Is Costa Rica Safe?

Is Costa Rica Safe?

Costa Rica is a safe country when compared to other, similar vacations spots. Almost three-million tourists visit Costa Rica every year. Tourism is a major source of revenue and a huge part of the Costa Rican economy. It is in the interest of all parties that tourists and travelers have a good experience.

However, there are some things that you should do in order to minimize risks associated with traveling in Costa Rica.

Crime

The overwhelming majority of crime that occurs in Costa Rica is petty crime like pickpocketing and theft from unlocked automobiles.

Violent crime is rare compared to other comparable vacation destinations. Costa Rica’s intentional homicide rate is significantly lower than comparable vacation destinations.

Here is a country comparison:

  • Mexico 19.26
  • The Dominican Republic 15.18
  • Belize 37.60
  • Puerto Rico 18.51
  • Jamaica 47.01
  • Bahamas 28.40
  • Costa Rica 11.90

How to avoid being a victim of crime in Costa Rica

Since most crime in Costa Rica is petty crime, or, so-called crimes-of-opportunity, the best way to avoid being a victim is to not provide an opportunity. A little bit of common sense, wariness, and situational awareness go a long way in avoiding being a victim.

The following steps will minimize your risk:

  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Leave your wedding ring at home.
  • Don’t flash your money.
  • Leave everything but what you need secured in your room safe when you go out. Only take the money that you expect to need for that trip.
  • When you arrive at your hotel, ask the hotel staff to make a copy of your passport photo/data page and the page with your entrance stamp. Leave your passport in the safe and carry the copy.
  • Don’t leave any items in your rental car.
  • Lock your hotel room door from the inside anytime that you are in your room.
  • Don’t hang your purse or bag on the back of your chair at a restaurant or bar.
  • If you get a flat tire on the road don’t stop until you get to a populated area.
  • In urban areas and towns, avoid isolated locations, especially at night.
  • Only take legitimate taxis (red with a yellow placard on the door), or, better yet, if you are in the Central Valley, take an Uber.
  • Don’t get so drunk that you lose control of your senses.
  • Don’t let your drink out of field-of-vision. Take it to the restroom, if necessary.

Earthquakes

Costa Rica is prone to frequent minor earthquakes. The Nazca, Cocos and Caribbean tectonic plates converge near the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Additionally, there are 51 faults located in the country.

The good news is, almost all earthquakes in Costa Rica are minor, measuring less than 5.0 on the Richter Scale. In the past 100 years there have only been five major earthquakes. The most recent major earthquake was in 2009. It registered 6.1 on the Richter Scale and resulted in stricter construction guidelines.

If you find yourself experiencing a strong earthquake in Costa Rica (or another place for that matter) the best reaction is to get under a table or door archway until the shaking stops.  

Volcanoes

There are 67 volcanoes in Costa Rica. Only five are active, meaning that they have erupted at least once in the past 10,000 years. The five active volcanoes are Arenal, Rincon de la Vieja, Poas, Irazu and Turrialba.

Turrialba volcano, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from San Jose, has been actively erupting periodically since September of 2016. These eruptions probably aren’t what you imagine when you think of an volcano eruption. There are no huge explosions of lava flowing down the mountain toward the city. These relatively harmless eruptions consist of an impressive large cloud of ash, gas and incandescent material.

Unless you plan on trespassing near the crater at Turrialba (people have done it), there is little volcano risk to you as a tourist or traveler in Costa Rica.

Outside of the crater area, the risk associated with the eruptions, is respiratory irritation due to fine ash in the air. This can manifest itself as:

  • Nasal irritation and discharge (runny nose).
  • Throat irritation and sore throat, sometimes accompanied by dry coughing.
  • People with pre-existing chest complaints may develop severe bronchitic symptoms which last some days beyond exposure to ash (for example, hacking cough, production of sputum, wheezing, or shortness of breath).
  • Airway irritation for people with asthma or bronchitis; common complaints of people with asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. Breathing becomes uncomfortable.

Don’t go to the crater at Turrialba volcano.

If you have respiratory irritation due to ash from an eruption then stay indoors.

While it doesn’t happen often, eruptions of Turrialba can occasionally result in flight cancellations and diversions to San Jose’s busiest airport, Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).

Learn more about Costa Rica's volcanoes here. 
 

Yellow Fever

There is no risk of Yellow Fever in Costa Rica. However, if you are traveling from a country with a Yellow Fever risk, Costa Rica immigration authorities require proof of Yellow Fever vaccinations in order to enter the country.

Here is a list countries with Yellow Fever risk: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/yellow-fever#5291

Unless you are traveling to Costa Rica from one of the countries with Yellow Fever risk, don’t worry about it.

Zika

A few year ago, the Zika virus was a concern for travelers, especially pregnant women. However, more recently, the documented cases of Zika virus have plummeted in the Americas due to so-called “herd immunity” in the tropical Americas.

Nevertheless, it is wise to always take precautions like using mosquito repellent and covering your skin when in moist environments like the jungle.

Hurricanes

Never in recorded history has a hurricane made landfall in Costa Rica. There have been a few close-calls like in 2009 when Hurricane Otto made landfall just north of Costa Rica, in southern Nicaragua.

Hurricanes are less likely to occur close to the equator. They never happen within 5 degrees of the equator and are rare between 5 degrees and 10 degrees. Costa Rica lies between 8 degrees and 12 degrees north of the equator.

Don’t worry about a hurricane. Just keep an eye on the weather forecast during hurricane season, which peaks in August and September.

Zip Line Deaths

Zip lines are thrilling fun. They can also be dangerous. People have died on zip lines in Costa Rica and other places in the world due to shoddy operators ignoring safety practices.

The easiest way to ensure that a zip line operator in Costa Rica follows appropriate safety guidelines is to verify that they are designed and/or certified by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT).

Only ride the zip lines of ACCT associated operators.

Traffic

In Costa Rica the rate of traffic deaths per 100,000 population is only slightly higher than the United States. However, statistically speaking, riding a motorcycle in Costa Rica is more dangerous than crime, earthquakes, kidnapping, Yellow Fever, Zike and hurricanes combined. Almost half of all road fatalities in Costa Rica are motorcycle riders.

The number one tip for staying safe in Costa Rica: Don’t ride a motorcycle.

Health

The lifestyle in Costa Rica is generally healthier than that of many North Americans. The average life expectancy in Costa Rica is higher than the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend the following vaccines for Costa Rica: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, measles, mumps, typhoid and rubella (MMR) and influenza.

To stay extra, extra safe from disease, consider getting the aforementioned vaccines. 

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