Tips for Exploring Costa Rica Safely

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Stay safe in Costa Rica

Now that my amazing Costa Rican trip is coming to an end, I have some insightful information to share with you all regarding safety.

Costa Rica is generally one of the safest countries in Latin America; however there are certain things that you should pay attention to. You can think of them as preventative measures, both in your travels to the destination of interest or when hiring the services of tourist companies.

Safety Tips

Through The City

1. Do not show off valuable jewelry and gold, take the same care for your cameras and electronics.

2. Stay alert if you feel like approaches you, pushes you, or you are being followed.

3. You can exchange money anywhere, but try to avoid rip-offs by using banks or authorized exchange windows

Renting a Car

1. Read the contract carefully! Be sure that you know what is covered and what is not!

2. Insurance coverage is mandatory in Costa Rica. You will be asked to purchase insurance in addition to the rental price that you were given at the time of reservation. Our rental car price for a week was $220, and the insurance was about $270

3. Talk to the company representative, make him aware of your travel plans and ask them to check if the vehicle is appropriate based on the routes that you will be using. For example, if you are planning to go to Monteverde Area, the roads are pretty rough, and 4×4 might be the best option.

4. When leaving the vehicle or stopping somewhere, do not leave valuables like computers, cameras, money, credit cards, passports in the car and especially not somewhere on display.

5. Do not pick up anyone hitchhiking. It could be a scam to steal your belongings. 

6. If you have a mechanical problem with the car, pull over at a gas station or other well lit and public place. 

7. Don’t pull over for people asking for help for a flat tire or sth like that, you might get robbed while helping them.

Traveling by Bus

1. Double check your route and destination before boarding.

2. Never leave your luggage out of sight at the bus terminal

3. Check the payment method- at the bus or at the terminal, but usually is paid in Colones only, so make sure you have the local currency.

4. When you reach your destination, make sure you have everything before you leave the bus. If something is missing inform the driver and call 911.

Going on Tours

 1. When you book a tour or a hire a guide make sure you have a written confirmation email or print out which also shows the cancellation policy.

2. If there is a breach of the services, described in the contract, you can call 2299-5828.

3. If you are going on a tour, research thoroughly, look at reviews or recommendations at visitcostarica.com. There are a lot of excellent tours, but some disappointing too.

Staying at a Hotel

1. Never leave your passport at the front desk or unsupervised.

2. Don’t leave valuables in sight, use a safe or take them with you, when leaving the room.

3. Make sure you know what you are entitled too. Many times when booking online the breakfast is included, but they may try to charge you separately once at the property.

4. Close doors and windows as bugs are common in Costa Rica.

At a Restaurant

1. Verify whether the price listed on the menu includes all the taxes applicable in Costa Rica- 13% sales tax and an additional 10% for service. 

2. Tipping is not really a culture here, like in the US.

3. Make sure you don’t hang your bags or purses on the back of the chairs especially when seating outside.

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Walking/ Hiking

1. Wear comfortable hiking boots with a thread.

2. Comfortable long pants and a long sleeve shirt are desired, if you wear a t-shirt, try to apply sunscreen, the sun is quite strong during the day. Other basics to keep in your backpack at all times are bug repellent, poncho, and a hat.

3. Bring water with you and some small snacks.

4. Always plan your route in advance, don’t leave it on chance.

5. If you are not sure about the trail, consult a professional tour guide or a local, who knows about hazards that might be present on this trail.

6. Do not hike in virgin forests or take shortcuts through the woods.

7. Make sure somebody knows about your route and the areas you are planning to visit.

Surfing

As many of you know, Costa Rica is one of the prime surf destinations in the world, especially the Jaco area. There are some things that locals have given us as advice when practicing this sport.

1. If you surf by yourself (without an instructor or a local friend) make sure you get familiar with the ocean concerning currents, waves, types of ocean bed ( coral or sand)

2. Always leash your surfboard for your own safety and the safety of others around.

3. Stay alert regarding the ocean conditions especially in the rainy season.

4. Never surf in ocean conditions that are beyond your skill level.

5. If you are new to surfing, your best bet will be to get lessons from a local, it is not very expensive but totally worth it.

6. Don’t leave your belonging at the beach, unsupervised. Ah! Not a good idea.

7. In some beaches like Manuel Antonio, there might be crocodiles, ask local safeguards about their presence in the area.

Scuba Diving

If you are planning on diving in Costa Rica, there are 2 ways to do it- book tours or live aboard. No matter what you choose, make sure that your safety is first. We have put a list of things that we believe will contribute to your safety and peace of mind while on vacation.

1. Always make sure to find a dive center that is certified by either PADI or SSI or other internationally recognized agency.

2. Make sure that the Dive Master or whoever is leading the tour is accredited for Dive Rescue, First Aid Oxygen and First Aid Assistance.

3. If you are using a boat to get to your dive site and performing drift dives, make sure that the boat is equipped with oxygen kit, first aid kit, fresh water, tools, radio communication, dive flag,  life vests, and contingency plans.

4. To be prudent, you should ask for maintenance record on the regulators and hoses, but to be honest, the best practice is to bring your own regulator if you own one.

