Safety tips to travel in Costa Rica or anywhere else!
Terranova | January 8, 2019
Safety tips to travel in Costa Rica are essential to follow and be aware of them at all times not because Costa Rica is more dangerous than other countries, neighbors or not, but mainly because many things don’t happen if you know some of this advice.
Nowadays, in the times of internet, travel has evolved to be an experience that you can do without any advice or guide whatsoever. You get into your phone and you arrange easily two weeks -or two years for that matter- vacation and everything seem to go perfectly well. However, sometimes it simply doesn’t.
And safety is, and will always be a priority when you travel.
So! Let’s start!
First is first:
The unavoidable question is: Do I plan it by myself or do I hire a travel agency?
And here goes our main recommendation:
1. It is safer to travel with a travel agency.
It is a fact, more than a tip, it is highly advisable.
Probably that would be the most important of any safety tips for anyone traveling in Costa Rica. A travel agent is not more expensive than whatever arrangements you do by yourself, but more importantly, it’s like a guardian angel that will take care of you.
From the transportation to the hotels, and guides, but even beyond, like saying “Don’t go there, and stay on that side of the…” It is always a local expert guiding you so that the primary goal of your vacation gets done… What was your primary goal? Well! Enjoyment, leisure, rest.
Travel agencies know who they hire, check their resumes, ask for the delinquency records and will guarantee that you are always safe with the tour guides, drivers, hotel staff, etc. You will have someone checking on you, confirming your reservations ahead of time and you can truly concentrate on the reason you took vacations at last: You can just relax and have fun!
If you want to play it safe, go for a real travel agent.
2. Read, plan your trip thoroughly and then read more
Either coming with a travel agency or by yourself, plan everything thoughtfully. Learn everything you can get on what you are interested in Costa Rica. Adventures? Rainforest? Beach? Read, read, read!
Ask as many questions as possible, don’t let a question without an answer. For us, at Terranova, the more questions you ask us, the more we know where is best and safer for you.
Before starting the trip
Give your contact information and travel plans to a close person, either a family member or friend
Get and bring color copies of your passport.
Always have your embassy information with you.
Inform your bank you are traveling so that your cards will be allowed to be used elsewhere.
Leave valuable jewelry at home.
Leave additional credit cards at home.
Download some useful Costa Rica apps.
Get travel insurance.
In Costa Rica:
Costa Rican Police
Costa Rica has a regular police force and a tourist police.
The “Policía Turística” (Tourism Police) was created to grant the safety of the travelers that visit Costa Rica. They speak fluent English and are there to assist you. You can recognize them as they are wearing a white shirt with a badge that says underneath “Policía Turística.”
Other police officers wear dark blue uniforms, is the Public Force and is the principal police force handling crimes in action.
Police Communication with Foreigners
The Costa Rican police force is usually charming to travelers. You don’t have to be concerned about them firing you for no cause or instantly suspecting you for doing something forbidden.
Don’t be afraid to talk to them since it is their responsibility to help. And they do an excellent job supporting the positive name of Costa Ricans being kind and helpful people.
Additionally, don’t get scared if you see tourist police approaching to you, it is part of their job to see that you are having a good time and they will handle this pamphlet with all the needed instructions to play it safe while you are here.
In the City
Keep your camera in your bag when walking around the city, only take it out when you are to take a picture.
Don’t wear clothes to draw attention.
If you are using a backpack, it is better to manage it in front of you than on your back.
Check yourself if someone pushes, pulls you or bumps into you and make sure all your belongings are there.
(For men and in San José: watch out with the prostitutes that grab you in the street).
If you think you’re being followed, go to into the closest store or a public building and ask to call the police.
Don’t walk around San Jose at night. Always take a taxi or Uber if you will be going out. And send a picture of the plate number to your friend at home.
Ask your hotel staff what the reliable routes and the places to avoid are.
If You’re Renting a Car and Driving
Make sure you have the car rental information with you as you come out of the airport and confirm that the person picking you up is a representative of the agency.
Check that your car has the safety equipment and that works well.
It is a requirement to have your original passport with you when you’re driving in Costa Rica
Buckling up is mandatory in Costa Rica even on dirt roads.
When leaving the car, lock the doors and make sure all windows are rolled up.
In many places in Costa Rica, you will find open parking places with people guarding them. They will charge a small amount for them to watch the car. Hateful as it is to admit it, it’s easier to pay them than not. But don’t rely on them for the security of your car.
Always wear your seat belt.
Don’t pick up anyone on the way. Sometimes we feel tempted to pick school students or people that somehow look vulnerable. (Not to talk about hitchhikers). Don’t.
If someone signals you to pull over, don’t. Drive to the closest gas station, store, hotel or public building and then check. If something is amiss, call your car rental office.
