Violent crime is not a serious problem in Costa Rica, but thieves can easily prey on tourists, so be alert. The government has created a Tourism Police unit, whose 250-plus officers can be seen on bikes or motorcycles patrolling areas in Guanacaste, San José, and the Arenal area. Crimes against property are rife in San José. In rural areas theft is on the rise.
For many English-speaking tourists, standing out like a sore thumb can't be avoided. But there are some precautions you can take:
Don't bring anything you can't stand to lose.
Don't wear expensive jewelry or watches.
In cities, don't carry expensive cameras or lots of cash.
Carry backpacks on your front; thieves can slit your backpack and run away with its contents before you notice.
Don't wear a waist pack, because thieves can cut the strap.
Distribute your cash and any valuables (including credit cards and passport) between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money belt. (If you use a money belt, carry some cash in your purse or wallet so you don't have to reach for the hidden pouch in public.)
Keep your hand on your wallet if you are in a crowd or on a crowded bus.
Don't let your purse just dangle from your shoulder; always hold on to it with your hand for added security.
Keep car windows rolled up and car doors locked at all times in cities.
Park in designated parking lots, or if that's not possible, accept the offer of the guachimán (a term adopted from English, pronounced "watchie man")—men or boys who watch your car while you're gone. Give them the equivalent of a dollar per hour when you return.
Never leave valuables visible in a car, even in an attended parking lot.
Padlock your luggage.
Talk with locals or your hotel staff about crime in the area. Never walk in a narrow space between a building and a car parked on the street close to it, a prime hiding spot for thieves. Never leave a drink unattended in a club or bar: scams involving date-rape drugs have been reported in the past few years, targeting both men and women.
Never leave your belongings unattended anywhere, including at the beach or in a tent.
If your hotel room has a safe, use it, even if there's an extra charge. If your room doesn't have one, ask the manager to put your valuables in the hotel safe and ask him or her to sign a list of what you are storing there.
If you are involved in an altercation with a mugger, immediately surrender your possessions and walk away quickly.
Scams are common in San José, where a drug addict may tell tales of having recently been robbed, then ask you for donations; a distraction artist might squirt you with something, or spill something on you, then try to clean you off while his partner steals your backpack; and pickpockets and bag slashers work buses and crowds. To top it all off, car theft is rampant. Beware of anyone who seems overly friendly, aggressively helpful, or disrespectful of your personal space. Be particularly vigilant around the Coca-Cola bus terminal, one of the rougher areas but a central tourism hub.
Don't believe taxi drivers when they say the hotel is closed, unless you've personally gotten out and checked it yourself. Many want to take you somewhere else to earn a commission. If a taxi driver says he does not have change and the amount is substantial, ask him to drive to a store or gas station where you can get change. This might be enough to prompt him to suddenly "find" the difference to give you. Avoid paying with large bills to prevent this.
A number of tourists have been hit with the slashed-tire scam: someone punctures the tires of your rental car (often right at the airport, when you arrive) and then comes to your "aid" when you pull off to the side of the road and robs you blind. Forget about the rims: always drive to the nearest open gas station or service center if you get a flat.
Lone women travelers will get a fair amount of attention from men; to avoid hassles, avoid wearing short shorts or skirts. On the bus, try to take a seat next to a woman. Women should not walk alone in San José at night or venture into dangerous areas of the city at all. Ask at your hotel which neighborhoods to avoid. Ignore unwanted comments. If you are being harassed on a bus, at a restaurant, or in some other public place, tell the manager. In taxis, sit in the backseat. If you want to fend off an earnest but decent admirer in a bar, you can politely say, "Por favor, necesito un tiempo a solas" (I'd like some time on my own, please). Stronger is "Por favor, no me moleste" (Please, stop bothering me), and for real pests the simple "Váyase!" (Go away!) is usually effective.
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