San José, Costa Rica is a sea of antiquated buses, poorly maintained sidewalks, and street crime that is a pretty big problem.
According to the US Embassy, the crime rate in Costa Rica is high and on the rise. The majority of crime involves theft. Petty theft is very common in highly populated and tourist areas. Pickpocketing, mugging, purse snatching, and theft are common occurrences and are the biggest issues for tourists.
San José, Costa Rica has museums and cultural activities to enjoy, just be mindful of where you are and follow these tips. Don’t overreact to what I am writing. Walking around the downtown area is fun and has excellent people watching, just be cautious and alert.
15 San José, Costa Rica Safety Tips
Don’t be stupid – Always be aware of your surroundings. Although there are police near the market, museums, and theater, you should never let your guard down.
Don’t go off the beat and path or “wonder around” especially at night – This is a city, just like any other and it does have crime. Be safe and stick to the areas that you have planned out.
Men – Carry your wallet in your front pocket, thus avoiding pickpockets in the markets and areas where people can bump into you and steal your valuables.
Woman – Carry a cross body purse or something that closes well.
Don’t leave your stuff lying around – I know this seems like common sense, but Costa Rica is not like your small Texas town. If you leave something unattended on a table or park bench, it’s probably not going to be there when you come back.
Don’t show off money – This hits my first tip of don’t be stupid. If you have a lot of cash, don’t put it all in your wallet and then pay for something showing how much you have. That is dumb and inviting people to rob you. Keep your money in a safe in the hotel or various other safe locations. If you do get in a sticky situation, even if robbers take your money, you will have some back at your hotel (most hotels have safes in the room).
Keep an eye on your credit card statements – Credit card theft/fraud are on the rise in Costa Rica. Many victims maintain physical possession of their card, but their credit card information is stolen and later used without their knowledge. It’s best to check your credit card statements on a daily basis and keep your credit card phone numbers in your safe.
Don’t take your passport to do activities – Keep it in the hotel with your other valuables. It’s smart to keep a color copy of your passport with you, but leave the original in a safe. Passport theft is a big issue, so be mindful.
Make ATM withdrawals during the day – Always keep an eye out for those who look suspicious. I always stand guard when the hubby is at an ATM or vice versa. Also, the inside of the banks are very secure. If you need to change US dollars to Colones or do other transactions it best to go inside the bank.
Have emergency cash with you – As the saying goes, always have something to “feed the wolves.” If you do get robbed, you have a small amount of cash you can give them. This will most likely not happen, but it’s always a good idea to have emergency cash with you for any unforeseen event. A good tip is hide cash deep in a sock, or another pocket and not your wallet. Although we never advise carrying too much cash around with you.
Don’t take what you don’t need – Leave your fancy jewelry at home, your brand name purse, your beautiful watch and anything else that is considered valuable. I don’t take my large camera to San José for a reason. I can take any pictures with the camera phone. Even then I’m pretty cautious about having my phone out much. If you have a large wedding ring, it might be best to leave that at home as well. I have used fake rings when I travel.
The emergency number is 911 – Keep in mind that they have English speaking staff.
Bring a map – Don’t be the dummy walking down the street with your map out. It’s best to step into a restaurant or shop and look at your map there. Figure out where you need to go and put it up. Also, in the central area of San José, there are many police. If you get lost, ask a police officer, a local shop employee or restaurant owner first. It’s best not to ask random person on the street.
Don’t start a conversation with people on the street, just keep moving on. Also, know that nothing is free in San José. It’s best not take advice or invitations from strangers, especially people that you have met on the street, in a bar or restaurant.
Lock it or Lose it – If you do have a car, lock it when you are not in it. Period. Lock your car always, even for 30-second trips to buy something. Car theft is an issue. Keys should never be left in the car. You should NEVER leave valuables in your car where they can be seen.
Never act like a jerk in Costa Rica – Relax and enjoy the Pura Vida lifestyle. Costa Rica is a beautiful country but is very different from your country of origin. Time here is not always our Southern or American way of looking at time; I feel mainly because of traffic. Things won’t always be on time, and that’s ok. Relax.
While the downtown area of San José is a prime tourist destination during daylight hours, we strongly encourage you not to go there after dark. Avoid the El Pueblo Centro Comercial area of San José at all times.
These tips are the basis for travel in about every major city in the world. Violent crimes like murders, robberies, and sexual assault are not frequent against tourists, but it’s always best to have your guard up and follow the tips above.