Staying Out of Trouble
A basic knowledge of Costa Rica's laws, customs and norms will allow tourists to know when they are in violation of them. Be aware of what is appropriate conduct and be respectful of the Tico culture. On the other hand, avoid trouble by keeping your vulnerability to a minimum.
In general, Ticos are warm, friendly and helpful. However, as is the case in any part of the world, a very small portion of the society aspires to take advantage of the unsuspecting. In Costa Rica, where they are experiencing a sizable tourism boom, the most popular target is the unwitting tourist.
While traveling in a foreign country can be downright bewildering, try your hardest not to look it. Appearing lost and confused is the quickest way to get ripped off. At all costs, avoid carrying excessive amounts of cash, wearing flashy jewelry, or setting your things down unattended. Always keep important documents, money, phones, and credit cards in an inner pocket or money belt that is very close to the front of your body. The key to not getting robbed is denying the thief a reason to rob you.
Police officers in Costa Rica are notorious for imposing fines for bogus violations of the law. If you are stopped and ticketed for a violation for which you are certain you are innocent, be prepared to pursue one of two avenues. You can either attempt to present a good argument against their claim, or you can bight the bullet and pay the fine.
As a general rule, keep a close watch on your possessions, especially in urban areas. Pickpockets and chain-snatchers abound in larger cities like San José, Quepos, and Limón. Avoid carrying personal valuables. Take what you absolutely need, and place the rest in the hotel's safe-deposit box. Use purses and handbags with short straps, and always keep them under your arm. Backpacks can be an easy target. They offer thieves easy access, especially when strapped to the back of an unwitting tourist. If you find yourself in the middle of a crowd, be aware of who is standing around you, and always keep a hand on your wallet, purse or hip-pack.
Avoid driving in busy, urban areas with your windows fully rolled down. Tenacious thieves have been known to steal what they can from outside the car, snatching watches, glasses, jewelry or purses. Never leave anything valuable in an unattended car. In addition, avoid leaving things that are even remotely valuable in plain view inside an unattended car. For instance, you could probably care less if the cheap pair of sunglasses sitting on the dashboard of your rental car get stolen, but when a burglar breaks the window to get to them, you'll wish you'd left them out of sight.
If you are ever robbed, make sure to contact the Organismo de Investigacíon Judicial. There is one in nearly every major town. The experience can be frustrating, however. Most of the agency's personnel does not speak English, and there is a good chance the robbery will never be investigated. On the other hand, this agency will supply you will legal documentation of the event, a helpful resource for insurance purposes.
Rules of Thumb:
- Never leave personal items in a parked car. Robberies can occur during the day and in the busiest of urban areas.
- Beware of friendly locals in tourist areas attempting to sell you something, wanting to borrow money, or offering an infallible investment. Costa Rica is full of con artists looking for ways to outwit their next unsuspecting victim.
- Do not accept drinks, food, or candy from even the friendliest of strangers. Some thieves will drug their victims before robbing them clean.
- Beware of charming and attractive men or women who may be distracting you while an accomplice helps themselves to your belongings.