Is it safe to visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica¹ is a travelers paradise, with unspoiled natural scenery, awesome wildlife, sunny beaches and vibrant cities. Adventure travelers can check out volcanoes and impressive waterfalls, sun seekers can choose beaches in the Caribbean or Pacific, and those looking for culture or cuisine are well catered for, too.
Before you pack your bags, though, you’re probably wondering if it’s safe to visit Costa Rica at the moment. This guide covers all you need to know about how safe Costa Rica is for American visitors, and where to get updates on Costa Rica travel restrictions. We’ll also introduce the Wise Multi-currency Account as your perfect partner for international travel all over the globe.
How safe is Costa Rica?
Most trips to Costa Rica are trouble free — but the best way to stay safe no matter where in the world you’re headed is to do some research in advance to know what sensible precautions to take.
Let’s get a quick overview before we dive into the details and answer the key question: is Costa Rica safe for Americans?
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Safety tips for Costa Rica
In recent years, Costa Rica has experienced an increase in some types of violent crime, including homicides. Work is being done to target the causes of these crimes, and in reality most travelers will never be impacted by serious offences.
The more common issues for travelers in Costa Rica include petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing, scams and occasional muggings. As with almost anywhere, being aware of your surroundings, staying alert and not taking any unnecessary risks are essential — here are some tips:
- Ask your hotel or hosts about where is safe to visit locally, and to get up to date local information
- Stay aware of your surroundings when you move about and travel
- Be wary of help from friendly strangers — this is a common scam and may mean you’re asked for payment later
- Stay in groups where possible to deter opportunistic petty crime
- Keep your valuables in a hotel safe or lock box, and carry a copy of your passport including the photo page and Costa Rica entry stamp Use registered taxis when you need to get around and don’t walk alone at night
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash, and keep your travel money separate to your main bank account if possible — a Wise international account and card can help with that
Scams to watch out for when in Costa Rica
Common scams in Costa Rica tend to involve someone offering help to a traveler and then demanding a payment or tip. This help may be with finding your hotel, carrying your bags or arranging a tour. While people in Costa Rica are often super friendly, keeping your wits about you is just a smart precaution.
Other issues — which are also common in other countries — can include taxis with ‘broken’ meters, or persistent hawkers who can be a nuisance. It’s also worth knowing that some more serious problems have been reported where drivers are targeted by criminals who cause a minor accident and then rob or kidnap their victim. If you choose to drive in Costa Rica do not stop in rural or isolated places.
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Is it safe to travel alone to Costa Rica?
Most visits to Costa Rica are completely trouble free, and traveling alone to Costa Rica shouldn’t pose any particular problems. However, as with solo travel anywhere, it’s worth taking sensible precautions to plan your route, stay away from isolated areas at night, and keep people informed of your movements.
Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travelers?
Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers. The US Department of State issues general advice and guidance to female travelers online, including³:
- Get to know local customs and norms where you’re headed
- Stay away from dark, isolated areas at night
- Be wary of sharing details of your plans or itineraries with strangers
- Use facial expressions and body language to help create boundaries and fend off unwanted attention.
In short — when you’re traveling solo you’ll want to take the same basic safety steps that you take at home.
What are the safest places to visit in Costa Rica?
On the whole, Costa Rica is a safe place to visit. As we’ll discuss in a moment, the main risks tend to be around petty thefts in busy tourist areas. So while you’re not likely to be able to avoid all busy and popular tourist haunts, simply picking a destination that’s on the quieter side can make a lot of difference. Here are some great places to consider where you’ll get the best of Costa Rica without necessarily getting stuck in the crowds — you can also browse some fabulous itineraries on the Visit Costa Rica website for inspiration⁴.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
On the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is a perfect beach destination with surfing, sun and poolside cocktails. It’s got a laid back, alternative vibe and as a smaller town doesn’t get so packed out with tourists. This means that while you’ll be able to find bars, restaurants and everything else you might want to make your trip enjoyable, it stays pretty safe.
Over on the Pacific coast, in Guanacaste Province, Tamarindo is another solid bet for a safe trip to Costa Rica. With a reputation for being one of the safest places in Costa Rica, Tamarindo offers great beaches — and if you’re there at the right time of the year you might even get to see leatherback turtles.