5. Before you even think about getting in the water, make sure you are familiar with the dive plan, safety measures, communication signals with your guide and buddies (especially for air pressure). Make sure you know the end of the dive air pressure.

6. Never deviate from the dive plan set in motion.

7. Be respectful of the marine life and try to preserve the environment. Don’t use ANY sunscreen that is not marked as REEF SAFE, as this is one of the biggest enemies responsible for the coral bleaching that is occurring all over the world. Only this year 14% of the Great Barrier Reef has bleached. Without corals, there won’t be fish for us to eat and marine life will decline rapidly, making the diving experience uninteresting.

Horseback riding

Horseback riding is one of my favorite ways to explore the forest and secrets of Costa Rica. I had never done it before, but we booked a tour of Rincon De La Vieja National park, and we went to Oropendula waterfall, and it was terrific. The horses are very well trained which makes it very easy even for beginners, however, like any other sport, things are needing some consideration.

1. Wear long pants, tennis shoes and bug repellent depending on the area that you are visiting. 

2. Always wear a helmet.

3. If you are a beginner, always book a tour, don’t just rent horses, the guides know the forests and the jungle well and will be much more educational.

4. Do not shout or make sudden movements near the horse, or while on it, you might startle it.

5. When riding, try to think of the horse as your own feet, stay on the beaten path and try to avoid rocks and branches.

6. Try to stay on the right-hand side of the road whenever possible

Canopy tours and Zip-lining

1. I highly recommend that you wear long pants in general, whenever you are in the cloud, transitional, dry or rain forests.

2. Wear comfortable shoes, if your tours or activities include river jumping or crossing, my favorite Keen sandals are a great choice. 

3. Make sure you are satisfied with the instruction before actually do the zip lining. Make sure you know what your body position should be and where to keep your hands. Also, make sure you know about the braking mechanism.

4. Always check if the harness and helmet are fitting right and they don’t feel loose.

5. There is no age limit for the zip lining, however, there is a weight limit (300 lbs)

Rafting and Kayaking

1. Wear waterproof shoes, preferably not sandals. Here the Keens would be more than perfect.

2. Bring a bathing suit, shorts, sunscreen as well as a dry set of clothes and shoes to change into after the tour.

3. The minimum age for the tour is 8 years old. 

4. Rafters must have a helmet, life vest, and an oar.

5. Get familiar with the basic paddling instructions and how to follow them.

6. Make sure you know what is the procedure if someone falls overboard.

Rappel and Climbing

This is by far the most fun experience I’ve had in Costa Rica. We did our rappel and canyoning experience with Mistico and its called the Spider Monkey Canyon. Rappel through waterfalls and jump into pools along the Arenal River. It was so much fun. We felt absolutely safe and were able to have fun without fear of falling. However, we don’t recommend you do this without a tour, the guides are really professional and know exactly what they are doing.

1. Wear comfortable and durable shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks.

2. Stretchy or looser pants are recommended.

3. Check all the gear, make sure your harness and helmet are fitting snug but not too tight.

4. If you are rappelling into waterfalls, you will get wet, bring an extra pair of clothes to change at the end of the tour.

5. Bring your Go Pro!

6. Make sure you are clear about all the techniques that will be used for every jump ar descent. 

Mountain Biking

1. Get yourself familiar with the route no matter if you are just renting a bike and MTB yourself or with a tour.

2. Be honest with yourself and think your physical condition through. If you feel tired or unable to do the particular tour, better not to start than getting stuck in the rainforest not being able to come back.

3. Wear the necessary safety equipment like a helmet, gloves, knee pads.

4. Bring an appropriate amount of water and some snacks.

5. If you end up riding on the road, be very vigilant of cars around you.

Swimming

Costa Rica as you might expect is very wet, in all seasons and it borders two oceans, so your swimming opportunities will virtually be vast. So here are some things that you might want to consider.

1. REEF SAFE sunscreen, PLEASE! Not knowingly, you might be contributing to the coral bleaching phenomenon happening all over the world with full force right now.

2. Not confident about your swimming abilities, DO NOT DO IT!

3. Make sure you are capable of swimming in the ocean or river conditions for that day.

4. Be aware of riptides, if you happen to be caught in one, stay calm, don’t exert yourself trying to swim against the current, instead swim perpendicular to the current or parallel to the beach. If the current is too strong and you can’t swim, float and wait for it to subside, then swim back.

5. If you can’t reach the beach, try to make yourself noticeable by waving your arms up in the air so someone can call for help.

6. Don’t leave your belongings unattended, raccoons and white-faced monkey might be waiting just for that.

7. If there is a big storm approaching, leave the water and go somewhere safe, some areas are known for flash floods, so be aware.

Emergency Phones

Emergency, Police

Tourist complains and information

Canadian Embassy

US Embassy

Spanish Embassy

French Embassy

911

2299- 5828

2242-4400

2519-2000

2222-1933

2234-4167

If the number of your Embassy is not on the list, you can call 800- tourism (800-868-7476) or the 911 number.

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THANKS FOR READING!

Hi there! I’m Atanas — I’ve been traveling around the world since I was 15, so about 12 years, but just recently got into writing. My mission is to inspire more people to take on the journey of their lives and spread the word that traveling the world can be easy, fun and not cost a fortune!

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