Local and frequent visitors have noted an increase in tourist-oriented crime in recent years - likely precipitated by the increase in tourism. Although rip-offs are a fact of life when travelling anywhere, you'll find Costa Rica is still less prone to theft than many countries. You should, nevertheless take some simple precautions to avoid being robbed.
Armed robbery is rare, but sneak theft is more common, and you should remember that crowded places are the haunts of pick-pockets - places such as badly lit bus stations or bustling streets around market areas.
Occasionally, a couple of women may try to physically harass a man - one tries lasciviously to gain your attention while the other tries to pull your wallet. Other scams include being squirted with mustard or some other noxious substance; 'Samaritans' offering to wipe you off are lifting your wallet at the same time. Alertness helps- don't allow yourself to be distracted. If you are used to deal with big-city hassles, you should have no great problem.
Thieves look for easy targets. Tourists carrying a wallet or passport in a hip pocket are asking for trouble. Leave your wallet at home; it's an easy mark for a pickpocket. Carrying a small roll of bills loosely wadded under a handkerchief in your front pocket is as safe a way as any of carrying your daily spending money. The rest should be hidden. always use at least an inside pocket or preferably a body pouch to protect your money and passport. Separate your money into different places.
Carry some of your money as traveller's checks or credit cards. The former can be refunded if lost or stolen; the latter can be cancelled and reissued. Carry an emergency packet somewhere separate from all your other valuables. It should contain a photocopy of your pagers. Also keep one high-denomination bill in with this emergency stash. You will probably never have to use it, but it is a good idea not to put all your eggs in one basket.
Take out travellers' luggage insurance if you're carrying valuable gear such as a good camera. But don't get paranoid: Costa Rica is still a reasonably safe country.
If you are robbed, make a police report as soon as possible. this is a requirement for any insurance claims, although it is unlikely that the police will be able to recover the property. Police reports should be filed with the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) in the Corte Suprema de Justicia (Supreme Court Tel. 222-1365 complex at Avenida 6, Calles 17 & 19, in San José. If you don't speak Spanish, bring a translator. Outside of San José call 911 to report a robbery and find out where the nearest OIJ is. In addition, travellers who have suffered crimes or price-gouging can write to the Costa Rican Tourist Board, Apartado 777-1000 San José. By Costa Rican law, the tourist board is obliged to represent foreign tourists who are victims of tourist-related crimes in court cases if necessary, thus allowing the tourist to go elsewhere (like home).
Costa Rica has a long history of business-related crimes - real estate and investment scams have occurred frequently over the years. If you want to sink money into any kind of Costa Rican business, make sure you both know what you are doing and check it out thoroughly.
The tourist brochures with their enticing photographs of tropical paradise, do not mention that approximately 200 drowning q year occur in Costa Rican waters. Of these, an estimated 90% are caused by riptides.
A riptide is a strong current that pulls a simmer out to sea. It can occur in waist-deep water. It is most important to remember that riptides will pull you out but not under. Many death are caused by panicked swimmers struggling to the point of exhaustion.
If you are caught in a riptide, float. do not struggle. Let the riptide carry you out beyond the breakers, If you swim, do so parallel to the beach, not directly back in. Go with the flow of the current. You are very unlikely to be able to swim against a riptide and will only exhaust yourself. When you are carried out beyond the breakers, you will find that the riptide will dissipate - it won't carry you out for miles. then you can swim back to shore. Swim at a 45º angle to the shore to avoid being caught by the current again.
If you feel a riptide while you are wading, try to come back in sideways, thus offering less body surface to the current. Also remember to walk parallel to the beach if you cannot make headway, so you can get out of the riptide. Some riptides are permanent; others come and go or move along the beach. Beaches with a reputation for rips are Playa Bonita, near Limón; the area at the entrance of Parque Nacional Cahuita; Playa Dońa Ana and Playa Barranca near Puntarenas; Dominical, and Playa Espadilla at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio.
Other swimming problems are occasional huge waves that can knock a wader over - stay within your limits and remember that few beaches have lifeguards. Follow all signs, swim within sight of the lifeguards if there are any and, if you get into trouble, swim out beyond the breakers and wave for help.
Some beaches are polluted by litter, or worse, sewage and other contamination, which can pose a health hazard. Beaches are now checked by authorities and the cleanest are marked with a blue flag.
For your safety, please review the following summary of Costa Rica's traffic laws. Obey these regulations at all times !!
1. Unless otherwise indicated, minimum speed on highways is 40 kilometers per hour (kph). The speed limit varies and is posted by the road.