Monteverde is one of the top ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica, and a safe place to visit. The main draw is the cloud forest where you can trek and tour, and take in the stunning natural scenery. Although it’s possible to hike and visit alone, you’ll get more out of it by hiring a local guide, and can contribute to the local economy at the same time as spotting the wildlife.
Places you might want to avoid when in Costa Rica
It’s worth knowing that many of the crimes reported by US tourists in Costa Rica are pickpocketings which take place in busy, crowded tourist areas. This is even more prevalent during the holiday season when crowds are bigger.
Keep your wits about you when you’re in a bustling crowd, particularly in bigger cities — and consider skipping Quepos if you can. As a popular and busy tourist destination, there are fairly high rates of minor crimes reported here.
In terms of more serious potential issues, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Costa Rica report suggests visitors avoid downtown San José after dark — in fact US officials are prohibited from staying in certain downtown hotels due to crime and safety concerns.
Important information about going to Costa Rica
Make sure you’re familiar with what to do in an emergency when you travel. While nobody wants to think about things going wrong during a trip, knowing some basics can help stop a small problem becoming a crisis. Here’s all you need to know about getting help and assistance when you’re in Costa Rica.
Emergency numbers and contact
In an emergency, call 911. It’s worth knowing that some remote areas have limited cell phone coverage, so you’ll need to keep someone informed of your plans when you’re out of range.
If you need support from the US Embassy in Costa Rica you can call on + (506) 2519-2000 or + (506) 2220-3127 for emergency assistance. Here’s the address if you need in person help:
U.S. Embassy San José
Calle 98, Via 104
San José, Costa Rica
You can also enrol in the US government’s Smart Traveler program to get updates and safety information when you travel⁵.
Costa Rica travel restrictions
At the time of writing the US government has a Level 4 travel advisory in place for Costa Rica due to Covid. This means that you’re advised against traveling.
However, international restrictions and travel rules are changing rapidly, so you’ll need to check the up to date situation from official sources when you plan your trip to Costa Rica.
Good resources to use include the State Department country page for Costa Rica and the US Embassy website. Make sure you fully understand the rules for travel and any specific covid related requirements before you make any bookings.
FAQ for Costa Rica travel
Let’s run through some common questions about travel to Costa Rica.
Is transportation safe in Costa Rica?
Planning ahead when you travel is the best way to stay safe and have a stress free trip.
- Driving your own or a rental vehicle in Costa Rica is challenging, with accidents common and drivers targeted by criminals
- Official registered taxis in Costa Rica are red or orange with a yellow triangle on the side door, and should have a meter for payment. Check the number on the triangle matches the vehicle license plate.
- Uber is available and popular in Costa Rica
- Extreme weather or volcanic activity can cause flight schedule changes or delays
Is it safe to drive or rent a car in Costa Rica?
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) describes driving in Costa Rica as extremely challenging⁶. Road conditions can be poor which causes damage to vehicles, and roads in populated areas can be extremely busy. This can lead to delays and aggressive driving, as well as accidents. Drivers are also targeted by criminals — one reported method is for criminals to force drivers to stop by causing a minor accident, before robbing or kidnapping the victims.
Is it safe to hitchhike in Costa Rica?
Hitchhiking is not advisable in Costa Rica due to the risk of crime.
Can you drink tap water in Costa Rica?
It is usually safe to drink tap water in Costa Rica. If you’re in an extremely rural or under developed area you may decide to use bottled water instead.
How safe is the food in Costa Rica?
The food in Costa Rica is safe. Take normal precautions around food hygiene and you’ll be just fine.
Do you need any special vaccinations?
You may be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination if you’re arriving in Costa Rica from certain countries in South America or Africa⁷.
What’s the risk of getting Zika in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is not experiencing a Zika outbreak at the time of writing. You can get up to date information on Zika prevalence in different countries through the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website⁸.
|Tip: Avoiding mosquito bites where possible will further reduce the risk of any problems with Zika. Take and use mosquito repellant when you travel to Costa Rica, cover up — especially after dark, and use a mosquito net at night.|
Is it safe to get an Airbnb in Costa Rica?
