Although it’s not unheard of, violent crime involving foreigners is rare in Costa Rica. The government and business people are aware what a huge impact the negative publicity from even a single incident can have on the number one industry in the country. It’s a little cynical, but you can be sure that they are doing everything possible to ensure your safety, because if you get mugged it might cost you a hundred bucks and a trip to the emergency room, but it will cost them millions.
There are simple things you can do to reduce your risk. We spent a few years away from Colorado living in the most notorious borough of New York City, the Bronx. The admonitions we learned there apply to cities all over the world.
Know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Read up in your guide book and familiarize yourself ahead of time, all those authors want you as a return customer and won’t send you to Hell’s Kitchen NYC or Coca Cola San José without ample warning.
Plan your route on a map ahead of time, know where you are going, walk with relaxed confidence and purpose. If you get lost, don’t stop acting like you know where you are going until you are somewhere safe (cafe, bookstore, someone’s house). If you have to ask directions on the street, young women are your best bet, they are safety conscious and won’t direct you through bad areas.
There are taxis all over in an emergency jump in one (make sure it’s an officially licensed cab, they are usually obvious). Buses work well too, but you never know exactly where they are headed…if it’s an emergency you probably won’t care.
Be aware of your surroundings and your stuff. Be aware that there’s more going on in cities, higher densities of criminals, and more opportunities for distractions. Don’t flash cash/cameras/jewelry.
Talk to people (not necessarily the guy playing mayonnaise buckets in the Times Square subway station), but other travelers, at your hotel desk, in restaurants, and museums. Let them know where you are going and what you are planning to do, believe me, you’ll get up to the minute reports of any discomfort or unsafe experiences they had if they took a similar route. You’ll also get great suggestions for alternatives and someone will know where you were headed if you turn up missing (which almost certainly means you found an amazing beach with no phone or internet access).
If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, stay calm, look down, be quiet; remember that it’s just stuff and let them take it if they really want it.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
The combination of the Latin macho sensibility and tourists trying to let their hair down a little can lead to uncomfortable situations for women. Usually this is limited to shouted suggestive comments (that the instigators often genuinely believe are complimentary), but some travelers report being groped or grabbed. It’s best not to go to bars alone, or walk alone after dark or in remote areas.
Men face a different danger from sex. Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, but often connected with theft, STDs or mugging.
Date rape drugs are available in Costa Rica and used on both men and women for sexual assault and robbery.