great to be explored by rental car. Again, there are a few rules to follow:
- Do not leave any valuables visible in the car. If you take a break, go to the restaurant or visit a national park, you better take the valuables with you.
- Park the car only on official and guarded parking spaces (public parking lots, hotels) and not just on the side of the road.
- If your car has got a flat tire, try to find a busy place to stop and change it, if possible (e.g. gas station, restaurant, bus stop or police patrol). Always keep an eye on your valuables. It’s possible that robbers purposefully puncture your tire and then offer to help, them seize the chance to rob you.
- Do not pick up hitchhikers.
- Try to reach your destination in daylight and avoid driving on lonely routes at night.
- In a tropical heavy rain, it’s recommended to stop at a safe place and wait until the view is better again.
- Follow the traffic rules and be patient with slow-moving trucks on winding mountain roads. Avoid dangerous overtaking maneuvers.
What you should keep in mind
Thieves and predators have something in common: they go for those that separate from the group. Although it may seem so nice to watch the stars at night alone on the beach, it is not the best idea from the in terms of risk reduction. However, that does not mean, that these experiences are withheld from you. Just note the following tips:
- Inform yourself proactively on potential security risks in every hotel before doing anything on your own.
- Do not participate in activities or trips offered on the street. Inform yourself whether the provider has an official operating license from the Ministry of Tourism (ICT) or a certificate for sustainable tourism (CST), for these companies are committed to ensuring your safety.
- Visit beaches at night only in groups.
- Use an official Taxi or Uber to get around at night.
- Avoid shady neighborhoods in cities, especially in San José, Limón and Jacó. Ask about such areas in the hotel.
- If in spite of all precautionary measures you should fall victim to an assault, do not resist under any circumstances. Valuables and passports can be replaced.
Give the water the necessary respect
The beautiful beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica sometimes make you forget that there are also dangers lying within. Underwater currents, the so-called "rip currents", are quite common and can be detected with good observation. But do not rely on your eye alone and always ask locals or surfers if swimming in the sea is safe. Also, pay attention to the local safety instructions.
If you are nevertheless caught by a current and driven to the open sea, keep calm and do not try to swim against the current. Let yourself drift and try to draw attention to you. As soon as the current subsidies, first swim perpendicularly to the coast, away from the flow zone, and then with the waves back to the beach. The tourism authority provides this information video.
A bath in a brook in the middle of nature is one of the greatest experiences in Costa Rica. However, always ask first at the hotel or ask locals, whether the bathing area is safe. When thunderstorms form in the mountains or the water turns brown, flash floods are a threat, and you have to leave the water immediately.
Avoid jumping into the sea from big heights rivers or streams without proper caution. You cannot tell if the water is deep enough or if coral reefs, rocks or wedged tree trunks lurk below the surface.
What is Costa Rica doing for the safety of tourists?
Tourism is a very important economic sector in Costa Rica and therefore safety is of great importance. The tourism authorities recently presented its security strategy:
- You may find short videos with tips regarding safety on their homepage
- Training of 4,000 tourism companies on the subject of "proactive security management and networked communication"
- Launching an app on December 2018 with security tips based on the current whereabouts of the user
- Host a convention on security for tourists. Participants: security experts, tourism industry, police, justice and tourism chambers of the country.
- Reinforcement of the touristic police. These are specially trained, English-speaking officials responsible for the prevention and protection of tourists in the most touristically important areas.
- Reinforce the Tourism Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Turística) by involving all regional tourist boards and improving networked communication
- Increasing the number of prosecutors, responsible for offenses against tourists, from 5 to 10. Goal: more consistent law enforcement
- Free hotline (800-8000-645) for anonymous reporting of suspicious observations or incidents.
But enough about all sorts of risks. I look forward to your Costa Rica adventure and enjoy nature to the fullest!
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