Canada has issued “Safety and security” warning for travel to Costa Rica. The Advisory, issued on May 13, 2019, and still active today, is due to the increased potential for ‘crime’.

“The rate of drug-related violent crimes, including homicides, is on the rise in Costa Rica. Drug trafficking is common. Local drug use, including crack, is a major concern,” says the Advisory.

The travel advisory warns Canadian travelers to Costa Rica of violent crime, express kidnapping, petty crime and theft from vehicles.

The Advisory also discusses concerns about public transportation, taxis, fraud, women’s safety, spiked food and drinks, demonstrations, and maritime and air travel and more.

“Violent crime against foreigners, though not frequent, is a concern. Incidents of armed robberies, carjackings and home invasions have occurred in beach areas and on the main highways in the Central Valley region, even in daylight. Violent assaults against Canadians have occurred in Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo,’ says the advisory.

From the Travel Advisory page of the Canadian government:

Violent crime

Violent crime against foreigners, though not frequent, is a concern. Incidents of armed robberies, carjackings and home invasions have occurred in beach areas and on the main highways in the Central Valley region, even in daylight. Violent assaults against Canadians have occurred in Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo.

  • Do not walk alone after dusk or at dawn
  • Avoid remote or isolated areas, including roads and trails
  • If you are threatened by armed criminals, do as they ask without hesitation, as resisting may result in the escalation of violence

Express kidnapping

Cases of express kidnapping, where victims are picked up from the street and forced to withdraw funds from ABMs, have occurred, sometimes at gunpoint.

Petty crime

Petty crime—including pickpocketing and bag snatching—occurs frequently. Tourists are common targets for theft because they are perceived as being wealthy.

Cases of passport theft are extremely common and increase in frequency during the peak tourist seasons, from November to May and from July to August.

  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings
  • Avoid isolated areas and never walk alone at night
  • Avoid showing signs of affluence and never leave valuables such as money, credit cards, jewellery, cell phones and other electronics unattended, especially on beaches
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash and use caution at automated banking machines (ABMs)

Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times

Carry a photocopy of the identification page of your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp, with you at all times.

Foreigners are often victims of theft on buses and at bus stations, airports, ports, crowded tourist attractions, restaurants and resort areas. Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts the victims’ attention while the other snatches their possessions.

  • When travelling by public bus, avoid placing personal belongings in the overhead compartment or under your seat.
  • Keep your bag with valuables and identification in your lap.
    Stay at hotels and rental houses that have security measures such as guards and security cameras.
  • Always lock your doors, even while in the room or if you leave for a few minutes.
    Don’t leave valuables in plain sight

Exercise particular caution in the capital, San José. High-risk areas for theft include:

  • the Coca Cola bus terminal (near the Zona Roja or red light district)
  • the inner downtown area and public parks

Caribbean coast

On the Caribbean coast, be particularly vigilant in Limón province towns of:

  • Cahuita
  • Puerto Limón (its port areas)
  • Puerto Viejo.

Pacific coast

In Puntarenas province, the following areas are of particular concern for theft:

  • Dominical
  • Jacó
  • Manuel Antonio
  • Quepos
  • Cobano area, including Mal País, Montezuma and Santa Teresa, and the port of Puntarenas.

Cars parked near the popular crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River near Jacó are particularly vulnerable to theft when a designated police patrol car is not on site.

Theft from vehicles

Theft from vehicles is very common, especially at hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, store lots, national parks and beaches.

The theft of rental cars is also common throughout the country. Thieves know the makes and models of rental cars, making them easy targets.

  • Don’t leave your passport or your valuables in the car, even if you leave the car for only a few minutes
  • Park your vehicle in supervised parqueos públicos (public parking lots)
  • Keep your windows up and doors locked at all times
  • Beware of “good Samaritans” offering to help change a flat tire. Calmly refuse their help and contact Costa Rican authorities and, if you rented the car, the rental agency.
  • Don’t stop to change a flat tire in an isolated area, and keep the doors of the vehicle locked while changing a tire
  • Ensure emergency assistance is offered by the rental agency when renting a car

Fraud

Credit card fraud is a growing problem.

Women’s safety

Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach resorts and by taxi drivers in San José have been reported. The risk increases for women travelling alone and they may be subject to some forms of harassment and verbal abuse.

Safe-travel guide for women

Spiked food and drinks

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances. These items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations take place from time to time, particularly in San José. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.

Costa Rica’s constitution prohibits political activity by foreigners; such actions may result in detention or deportation.

  • Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities
  • Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations

Road safety

Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. In some areas, potholes, sharp curves, lack of traffic signs, landslides and narrow or unpaved roads create dangerous road conditions. Driving conditions may be hazardous during the rainy season.

Exercise great caution when driving or walking, as drivers don’t respect traffic laws. Be careful after dark, especially on rural roads, as motorists often drive without lights at night.

Remain vigilant when stopped at lights or stop signs, and always drive with the doors locked and windows closed. Keep your valuables out of plain sight when driving and avoid travel at night to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime.

If you are involved in a car accident:

  • call 911 to notify authorities
  • inform the car rental agency, if applicable
  • don’t move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police

Public transportation

Public bus transportation is unreliable. Police checks of passengers on public transportation occur and are often used to determine whether foreigners have overstayed the 90-day visa exemption period.

Taxis

Only use official radio-dispatched taxis (orange taxis at the airport and red taxis with a yellow triangle on the side elsewhere in the country).

  • make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter
  • avoid taxis that do not have working door handles, locks and meters
    don’t ride in the front seat with the driver

Maritime travel

If navigating the coasts, proceed with caution, as safety and rescue operations are limited due to a lack of resources.

Air travel

We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.

Swimming

Riptides are common. Several drownings occur each year.

Very few beaches are supervised with lifeguards or have signs warning of dangerous conditions.

  • Never swim alone
  • Seek the advice of local authorities before venturing into the water

The Costa Rican Tourism Bureau provides important advice on safety matters, such as swimming in the ocean and avoiding crocodiles.

Adventure tourism

White-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring and other adventure sports should only be undertaken with a well-established company that has insurance. Safety features on small boats are not always reliable. If you have any doubt concerning the safety of the installation or equipment, refrain from using them.

  • Ensure that the recreational activities you choose are covered by your travel insurance.
  • Never walk or hike alone..
  • Avoid camping or sleeping overnight on beaches.
  • If you intend to visit jungle areas, always go with an experienced and reputable guide.

National parks

The Costa Rican government requires all visitors to national parks to register their entry with the National Park Service and to obtain a permit to enter the park. Life-threatening fauna such as jaguars, pumas, wild pigs and poisonous snakes are common in some parks, especially in the densely wooded areas

Zika

A second advisory is about the Zika virus by the Public Health Agency of Canada, recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions, in particular, pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant.

Editor’s Note

While countries like Canada and the United States often issue travel advisories for different countries, including the land of “Pura Vida”, they are meant to make the public aware before travel.

While many of the issues raised in the Canadian advisory are valid, the most important tool a visitor to Costa Rica (or to any other country) should be armed with is common sense.

We’ve seen many visitors arrive and somehow check their common sense at the gate even before leaving their home country.

See full advisory details here.

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