If you are stopped by a traffic officer who is attempting to bribe you, you can report them to 911 or the car rental company or 911. It is illegal.
If you have a flat tire, pull over to a reliable place, replace the tire and then ride to the nearest office of your rental agency to get it fixed. You can also go to the gas station or to a tires place to get it changed. Do not trust anyone who will guide you in an office in the interior to help you.
Know that flat tires are not covered by insurance.
Book with a certified tour operator that is registered on the VisitCostaRica.com website.
Ask for a written confirmation when pre-booking tours.
Don’t buy tours on the street or beach, even if it’s cheaper. Other than the fact that usually these companies or people are not regulated or have insurance, it can be dangerous.
If you feel the tour operator you hired were reckless in any way, you can report them to 50622995811.
When Staying at a Hotel
Use the safety box.
If you suffer a crime at your hotel, report it to 911 and file a report to the OIJ.
Keep your hotel doors and windows locked.
If you are asked about it, never give the information about your hotel, and always say that you are traveling with someone.
If you see other guests accompanying outsiders in, ask the front desk as many hotels do not allow this.
When Staying at a Vacation Rental
If using a service like Airbnb make sure of the safety of the place in every regard.
Read the cancellation thoughtfully and check in and check out policies.
In the case of Airbnb, it sometimes happens that they hire staff, but they cannot be as strict as hotels in employing, please do not trust anyone to go to their homes, or take you somewhere.
Get a Costa Rican SIM card, so you can call your host whenever you need it.
At a Restaurant
Check that the prices on the menu include tax and service fee (they have to, but as a way to make the rates look lower, they sum it later).
Review your receipt and ensure that the costs were correct.
Never hang your bag on your chair back or put it under.
Keep it somewhere you can see it.
Don’t accept any invitations from strangers, especially if you are a solo woman. A woman alone for some men invites to interaction just by smiling.
When Getting Gas
If paying by debit or credit card, get out and keep an eye on your credit card.
Verify the amount they are charging is the same as on the meter.
For any adventure tours:
Please listen and make sure you understand the safety instructions. Sometimes the tour guides English is not as good as it should and you are embarrassed to ask further questions. It is better to pass through a bit of embarrassment than to have an accident.
If the tour guides say that they cannot go on, or even start the tour due to weather conditions, don’t push it, they know.
If you are rafting, zip-lining or horseback riding and the weather seems too harsh and you are nervous about doing the tour, please do not do it. Follow your gut.
If you hike alone, make sure you let the hotel staff and the person in contact back home know where you are going.
Bring a day bag with water, snacks, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
Bring candy; sometimes it may save you from low sugar issues.
Never walk out of the trail, not even as a shortcut, the rainforest is a terrible and very easy place to get lost.
Don’t touch trees, plants, leaves or grass. (And if you must, please check well where you are putting your hand) There could be ants, spiders, wasps, snakes, and vipers, hiding and camouflaged there.
Do not eat anything of the forest unless you are with a tour guide that tells you to try something.
Never touch or feed the wildlife.
Don’t leave your garbage.
It’s a good idea to bring a loud whistle with you if you are hiking by yourself. It may save your life.
Before you go into the ocean, ask locals about the riptides conditions. There are some pretty dangerous spots in the Central and South Pacific.
Don’t take any valuables to the beach or leave them neglected.
If you can’t swim, stay in the waves up to your waist or even shallower. Currents may make you fall and pull you into the depth.
Never swim alone.
Look out for banners signaling for crocs or rip tides.
In case of undercurrents, follow the following: Stay as calm as possible, keep your head out and breath slowly then, swim perpendicular to the riptide or parallel to the shore, float while waiting for the current to get you back closer to the land. If it doesn’t, swing your arms and scream to get attention.
Ask the locals what the waves, currents and tides situation before going out
Never surf alone or in surf spots that are exceeding your experience level.
Use a leash.
If you are a novice or first timer, pay for surfing lessons. Chances are to have an accident just by thinking it looks easy… It is not. And it might be dangerous not to know how to do it properly.
Crocodiles come to some beaches in Costa Rica, ask the locals and keep close to other surfers.
Forget about wearing jeans; they can turn into hell on a hot day, heavy as a rock on a rainy day and really cold if it is chilly. Plus they are stiff.
Wear long pants.
Check the company you are using. There are locals everywhere who would rent their horses but have no insurance, safety plans or emergency response.
Invariably wear a helmet.
The company must supply an expert bilingual guide.
Sometimes it happens that when horses smell the stables, they start trotting or galloping, don’t freak out – this will only scare the horse too!
Never touch or play, or lose your equipment. If you release any belts or harness, your life may be in danger.