2.On highways and secondary roads the speed limit is 60 kph. , unless otherwise indicated.
3.In urban areas, the speed limit is 40 kph , unless otherwise indicated.
4.The speed limit around school zones and in front hospitals and clinics is 25 kph.
5.Driving on beaches is strictly prohibited everywhere, except when there is no other path connecting two towns.
6.Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is strictly prohibited. The law enables police officers to perform alcohol test on drivers.
7.The law requires all car passengers to wear seat belts.
8.Pull over if a police officer signals you to do so. Police officers may ask you to stop if there is an accident ahead, a checkpoint or if you are violating the law by not carrying a license plate or exceeding the speed limit, for example.
Driving out of San José the situation changes. You will find from very good double-lane highways to dirt roads that go through rivers. Remember that the insurance doesn't cover damages caused by crossing rivers and most companies don't cover damage on tires and rims. Most roads in Costa Rica are single-lane, without shoulders, have potholes of all sizes, and are winding. Please drive defensively and always expect a cow, horse, oxcart, slow moving truck, a cyclist or a broken down vehicle around the bend. Certain roads have the reputation of being particularly dangerous. The stretch from San José to San Isidro El General and the road to Limón are two of them.
A few roads still have a whitish asphalt surface, for instance from Nicoya to Sámara. This surface gets very slippery on rainy days. The road to Guápiles goes through the Braulio Carrillo National Park and is famous for landslides and heavy fog. We generally recommend to drive early in the day and never at night. I personally had my first accident here driving at night. Since every other car blinds you with bad adjusted headlights, and cows, bicycles, pedestrians and horses on the road, you drive relatively slow. Blinded I didn't see a truck without backlights and loaded with watermelons going 3 miles an hour at midnight on the Interamerican Highway. I first saw him when I hit him. Since then I stayed without my own car, moved to San José and always rent a fully insured car for our inspection trips around the country. In San José I use taxis.
Should you get involved in an accident, call 911, never move the car until the police gets there. Injured people should not be taken from the scene until the Red Cross Ambulance arrives. Make notes or sketches of what happened and don't make statements to not authorized people.
If no other speed limit is posted, there is a 100km/h speed limit on primary roads and a 60km/h speed limit on secondary roads. Traffic police uses radar and limits are enforced by speeding tickets. Expect to run into speed controls at perfectly straight and maybe little downhill stretches of road. Between Santa Cruz and Nicoya you have to drive 75km/h on a perfect road with only wide curves but you will probably run into 2 speed controls. Not wearing a seatbelt or talking to the phone can also get you a ticket. If you get a ticket you have to pay the fine at a bank. Instructions are on the ticket. If you are renting a car, the car rental company most likely will do that for you. The police has no right to confiscate the car unless there was a serious accident, the driver was drunk or was driving without a valid drivers license.
Don't leave luggage in the car and always park in a secure place or have somebody watch the car, while you are gone.
Many visitors like to hike in the national parks and wilderness areas. Hikers should be adequately prepared for their trips. always carry plenty of water, even on short trips. In 1993, tow German hikers going for a short 90-minute hike in Parque Nacional Barra Honda got lost and died of heat prostration and thirst. Hikers have been known to get lost in rainforests. Carry maps and extra food, and let someone know where you are going to narrow the search are in the event of an emergency. Be aware of snakes specially at night. Don't go with sandals into the grass or wilderness.
It comes as no surprise that Costa Rica, with its mountain chains of active volcanoes, should be earthquake prone. Recent major quakes occurred on March 25th 1990 (7.1 on the Richer scale), and on April 22nd 1991 (.4 on the Richter scale, killing over 50 people in Costa Rica and about 30 more in Panama). smaller quakes and tremors happen quite often.
If you are caught in a quake, make sure you are not standing under heavy objects that could fall and injure you. The best places to take shelter if you are in a building are in a door frame or under a sturdy table. If you are in the open, don't stand near walls, telephone poles, or anything that could collapse on you.
Racism is illegal in Costa Rica, and I personally have never encountered it. In this multi ethnic democratic society you'll find an endless variety of religions, minorities and skin-colours peacefully living and working next to each other. In the very past, the African or black population was not allowed to leave a certain area of Limón. For that reason they are more numerous there, but are equally accepted anywhere else.
Pictures by Jörn Malek. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink and Costa-Rica-Information-Mobile wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text partly by Lonely Planet.
This Web-Site is managed by Angela Malek, Ciudad Colón, province of San José, CR-10701 Costa Rica, Central America.