Customized Costa Rica Vacations, since 1999.

Staying Safe During a Costa Rica Vacation

We get asked all the time about safety in Costa Rica. “Is Costa Rica safe?” is perhaps our most-asked question, in fact. And it’s a fair one.

After all, Costa Rica is in Central America, a region known for bad news and unstable environment. But the truth is that although there is crime and poverty in the region, Costa Rica itself is a safe country.

Look at it this way—Costa Rica received three million foreign tourists in 2019, with over a third of those tourists coming from the United States. The vast majority of those three million tourists had wonderful vacations with zero issues.

Tourism has also been on a steady rise in Costa Rica over the last thirty years or so. Indeed, since 1990, there’s only one year where Costa Rica’s visitor numbers dropped from the previous year. That was in 2009 at the height of the last recession, and it’s bounced back every year since then.

Costa Rica’s dangers mostly lie in nature-related occurrences: rip tides, earthquakes, active volcanoes, and creepy crawlies, to name a few. Hurricanes are a rare sight in Costa Rica, so there’s no need for you to worry about one hitting while you are here.

On the other hand, petty crime exists in Costa Rica, of course, but most crime is opportunistic. So don’t give anyone an opportunity. For that, we can offer some tips!

Getting Professional Advice from Travel Experts

Like any other place in the world, you should take steps in Costa Rica to minimize any risk. If you wouldn’t do it at home, definitely don’t do it in Costa Rica. Some of the tips we expand on this page are:

  • Keep your valuables in your hotel and off the street
  • Don’t wave your cell phone around
  • Don’t leave valuables in your car
  • Keep your car windows locked

Taking these basic steps will go a long way towards you being one of the vast majority who visit Costa Rica without problems.

To learn more about how to visit Costa Rica’s cities and natural wonders safely, visit our sections on general tips to avoid problems, how to have a beach day without issues, what to do if you have a problem while in Costa Rica, what driving in Costa Rica is like, and how to behave when you find yourself face to face with an animal.

And if you still have concerns, do not worry! We are here to offer you our experience and professional advice.

1. Local Travel Experts Weigh In: How Safe Is Costa Rica?

Local travel experts Mark Fitzpatrick, from Glasgow, and Molly Stevens, from New York, talk about safety in Costa Rica and all the main concerns travelers may have when coming down to this little Central American nation.

The final verdict is that Costa Rica is very safe indeed, but it’s always good to have a smart travel sense when going abroad to a new destination! Listen along to hear about some funny stories that may help making your mind for your next visit here.

Molly Stevens

Molly StevensSchaghticoke, NY

Travel expert with over 10 years of experience in Costa Rica.

Is Costa Rica safe to visit? Yes, and as usual there are tips to travel even more safely, whether you come with your family, a significant other, a group of friends, or by yourself.

Like anywhere in the world, Costa Rica has its problems. Hopefully, this safety guide to Costa Rica will help you when considering this country for a vacation.

Overall, Costa Rica a safe place to visit, and the people are friendly and welcoming. Follow these five tips to reduce any risks and have a safe stay in Costa Rica.

1. Leave Valuables at the Hotel

As I mentioned before, never go out with anything you can’t afford to lose. Don’t be conspicuous and don’t flash expensive jewelry or cell phones around.

Be aware of your surroundings. If you don’t look like a potential mark, chances are you won’t become a victim. Don’t get too drunk and don’t walk around at night.

2. When Driving, Be Careful

I always recommend to hire a transportation service, but if you want to drive, know that the roads can be rough, as well as other drivers.

Addresses work differently in Costa Rica and firsthand experience of the roads is preferable. As always, take care. And never, ever drive at night. For more about the driving experience here in the country, read this section.

3. Keep the Sun and Wildlife at Bay

Wear sunscreen during the day, and don’t hold back on the bug spray. Don’t get too close to wildlife and don’t touch wild animals, no matter how cute they are. This also goes for street dogs.

