Allmode Advisory: Costa Rica

Allmode Advisory: Costa Rica

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Allmode Advisory: 044

Advisory Type: Location Report

Date: 17/04/15

Information Source: Allmode

Costa Rica is a country located in Central America that has unlimited tourist potential and is ranked as one of the most visited international destinations. One of Costa Rica’s main sources of income is tourism. Around 45,000 British nationals visited Costa Rica in 2013. Most visits are trouble-free, but incidents of violent crime against tourists have increased. 

Theft is the common crime to threaten tourists. Petty theft in particular is extremely common in highly populated and well known tourist areas and includes pickpocketing, mugging and purse snatching. Recently however there has been large increase in passport theft and credit card fraud. Many victims of credit card fraud are physically in possession of their card, but their credit card information was stolen and later used without their knowledge.

Foreigners have been the target of armed robberies and drug-related crime. Areas in the vicinity of tourist attractions, resorts, airports, bus stations, harbour facilities (particularly the ports of Limon and Puntarenas) and public transport are a particular target of criminals. Visitors to Tamarindo, Jaco, Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Tarcoles River on the Pacific Coast and Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Atlantic Coast should pay particular attention to their surroundings

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Security risks are heightened in the capital city of San Jose. High-risk areas for theft in San Jose include the Coca-Cola bus station, inner downtown areas and public parks. There is some risk after dark of criminal activities on roads from San Jose airport – we advise travelers to consider this risk when planning their arrival time at the airport.

The kidnapping rate is very low and rarely involves tourists. The majority of kidnappings are a result of feuds between rival criminal organizations. OIJ, Costa Rica’s investigative police, have a 100 percent resolution rate on kidnappings.

Protests occur in the heavily populated areas on occasion but are generally peaceful. There was one violent protest on May 1, 2013 (“May Day”), when protestors voiced their demands for fair pay and better working conditions. During the protests, self-proclaimed anarchists staged riots in front of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly in San Jose, burning the American flag and cardboard cutouts of President Obama, chanting “Obama: Go home!”. All protests should be avoided. To avoid perception of interfering in local politics, Americans should avoid protests. The Constitution bars foreigners from political activity, and foreigners involved with protests, even peaceful ones, could be arrested.

Violent attacks including rape and other sexual offences are rare but there have been some in recent years. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK, including when using ATMs Don’t accept lifts from strangers. Avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft.

For years, Costa Rica has been a major transit zone for narcotics due to its geographic location, porous borders, and thinly patrolled waters. The absence of a military and a historically poorly equipped, under-manned police service made it easy for the cartels to operate. Costa Rica is, however, improving its focus on counter-narcotics programs. In 2013, 19 metric tons of cocaine were seized, a 33 percent increase from 14.73 tons in 2012. Costa Rica is a leading eradicator of marijuana, seizing 1,390 metric tons in 2013, a near 50 percent increase from 2012. These successes can be attributed to the recent improvements in equipment that the government has made, including boats for the Coast Guard, patrol trucks for the newly-formed border police, and new helicopters for air surveillance.

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Costa Rica has a long tradition of stable democracy, has not had military since 1948, and prides itself on its peaceful nature. There is no history of religious or ethnic violence or violent civil unrest. 

Costa Rica has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the latter being the more attractive for cruising. The hilly interior and attractive capital San José can be visited from either Puntarenas or Limón. There are active volcanos, cloud forests, hot springs and an abundance of national parks. The marina which is part of the Los Suenos Resort, a luxury development at Herradura, in the eastern part of the Gulf of Nicoya, is a good base from which to explore the country.

Compared to Panama and Mexico, Costa Rica is expensive. Diesel, marina fees ($2 - 3 per foot) and provisions can be costly.

The beautiful Isla del Coco, situated 532 km from the Costa Rican coast in the Pacific Ocean, is a National Park and sought-after diving paradise. A permit is required to visit which must be applied for after arriving in Costa Rica. 

As mentioned previously, petty crime has a large impact on visitors to Costa Rica and the coastal resorts are no exception. A police force known as Policia Turistica have now been assigned to help ensure that tourists are well protected and assisted. As with all South America countries, keep your valuables under lock and key and padlock or secure down below any valuable loose items on deck. Cruisers who have visited recommend not leaving your yacht unattended at night.

Golfito has a problem with outboard theft so take extra precautions. Secure your outboard and tender at all times with a big chain so thieves cannot just cut the cables and pry things off with crowbars.

Take special care when swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica. Rip tides are very common. There are normally no lifeguards. You should seek reliable local advice. 84 people died in drowning and other beach-related incidents in 2013.

There are regular sightings of crocodiles along the Pacific Coast near beaches popular with surfers (from Playa Azul down to Playa Esterillos) and there have been attacks in recent years. 

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To read the full Allmode advisory on Costa Rica click here 


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