It’s safe to use Airbnb in Costa Rica. Use the same precautions when booking an Airbnb in Costa Rica as you would in any other destination, choosing reliable, well rated hosts, and making sure people you know are aware of your destination and plans.
Is Costa Rica friendly to the LGBTQ+ community?
Costa Rica has a reputation as a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is legal and same sex marriages are recognised. You’ll find gay bars and venues, as well as plenty of gay-friendly destinations. As you’d expect, attitudes among individuals vary, and you’ll still come across very conservative attitudes in some places in Costa Rica.
There’s general advice for LGBTQ+ travelers on the State Department website if you have specific concerns⁹.
Costa Rica is a dream destination for many travelers. And using some basic safety precautions it’s also a perfectly safe place to head to once the world gets moving again. Use this guide as a starting point to help you plan — and don’t forget to open a Wise Multi-currency Account to help cut the costs of currency exchange and keep your travel money safe.
|Read more: the cost of living in Costa Rica|
Sources checked on 11.11.2021
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
Is it Safe to Travel to Costa Rica in 2021?
Given all that’s gone on in the world, travelers are questioning everything, even whether it’s safe to go to Costa Rica, the traditional safe-but-exotic destination for backpacking trips and Spanish Club excursions.
The good news is that Costa Rica lives up to its billing as one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere. By taking a few simple precautions you can have a great time and enjoy the country’s cities, beaches, rainforests, and mountains.
Numbers show Costa Rica’s safety
Here’s Costa Rica by the safety numbers:
- 17: The annual Safest Places Ratings from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection place Costa Rica 17th out of 30 countries, and safest in the region, though in the past the country has been ranked as high as 23rd out of 56.
- 39: One of the fascinating facts about Costa Rica is that the country has not had a standing army since 1949. For that reason and others, including a low incarceration rate, the Global Peace Index ranks the country 39th out of 163 countries and tops in the region.
- 4: Finally, the State Department gives Costa Rica a level-4 (“Do Not Travel”) rating, almost entirely because of COVID.
Photo by Nathan Farrish on Unsplash
Costa Rica and COVID
Speaking of COVID, the virus has been a significant problem in Costa Rica, and a significant barrier to reestablishing tourism in the country.
Currently the State Department has outlined the following COVID-related rules for Americans looking to travel to Costa Rica:
- Can enter the country without having to test or quarantine if they produce proof of vaccination upon arrival
- Don’t have to buy travel insurance (though it’s recommended)
- Can stay a maximum of 90 days
- Need to provide proof of at least $50,000 in travel medical insurance
- May need to provide proof they have at least $2,000 in trip delay travel insurance coverage
- Have to fill out a health history form
- May have their stay in the country limited to less than 90 days
- Bad roads, with many potholes
- Roads too narrow and winding to accommodate traffic
- Poor lighting and marking of roads
- Frequent traffic jams
- Multiple accidents
- Ignorance of traffic laws and speed limits
- Avoid going out alone at night
- Dress modestly and don’t show fancy clothes or jewelry
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Let people know where you’re going
- Split up money and valuables
- Be careful in the gateway cities. According to The Broke Backpacker , crime is higher in Quepos and other cities that often serve as entry points for the national parks.
- Let people know where you’re going. Give them a rough itinerary, knowing that you won’t always be reachable by phone.
- Avoid accepting rides from strangers.
- Pack mosquito repellent that’s high in DEET. Costa Rican mosquitoes are nasty – and they often carry disease.
- Watch the weather. Major weather events are relatively rare in Costa Rica, but according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development , the country is susceptible to earthquakes, floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
- Make sure you choose travel insurance with high levels of coverage for medical emergencies and medical evacuation. ExactCare Extra®
from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has up to $50,000 in medical and $500,000 in evacuation coverage.
- Enrolling in STEP gets you contact information for and the location of the nearest embassy or consulate, so you can expedite the process of getting a replacement.
- The travel assistance included with every Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection plan can help make calls on your behalf and keep working with the necessary parties while you keep traveling.
- The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory (“reconsider travel”) for all South American countries except Uruguay , which remains a Level 2 (“exercise increased caution”), and Argentina , Brazil , and Venezuela , all under a Level 4 (“do not travel”).