4. Learn How to Navigate a Beach

That means learning to read riptides and not entering rough water. When at the beach, swim close to other people. If there’s no-one in the water, there’s probably a reason for that. When in doubt, ask a local.

5. Trust Your Gut

Like anywhere in the world, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. There’s no reason to get paranoid about anything, but go with your feelings in any given situation.

One of the best ways to stay safe in Costa Rica is to travel with the help from someone who knows the country and its quirks. If you travel with Costa Rica Vacations, we’ll look after you the whole time! Please let me know if you have any questions at all about staying safe in Costa Rica.

The short answer is yes, it’s safe to drive in Costa Rica.

But driving in Costa Rica isn’t like driving in the US, Canada, or other more developed countries.

Although there’s been some improvement in the roads in recent years, dodging potholes is still a national sport! And most roads are two lanes. Outside of the San Jose area, forget about multilane highways except for a very few instances.

In fact, most roads in Costa Rica look like “back roads”. That even applies to the main routes to popular tourist destinations like Arenal or Monteverde.

These roads are often windy and narrow. You’ll also find yourself navigating a lot of one-lane bridges which makes driving a little more stressful. But these roads are incredibly scenic, though. The mountains, forests, and rivers you pass will take your breath away.

Of Addresses, Landmarks, and Costa Ricans

Getting around Costa Rica is also a challenge when you’re not accustomed to it.

Costa Rica has no formal address system. There are few road signs or street signs. And even if they do exist, chances are people will never use them or know their street’s name. People navigate Costa Rica using landmarks instead of street signs.

For example, a local address would be something like, “from the main grocery store in La Fortuna the hotel is 200 meters South and 50 meters West”.

That means GPS units or apps like Waze are key in Costa Rica. Tourists and locals alike rely on them to get around Costa Rica and we recommend you do the same.

So if you’re wondering about renting a car in Costa Rica, think about it this way: if you’re adventurous and have driven abroad before, you’ll be fine.

If you’re used to driving in different countries, and winding roads and getting lost won’t stress you out, you’re all good.

The most important advice I can give you about driving in Costa Rica is to never drive at night. If you remember any advice about this country, remember that. Dodging potholes in the daytime is one thing. At night, it’s a different ballgame.

Getting a Stress-Free Experience in Costa Rica

If you want a more stress-free trip, it’s better to use private or shared transportation around Costa Rica. All of our packages have them. You’ll see minivans with “turismo” on the side all over the country, moving people around in this way.

Most activities also include hotel transportation as part of the cost of the tour. It’s easy to get in all your adventures without a car. In fact, if you rent a car and book a bunch of tours or activities, chances are your vehicle will spend most of its time in your hotel parking lot.

If you don’t have a car, you can use taxis or Uber to head into town for dinner or shopping. Many hotels also provide their own shuttles to nearby beaches or towns.

So at the end of the day, it’s a personal decision whether you want to rent a car here. It can either be stressful or liberating, depending on what kind of traveler you are.

With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea pounding the other side, Costa Rica’s beaches are famous for having big waves and fast currents. These are perfect for surfing, but not so much for gentle, safe swimming.

What some travelers are aware of is that, with over 700 miles of coastline between the Pacific and Caribbean side of Costa Rica, there are some beaches better served for safe swimming.

It doesn’t always have to be big swells and angry waves. If you seek quieter, safer beaches, look for bays rather than straight stretches of shore. A more circular-shaped bay offers more protection from the open ocean and a safer swimming experience.

These beaches are safe enough that you can travel with family or groups without worry. Here are some of my favorite swimming beaches in Costa Rica:

A Beach for Every Traveler

There is a beach for each type of traveler: for those who want to practice snorkeling and swimming, to those who want to sunbathe or drink a cocktail by a palm tree.

This is why other honorable mentions for the safest beaches in Costa Rica can go to Conchal Beach, Ocotal Beach, and Hermosa Beach, all in Guanacaste. You’ll also find some hidden, protected coves all the way down in the Osa Peninsula.