Make sure your helmet is well set.
Check the ziplining conditions for kids. All ziplining tour operators have weight and height specifications, do not try to dispute upon.
Make sure you understand all the instructions and safety procedures the guides give you. Ask questions if you’re not sure.
Go with a certified diving center organization.
Verify the air in the compressor is clean.
Boats should have the following equipment: first aid kit and someone trained in CPR, oxygen equipment with sufficient oxygen in good condition, drinkable water, life vests, communication devices, diving flags, and enough staff to attend every one.
Verify the date of the latest hydrostatic analysis.
Don’t dive if you don’t have experience.
Make sure you wear a helmet and appropriate clothing.
Book ATV tours with well-known companies that have insurance.
Kids under cannot ride ATVs alone. If a provider concedes them to ride, then they are not reliable.
Never ride under the consumption of drugs or alcohol. (If the company allows you, and the police stop you, you may end up in jail).
Check your ATV before driving it: Wheels, brakes, oil and gasoline levels, foot-shifter, etc.
Use only banks or approved exchange booths to change money.
Make ATM withdrawals during the day.
Have a picture of the immigration stamp in your passport on your cell phone.
Don’t have a lot of cash with you in any part of the trip. Use your room safety box.
Never walk alone in the evening to unfamiliar places or streets. If you feel nervous, find a public place.
We suggest buying a pre-paid Costa Rica sim card (You can get it at the airport in the Kolbi (Phone company) booth. (PICTURE)
You can get international roaming plans from your provider, but the benefit of having a Costa Rican phone number is that you can call local companies or in case of emergency.
Always have a bit of cash with you, preferably Costa Rican colones. (With ¢12,000 -$20- would be enough)
What to Do in Case of Emergency
Before you travel: Get travel insurance.
Report your stolen/lost passport to your country’s consulate or embassy without delay.
Call to OIJ and file a report.
Your embassy will give you a provisional replacement passport. You have to travel to your embassy. All embassies and consulates are settled in San Jose.
Car accident/break down
If you get into a car accident, you can move your vehicle if there is an understanding between both factions (or vehicle and object) and if none was hurt, one of the drivers takes responsibility, or it is required to move for traffic flow purposes.
You also need to report the accident to your car rental company promptly. If you don’t, you can be subjected to further fines or not be covered by insurance. In case of injuries, call 911.
File a report in the OIJ/Costa Rican police.
Keep a record of all your paperwork so you can get compensated from your travel insurance (a great reason to buy travel insurance).
The emergency number is 911.
If you are taking any medicines, carry a list of the active ingredients. Also, bring a photocopy of your prescript if you are using opioids. Write down if you have any medication allergies.
If possible make a small plate with your medical condition and have it on a chain your neck or wrist.
If you have a medical issue where you may need primary care, have in mind the hospitals and clinics around your hotel. Always carry with you a paper with the conditions and requirements you need.
Costa Rica has universal social security so, by law, public hospitals have to treat anyone who may need care and medicines, as well as procedures, are free.
If you go to a private hospital, keep the paperwork for insurance purposes.
Unhappily, there are also scams in Costa Rica.
Some of them are:
– False tour guides or tour operations
– Fake Police or traffic officers
– Injured Or Child Beggars
– Money for the bus
– Group Photo Offer
– Fake public bus tickets
– Flirtatious Costa Rican pretty women
– Taxi drivers with a broken meter (Call them Marias here)
– Taxi long routes to charge more
Solo Women traveling in Costa Rica:
You may experience harassment from men, usually in the form of hisses, whispering or even gestures. The best way to deal with it is to ignore it. Don’t hesitate to look for a police officer if you’re being hassled.
Even if you are on a group itinerary or traveling with your family, be extra careful with local men and even male travelers.
Never leave a drink alone. Not even in the day time and in a restaurant.
Never go to a strange man’s house or room for any reason
Don’t reveal where you are staying. Common sense is compulsory!
Waiters, Bellboys, Drivers, and Waiters.
All of them can be enormously funny and super gentle and nice and well! Some of them, yes, flirty. Especially if they see a woman alone. Remember that any flirt back can easily be taken as a real incitement.
If flirting comes to be too much, talk about your husband, boyfriend or similar… Lie without a problem. Carry a false picture. That will be enough usually.
If you are distraught by any tourism staff, please let us know immediately (Remember we have a 24/7 line).
To wrap it up
Murphy’s Law as we know is: ‘if anything can go wrong it will’ and one of the theories of its origin is NASA and an engineer that apparently said it.
However, it is its origin it basically means that if you cover all corners you may play it very safe.
And if you are traveling with us remember that our 24/7 service is here for you and willing to answer any questions, wishes or needs of your trip in Costa Rica!