Violent Crime in Costa Rica

Violent crime is rare in Costa Rica when compared with crimes of opportunity like theft from parked cars and foreigners are nearly never victims.  As with most places the majority of violence is domestic – however, muggings, beatings, stabbings and shootings are no longer shocking rarities in San José or to a lesser extent in some of the populous beach areas.

Drug related crime is on the rise as well.  Corruption and inefficiency in the government have allowed cartels latitude to operate, and as other international smuggling routes have come under scrutiny both the trans-shipment and import of cocaine, marijuana and meth are increasing rapidly along with the inevitable associated violence.

U.S. coast guard plane in Costa Rica
U.S. coast guard plane flying drug interdiction surveillance along the Pacific coast

In the past year Costa Rica’s headlines have often seemed more appropriate to Detroit or Mexico – a bus driver shot by a junkie for a fare box full of coins, a headless body of a Colombian national washed up on the beach, and a Canadian woman beaten and shot to death near her home.

The Costa Rican government is well aware of the impact it would have on the tourism industry if any serious harm were allowed to come to an international visitor and although it’s cynical, you can be sure they are doing everything possible to keep violent crime away from tourist destinations.  If you get mugged it might cost you a hundred bucks, but it could potentially cost them millions in negative publicity.

There are simple things you can do to reduce your risk.

Leave your jewelry home and don’t flash cash.  Electronics (camera, i-phone/pad, notebook) are also dangerous temptations so be aware that your new Nikon D90 will make you a target.

There’s more going on in cities causing confusion and distractions that criminals love to take advantage of.  Don’t go to San José if you don’t have to.  If you do go, plan your route on a map ahead of time, know where you are going, walk or drive with relaxed confidence and purpose. If you get lost, pretend you know where you are going until you can duck into somewhere safe (cafe, bookstore, someone’s house). If you have to ask directions on the street, ask a woman because they are generally more safety conscious and won’t direct you through bad areas.

Taxis are 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.

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.