Is a trip to Costa Rica on your bucket list, but a little concerned about safety and traveling with your family? I was too., but it is now one of our favorite destinations. The fact is that Costa Rica is generally a safe place, but you need to know where is safe and where is well…less safe…when you’re planning a vacation. We’ve been going to Costa Rica for many years and are happy to share our list of the safest places in Costa Rica as well as some of the places to avoid (or at least be extra cautious in).

The Safest Places in Costa Rica

  1. Drake Bay (Best for families)

  2. Tamarindo (Best for surfing)

  3. Atenas (Best for relaxation)

  4. Escazu (Best for up-scale living)

  5. Arenal (Best for adventurers )

  6. Heredia (Best for a peaceful alternative to San Jose)

Is It Safe To Visit Costa Rica?

Stay safe in Costa Rica!

Again, Costa Rica is a reasonably safe place overall. Thousands of families come every year. And while Costa Rica has a relatively high crime rate, most of those crimes are petty crimes classified as “opportunistic crimes of thievery”. According to the Global Peace Index, Costa Rica was named one of the four Latin American countries with the safest tourist destinations in 2022. Nevertheless, the crime rate is rising, and in 2023, the State Department placed Costa Rica on the “Level 2” travel warning list. This doesn’t mean don’t go, it just means “excise increased caution”, mostly regarding where you go in the country. For reference, other countries on the Level 2 list include France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Germany. Places you probably wouldn’t think twice about going. You just need to use common sense, follow basic safety protocols like you would anywhere, and stick to the safer places. That’s why we generated this list, which is based on our experiences, some desktop research on statistics, and talking to our expat friends who live there full time.

The 6 Safest Places In Costa Rica 

1. Drake Bay

Kayaking in Drake Bay

Located in the southwestern region of Costa Rica, Drake Bay is also known as Bahía Drake (it’s pronounced “Drah-kay”). There is a ton of great activities for families. Kayaking was our favorite. It’s comparatively remote and quiet but still with some great amenities. Its size, location, and focus on eco-tourism make it the safest place on our list. Playa Colorada is Drake Bay’s primary beach. It’s quiet, gorgeous, and has some great restaurants. Check out Kalaluna Bistro for great seafood and pasta. In terms of lodging, the kids REALLY love the Aguila de Osa Rainforest & Marine Adventure Lodge which is incredible for families and is in a perfect spot to enjoy Drake Bay.

2. Tamarindo

Tamarindo

One of the most beautiful spots in Costa Rica is Tamarindo. Situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Tamarindo not only has world class surf, it’s also very safe and relaxed. But because it is a popular tourist destination, you should keep an eye open for pickpockets and don’t leave valuables on the beach while you’re surfing. Take one of these car combo locks for your keys. And if you’re interested in activities beyond surfing, here is a full list of things to do in Tamarindo. There is a ton of water sports and activities available, including kayaking, snorkeling, sport fishing, sailing, and lots more. If you’re looking for a good place to stay that’s near the beach, check out the Coast Beachfront Hotel which is right on the sand.

3. Atenas

Atenas

Atenas is an agricultural village about 30 minutes outside of San Jose where life moves at a leisurely pace. It’s very safe, great for families, and is home to quite a few expats. Atenas offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the Capital . Atenas brags that is has the best climate in the world. The region certainly has some of the best coffee in the world, so don’t miss it. Atenas also has a great weekly farmers market. There are some beautiful country homes around Atenas and some great vacation rentals to be had. The “downtown” area is very safe. For great food check out el Jardin de Atenas for steak and seafood

4. Escazu

Escazu

San Jose is home to the affluent areas of Escazu and Santa Ana. These areas are very safe, at least during the day.  Escazu is conveniently located near San Jose’s downtown, and has fantastic shopping, lovely homes, and a wide variety of restaurants, clubs, and nightlife options. For an upscale stay, check out Hotel Alta Las Polomas which is far enough out of the city to be safe but within striking distance to activities and shopping.

5. Arenal

Arenal

Arenal is home to a sizable American-expat population.  The most dangerous thing about Arenal is the nearby (and active) Arenal volcano. There have been some incidents of petty theft, but is generally a great place for families to explore and take advantage of all the adventure tours and sports in the area. You should for sure do the volcano tour. And if you’re looking for a fun place to stay, check out the Tree House Hotel where you get to sleep high up in the trees. Or if luxury is more your thing, check out my favorite, the Paradise Hot Springs Thermal Resort, which is a great place to relax after a long forest hike.

6. Heredia 

Heredia

Heredia is only about 20 minutes away from San Jose, but is much more peaceful and safe. It is also conveniently located near the airport if you need a transition area.. Ciudad Cariari in Heredia is home to the American International School, making it an ideal neighborhood for families living abroad.

Places To Avoid In Costa Rica 

Be extra careful at night in places with a reputation for being sketchy, such as parks, poorly lit streets, or neighborhoods where theft is common. Some areas of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, can be a bit dodgy. These include:

  1. Desamparados

  2. Los Guido, La Carpio

  3. Pavas

  4. Cartago’s El Carmen area

  5. Leon XIII

  6. Alajuela “El Infiernillo” sector

Outside of San Jose, the places below have serious crime rates that are significantly higher than the national average: 

  1. Matina

  2. Liberia

  3. Talamanca

  4. Pococí

  5. The neighborhood of Desamparados in San Rafael 

  6. Santa Rosa de Pocosol 

  7. San Carlos, which is a rural area that borders Nicaragua

  8. District of Puntarenas on the Barranca

And generally, crime rates are higher along the Caribbean coast than on the Pacific side. 

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Travel safety: what steps can you take?

 
  • Passport: Keep it with you unless you have a safe in your room. When you go out, use a neck wallet.

  • Heading out: Do not go alone to nightclubs or bars. Go with a group if you can.

  • Night time: Be cautious while venturing out at night, especially if you’re on your own. The downtown area, beaches, and busy parts of San Jose can be sketchy. Nighttime tourist hotspots like La Fortuna tend to be safe. But you should still exercise caution.

  • Driving: Take your time and go slow if you’re gonna drive.

  • Parking: Most Costa Ricans will place their luggage in the trunk if they need to leave anything in the vehicle.

  • Crowd: When you’re in a busy place, hold on tight to your phone and wallet. Another option is to store it in a purse or pocket with a zipper. Although pickpocketing is not that common, it does occur sometimes.

  • Currency exchange: Do business only with banks and official money exchange operations

  • Don’t act like you’re lost: If you look confused, you become a mark. This is true anywhere.

  • Transportation: When you can, use the private shuttle service offered by your hotel or tour group.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

How Do I Deal With Street Hawkers and Aggressive Salespeople?

People from Costa Rica are very amiable. But sometimes they are also trying to sell you something. Do not feel guilty about just walking away from persistent hawkers.

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

As a woman traveling alone, you always need to exercise caution. Here are a few general tips to stay safe:.

  • Always act confidently, regardless of how you may actually feel. Appearing lost and disoriented is a guaranteed way to draw unwelcome attention. This is true anywhere!

  • Don’t hesitate to ask other people for help if you need it

  • Avoid dimly lit places

  • Keep emergency numbers handy

  • Communicate your whereabouts

  • Be careful when drinking and always keep an eye on your drink

 

Conclusion 

Remember, Costa Rica is a safe country and you and your family will love it. Just use some common sense, stick to the safe spots, and you will have a fantastic time! There are great deals on airfare from lots of U.S. cities. And say hi to the sloths for me!

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