- Prior to 2020, all but one were under a Level 2 due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and/or civil unrest. Venezuela has been placed under a Level 4 due to “crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest, and detention of U.S. citizens,” the advisory says .
- Colombians have a saying, no dar papaya (don’t give papaya), which means “don’t be stupid,” or—in other words—don’t put yourself in a position to be taken advantage of. Travelers should walk with confidence, stay aware, and avoid looking like a target.
- Educate yourself on the current affairs of your destination and avoid demonstrations or any unrest while there.
- Keep in mind that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups. One or more will distract you while another does the stealing. or Portuguese in case of an emergency.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the locale and situation. Dress like the locals and conceal any valuable possessions (iPhones, cameras, jewelry, etc.).
- It’s always a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate before traveling abroad.
As always, check the State Department’s Costa Rica travel advisory page regularly, check the U.S. Embassy’s page , and enroll in the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive regular travel alerts for Costa Rica.
Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash
How travelers can stay safe
Beyond getting vaccinated, there are several ways travelers can stay safe when they travel to and around Costa Rica.
However, safety measures can vary based on where you are and what you’re doing.
Petty theft is common at bus stations. Look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, and keep a particular eye on your belongings.
If you’re using an ATM at a bus station, cover the keypad with your hand and look around before entering your PIN.
Beware of good Samaritans offering to carry your bags in bus stations and airports. It’s often a scam.
According to the U.S. government’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), “Driving can be extremely challenging, even to the most experienced driver.”
The OSAC report goes on to cite:
If you do decide to drive in Costa Rica in spite of all that, be careful.
Photo by William Krause on Unsplash
Only use cabs from reputable companies – generally red or orange cars with a yellow triangle on the door and functioning meters. Uber is also an option.
Flying is generally safe and reliable. However, smaller planes that fly into the interior are often grounded by weather and/or volcanic activity. This can wreak havoc with travel plans, making travel insurance more of a must-have for these trips.
In the cities
San José is Costa Rica’s largest city, a vibrant place and the country’s capital, but also one of the places in Costa Rica where crime is a particular concern.
As OSAC notes, “There is considerable risk from crime in San José.”
The agency goes on to state, “While the vast majority of visitors to Costa Rica do not become victims of crime … Theft is common in highly populated and tourist areas, particularly in cases where individuals do not closely watch personal belongings.
“The most common types of theft that occur include vehicle burglary, home robbery, pickpocketing, smash-and-grab, mugging, and purse/wallet snatching … Crimes that are more serious (e.g. armed robbery, sexual assault, and homicide) do occur, although less frequently.”
To make yourself less of a target in the cities:
Photo by Delphine Beausoleil on Unsplash
On the beach
Unlike many other Central American countries, Costa Rica has a lot of lifeguards. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll be on every beach when you want to swim.
Regardless of whether there’s a lifeguard present, and no matter how safe the water is, you need to exercise caution.
In addition, you need to have a plan for keeping your passport, wallet, phone, and other important stuff safe when you’re at the beach – and especially when you’re in the water.
If the beach doesn’t have secure lockers available, you’ll need to carry the important stuff with you, making a waterproof swim pouch or fanny pack (like the ones made by Booe ) a must. However, make sure the pouch you choose is 100% waterproof, and follow all instructions for use.
In the backcountry
Costa Rica is a great country for backpackers, and explorers of all types. If you do decide to go exploring in Costa Rica’s amazing national parks, follow these safety tips:
Photo by Fabio Fistarol on Unsplash
If you get sick
Speaking of mosquitoes and medical emergencies, zika – remember that? – is still a pretty big deal in Costa Rica, hence the admonition to pack mosquito repellent.
Zika’s incubation period means you may not get sick in-country, but there are plenty of other maladies that you can contract – not to mention injuries from falls and car accidents.
Oh, right – and COVID.
Self-quarantine if your symptoms match those of COVID. Costa Rica has outstanding healthcare, so don’t be afraid to call a doctor; just be sure to let your travel medical insurance carrier also know about your medical issues, so they can help arrange payment and coordinate care.
There’s a reason why the State Department and the Costa Rican government recommend travel medical insurance. If you have a medical emergency, it just makes everything easier.