These are some of the safest places in Costa Rica for beach lovers. If you are not sure where you want to go, contact us and we’ll be happy to help!

5. 10 Tips For Staying Safe on the Beach in Costa Rica

So how safe is Costa Rica for beachgoers? Plenty, if you are an informed visitor.

Whether you’re a swimmer, surfer, boogie boarder, shallows paddler, kayaker, SUP-er, shore fisher, jet skier, or any other type of water aficionado, you need to know your beach.

By that, I mean you need to understand the beach you’re on and the power of the ocean. Here are a few safety tips to consider when on the beach in Costa Rica!

1. Learn to Read the Beach

Some Costa Rican beaches are famous for their rip currents. Rips form from waves pushing water up onto the shore. Instead of retreating back the same way it came, sometimes the water channels into one spot to fall back into the ocean.

This is a rip current. Rips are easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for. Go online and learn how to spot rip currents at the beach, or ask locals if there are any possible dangers you are not aware of.

2. Obey Any Signs and Flags

Costa Rican beaches don’t have lifeguards, but many beaches have signs letting you know about rip currents or if there are creatures to watch out for. Look for these signs and take them seriously.

Most hotels with direct beach access also have a board signaling if there are any possible dangers, so pay attention to those too.

3. Don’t Panic!

If by any chance you are caught in a rip current, don’t panic, and don’t fight it. A rip current will pull you a short way out and then dissipate. Just ride out with the current and then swim back diagonally to shore.

It may be easier said than done, but just remember it really won’t take you too far out. Surfers love rip currents and use them to get out to the lineup all the time.

4. If You Can’t Swim, Don’t Go Too Deep

Some travelers think just because they’re on vacation at the beach, that they’re somehow invincible. Don’t be that guy. Know your boundaries, and if you’re a weak swimmer, just paddle around the shallows.

5. Wear Sunblock and/or Sit in the Shade

Costa Rican beaches get hot and the sun can shine bright. You’ll burn, even if you’re one of those people who say they never burn. Be careful of your skin and health by reapplying sunblock constantly, even if the sky is cloudy.

6. If You’re on a Surfing Beach, Don’t Swim

You don’t want to be hit by a surfboard, so make sure to stay away enough that surfers can see you and you can see them. If you are the surfer, keep in mind some people might get in the way!

7. Don’t Go in the Ocean Drunk

No matter how strong a swimmer you are, if you have drunk too much or eaten too much there is a risk you won’t be able to coordinate properly. It’s better to rest first.

8. Don’t Leave Any Valuables on the Beach

There’s probably no reason to take them with you in the first place. All you need is a towel and flip flops, sometimes not even that!

9. Don’t Leave Valuables in Your Car, Either

If you drive to the beach, don’t leave valuables in your car while at the beach unless they are absolutely necessary.

10. Don’t Go to the Beach During a Thunderstorm

During the rainy season, don’t go to the beach in a thunderstorm. Being struck by lightning is as rare as, well, being struck by lightning. But the currents can become dangerous due to strong winds, so it’s better to not visit the beach at the time.

Ready to start planning?

If you’re in Costa Rica on a vacation booked with us, the question of what to do if you have any problems while here is solved already. You just contact us, and we’ll do the rest!

Extensive Travel Experience at Your Disposal

We have a top-notch client service department—we call them our Travel Experience Team—who are on hand, here in Costa Rica, 24/7 to look after you.

Their jobs are all about making sure you’re well, safe, and looked after from the moment you step off the plane upon arrival to leaving the country at the end of your vacation.

You will have access to them by phone , messenger, or email throughout your trip. Don’t be afraid to contact them for any issue whatsoever. They will handle things for you, from making or changing reservations to dealing with the appropriate authorities on your behalf if you ever need to.

Who Are the Authorities in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a 911 emergency system where you can call if you need the police, fire department, or an ambulance. If you don’t speak Spanish, there is usually someone around who speaks English, and we can definitely help should the need arise.

