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Home > Costa Rica > Destination Costa Rica > Crime


Basically, crime is mostly found in San Jose, some other highly touristed areas and the two port cities of Limon and Puntarenas. Crimes are mostly petty such as pick-pocketing, purse snatching and car radio theft. One of the benefits of not having a military is that Costa Rica is not a gun oriented society. Criminal acts are normally non violent and very few criminals have guns.

There are youth gangs known as 'chopolines', which in Spanish means grasshoppers. They are young street kids who are generally found in the poorer sections of San Jose, Limon and Purtarenas. The likelihood of any of these things happening can be dramatically reduced with a little knowledge and foresight. Crime in Costa Rica is definitely less than in the U.S.

Ways of preventing crime from happening to you:
  1. The number one way to prevent crime from happening to you is to realize that you stick out. You are not a Costa Rican, you do not dress like a Costa Rican, you do not act like a Costa Rican, and they know that.
  2. Number two, do not travel by yourself at night anywhere in the country.
  3. There are thousands of taxis in Costa Rica - either have the restaurant or hotel call you one or stand out front and wait for one to come by. But never at night go looking for one on your own. Don't wear expensive or flashy jewelry, it is unnecessary and draws unwanted attention.
  4. Carry all money and your passport in a money belt that you keep under your clothing. If you have a wallet always carry it in your front pocket as it is more difficult for pickpockets to get at.
  5. Don't change money on the street, always change it at banks. If there are no banks or they are all closed go to a hotel or a restaurant. You are not going to get as good an exchange rate but at least you will know that the money is real.
  6. Always be aware of your surroundings and where you are, and act like you know what you are doing. Most thieves are looking for an easy target, someone who looks disoriented or lost.
  7. Be Aware - In San Jose most crimes happen in particular areas and they tend to happen at night. There are two 'Zona Roja's' or Red Zones: the Tico and the Gringo. The Tico area has three major sections: Coca Cola, Merced and Barrio Mexico.
Of all of these, the one to be most concerned with is Coca Cola. There are a couple of reasons for this.' One, it has the highest rate of pick-pocketing and the other is that it contains the major bus terminal for the entire country. When at the Coca Cola Bus Station always give yourself enough time to find your bus and buy your ticket. Don't wait until the last moment and rush around trying to find everytning. You can easily get distracted. Don't let anyone you don't know handle or watch your things.

The Gringo zone is centered around Parque Morizon and the bars, restaurants and hotels. Actually, you should be careful at all of San Jose's parks, even during the day. If you follow a few simple rules of thumb you can drastically reduce the chances of anything bad happening.

  • Just say NO! - If someone approaches you for money or wants to sell you something or offers to give you help, just say no and keep your eyes open. They may be genuine but it is best to play it safe. Most pickpockets work in pairs, one to distract and one to extract. If you need help, you pick out the person and the place, not the other way around. While you are at Coca Cola, or any other bus station, keep your eyes on your things all the way up until the bus leaves. If at all possible, travel with only a carryon bag and store it above you in the baggage rack.
  • You stick out
  • Do not travel by yourself at night
  • Don't wear jewlery
  • Buy and use a money belt or pouch
  • Never exchange money on the street
  • Be aware of where you are at all times
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