If you lose crucial documents
Whether you leave your passport on the beach, lose it in the rainforest, or have it stolen from your backpack, getting a replacement can be difficult.
Two things can really help:
You can help yourself as well. Make multiple copies of important documents and keep them in multiple locations. Spread around money and credit cards.
Costa Rica really is one of the safest and most beautiful destinations in the Western Hemisphere for American tourists. A few simple precautions – and travel insurance from BHTP – is all it takes to have a great time.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Check out our online guide, “What Is Travel Insurance All About?” We’ve provided in-depth answers to all your travel insurance questions, starting with the basics.
Is It Safe in South America?
Bonnie is a freelance writer born and raised in South America who has covered the continent for 11 years.
Pierre-Yves Babelon / Getty Images
South America—home of the famous Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Patagonia, and more—attracts roughly 37 million tourists per year. Naturally, due to the presence of rebel groups and its notoriously violent illegal drug trade, parts of the continent have been deemed unsafe for tourism. But even Colombia, widely avoided as a travel destination until the early aughts, has turned its reputation around in recent years. There are many places to visit in South America if you practice basic safety and stay away from certain areas and activities.
Is South America Dangerous?
While some parts of South America have been deemed dangerous by the U.S. Department of State, much of the continent is perfectly safe to visit. Travelers are advised to avoid the entire country of Venezuela due to ongoing political instability. Parts of Colombia—Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta)—are also under a Level 4 because of crime, terrorism, and kidnapping . In 2019, the U.S. Department of State warned of “K risks” in 35 countries following the kidnapping of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott in Uganda . Venezuela and Colombia were the only two South American countries on the list.
The safest places in the continent seem to be the stunning beaches of French Guiana, Uruguay, the volcano-laden nation of Chile, Suriname (South America’s smallest), Paraguay, and Argentina. Wherever you go, leave your valuables at home and travel with an abundance caution.
Is South America Safe for Solo Travelers?
South America is safe for solo travelers so long as they stick to low-risk areas and remain vigilant. Many of its cities and countries are popular tourist destinations with countless hostels frequented by the backpacker set. Solo travelers should stick to these areas—Bogota, Colombia; Jijoca de Jericoacoara, Brazil; Santiago de Chile, Chile; Mendoza, Argentina; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for instance—and only travel to more remote or dangerous areas with a licensed tour guide. As with any city, solo travelers should avoid going out alone at night and taking solo taxi rides. Kidnappings happen, so use the buddy system as often as possible.
Is South America Safe for Female Travelers?
Women travel to South America all the time—often in groups, sometimes alone—and many of them return home with only positive experiences. Women’s rights are not as progressive in South America as they are in the U.S. and there are frequent reports of domestic violence in many countries; however, this doesn’t generally put female travelers at risk. Because of South America’s very macho, chauvinistic culture, women may experience cat calling or other hassle from men. What they should really keep an eye out for, though, is pickpocketing and other non-violent crime. Female travelers are vulnerable, especially when alone, so they should keep their guards up and travel in groups when possible.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Homosexuality is legal in every South American country except Guyana, where it is punishable by life imprisonment (although that rule is rarely enforced). Same-sex marriage is illegal in seven countries: Bolivia, Chile, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Anti-discrimination laws are in place everywhere except Guyana, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina. Travelers should know the laws of the countries they intend to visit, and try to avoid public displays of affection even where it’s legal as violence towards LGBTQ+ individuals and couples still occurs.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Demographics vary by country—for instance, Argentina is 85 percent white whereas Suriname is primarily Black and East Indian . Bolivia is 55 percent Amerindian while 75 percent of Paraguay’s population identifies as mestizo . South America, as a whole, is a melting pot of races and ethnicities, and the vast majority of it is extremely hospitable and welcoming. That being said, racism is prevalent (as it is throughout the world), and exists in various forms. So long as BIPOC travelers stick to the tourist-centric places where locals are more exposed to diversity and are therefore more accepting, they shouldn’t encounter any trouble.
Safety Tips for Travelers
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U.S. Department of State. “Uruguay Travel Advisory.” November 23, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Argentina Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Brazil Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Venezuela Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Colombia Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Introduction of K Risk Indicator.” April 9, 2019.