As well as 911, the fire department also has its own 118 number, and the Red Cross—who provide ambulance service in Costa Rica—has a 128 number.

If you’re dealing with the police in Costa Rica, it’s important to know who you’re talking to.

As a tourist, you’re most likely to come into contact with the Transport Police (also called “transitos”) while on the road. These are the guys who are in the search for traffic violations while driving.

If you get a private transportation service, this will not be a problem as the drivers know the roads and rules. If you are driving and for some reason get pulled over, don’t panic. If you’re traveling with us, call us: we’ll be able to help!

The OIJ are much like the FBI. They’re the guys who solve crimes, and to whom you should report crime to. So, for example, if your passport gets stolen, you’ll need to make a report to the OIJ at the local station. You’ll also need to do this for insurance reasons so your insurance company can cover the loss.

Costa Rica also has its own tourist police, who are usually around tourist areas. They are there to help with any issues.

It’s worth pointing out that when dealing with any type of authority down here, it’s important to stay calm, stay polite, and not to panic. And please—if you’re traveling with us—call our Travel Experience Team! This is what they’re here for.

If you find yourself in need of medical attention in Costa Rica, you have a range of options, depending on your situation.

The first thing to realize is that pharmacies here are more than just pharmacies. They generally all come with in-store doctors who can check you out and help on the spot.

If you need hospital attention in Costa Rica, you’ll be happy to learn you’re in a country with a great healthcare system.

Every city, town, and community in Costa Rica has at least a clinic, called an Ebais, and the larger cities and tourist areas almost always have a hospital. Hospitals in the Central Valley tend to offer better service and facilities than hospitals out in the countryside.

For a more complete rundown on hospitals and medical care in Costa Rica, read our guide here.

When talking about safety in Costa Rica, it’s one thing to discuss potential danger from our fellow humans. It’s quite another thing to talk about safety when it comes to the local wildlife.

Some travelers wonder if Costa Rica is a safe place for families and nature-lovers who want to immerse themselves in the wilderness. The truth is, if you know how to deal with the animals you’re likely to find here, there is nothing to worry about.

Crocodiles, Sharks, and Big Mammals

It’s possible that the most dangerous big animal in Costa Rica is the crocodile. Attacks are extremely rare, but they do occur. The thing is, crocodiles hang out in estuaries. They like the murky water.

Stay out of estuaries and you’ll be fine. Surfers occasionally report crocodiles in the lineup, but when a croc is in the ocean, they’re not hunting. They’re simply moving down from one estuary to another.

Some travelers also worry about sharks, due to the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica’s waters. The truth is shark attacks in Costa Rica are so rare that in all my years here, I’ve never heard of a single one.

The creatures of the jungle are another concern for some travelers. They hear Costa Rica has big cats like jaguars and mountain lions, and they think they might find one of them.

In reality, the chances of even finding a jaguar or other big cat in the wild is extremely minimal. To see these animals, it’s actually better to head to a wildlife sanctuary where they are rescued and protected from humans.

Probably the most dangerous mammal in Costa Rica is the peccary, a kind of wild pig. These things can get super aggressive if they feel threatened or under attack. Luckily they live deep in forests and their interaction with humans is rare.

Insects, Reptiles, and Other Small Critters

The creatures to really watch out for are smaller than peccaries, sharks, crocodiles, and jaguars. We’re talking about the snakes and spiders and creepy crawlies.

Costa Rica lies in the tropics and as such, it has issues with mosquitoes. The mosquito is the most dangerous animal in the world, carrying malaria, dengue, and other tropical diseases like chikungunya or zika.

So it’s worth knowing that these do exist in Costa Rica, even if they are not pandemics. Malaria is very rare. In fact, it’s so rare that malaria cases down here tend to make the news. Dengue, not so much, although you’d be unlucky if you caught it.

Luckily, avoiding mosquito bites is easy. That’s what bug spray is for, especially around sunset and sunrise. Cover yourself up during this time, too. Most jungle hotels also have mosquito nets. If your hotel does not have a mosquito net, then mosquitoes aren’t a problem in that area.

You also find kissing bugs in Costa Rica, which can carry Chagas disease. But again, if you contract this, you’ll be extremely unlucky.

It’s worth pointing out that the southern United States is home to malarial mosquitoes and kissing bugs, too. They are by no means unique to Costa Rica.

Lurking in the Trees: Snakes, Spiders, and Various Creepy-Crawlies

We get asked about snakes and spiders a lot. And it’s true, we have a lot of both here in Costa Rica.

The most venomous snake is the fer-de-lance, or “terciopelo”. These things are aggressive, although the chances of you, as a tourist, running into one in the wild are akin to being struck by lightning. When humans find them, it’s usually a worker at a banana plantation.

Other venomous snakes include various vipers and the beautiful, brightly-colored coral snake. This species has red, yellow, and black bands. Remember the old saying to determine venomous snakes from non-venomous ones?

“Red on black, safe for Jack.
Red on yellow, kill a fellow.”

Well, with coral snakes in the US, this rhyme might work. Down here, in Costa Rica, it does not apply. So stay away from coral snakes, no matter the order of their colored bands. This should be easy, the coral snake will equally be staying away from you as much as it can. These are not aggressive animals.

Spiders and Various Creepy-Crawlies of the Jungle

Spiders in Costa Rica might look scary. They might be big and hairy and terrifying. We have over 20,000 species of spiders here and sometimes it feels like they’re all in my yard.

But the truth is that virtually all of them are harmless, from the largest, hairiest tarantula on down. Like snakes, spiders have zero interest in any interaction with you. And if you did get bitten by a spider, you’ll be fine.

There is one exception, though. The Brazilian wandering spider, or banana spider, lives in Costa Rica. It happens to be the world’s most venomous spider. But like the “terciopelo”, you won’t see it unless you get a job picking bananas.

Scorpions down here can pack a punch, but unless you’re allergic, you won’t be in danger. The scorpions you find in the US are more deadly than the smaller Costa Rican ones. If you don’t want any surprises, it’s always worth checking your beds and shaking your shoes out before putting them on.

We have biting ants here, too. They deliver a painful nip, but nothing more serious than that. And all those beautiful butterflies you see in Costa Rica, flitting from tropical flower to tropical flower? Well, they start off as caterpillars. Don’t touch them: those hairs sting.

Contact us for more tips on how to see wildlife safely!

Costa Rica has abundant wildlife and flora, and it’s impossible not to find it everywhere. Animals often get used to visitors and are not afraid to approach them.

Kids and adults alike could think that throwing food at them is actually a favor, or that it will not harm them in the long run if it keeps them still for a photo.

The truth is that feeding wild animals makes them dependent on humans and keeps them around.

A case in point is with crocodiles. In 2016, a man lost a leg in Tamarindo due to a crocodile attack. Many blamed the fact that people fed the crocs in the estuary. This kept them close and made them not scared of humans.

The same goes for all wild animals. It’s cruel and unfair to keep them dependent on humans. Furtive hunters and mean spirited people can take advantage of this to steal animals and sell them in the black market, either as pets or meat.

In terms of safety, it makes sense, too.

Monkeys, for example, can carry rabies and other diseases. You don’t want to be bitten by an over-familiar monkey. Sloths have all sorts of algae living on them which has no business being near you.

The best way to honor animals here in Costa Rica is from afar. Leave the caring of animals to the professional park rangers and vets!

Daniel H | USA
Oct 2019

“What a wonderful trip from start to finish... Once in Costa Rica the travel company was helpful and made our trip very nice. We always felt welcome and safe.”

About the Author

About the Author

Molly Stevens

After an odd series of events I ended up moving to Costa Rica after graduation and 7 years later I’m still here! Costa Rica is now home, which I get to share with my husband, daughter, and two wild puppies. I love trail running, hiking, and Costa Rica’s weather.

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