Living in Costa Rica one cannot help notice that in recent years, especially this year, crime is on the increase. The level of homicides so far in 2008 has increased dramatically over last year and previous years. Is this a trend that is likely to continue and, if so, what does it mean for this country that has been looked at in the past as a peaceful alternative to its unruly Latin American neighbors? Well for starters most of the crime in Costa Rica is limited to its capital and largest city, San Jose. There are sections of San Jose, just like any large city in the U.S.A., that are downright dangerous and should be avoided by tourists. I run a travel agency and most of our customers will spend either their first or last nights, or both, in San Jose. Many times we put them in a hotel downtown so they get to experience the cultural aspects and nightlife of a large Latin American city. San Jose is a great town.
It is very cosmopolitan and one can find food of almost every ethnic persuasion. The nightlife is great too and the party never ends on the weekends. However, in the downtown “touristy” areas there are those that would prey on unsuspecting tourists. So the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to not be so “unsuspecting.” It seems that tourists that come to Costa Rica and spend most of their time outside of the city become so enamored with the friendliness of the Costa Ricans, or ticos, that they leave their common sense behind them when they get to the big city. It is never a good idea to carry large amounts of cash when you are walking around downtown San Jose, especially at night. It is never a good idea to wear expensive jewelry when walking around downtown San Jose, especially at night.
It is also not such a good idea to walk alone (men or women for that matter) in downtown San Jose, especially at night. When you take a taxi, make sure it is an official taxi. We have many criminals that pose as taxi drivers and hang around tourist areas and hotels looking for victims. Never get into a car that is not the standard red with yellow triangle that signifies that you are indeed in a legitimate taxi. If you do get assaulted, it is best to give up what they ask for because chances are very good that they are carrying a firearm (another reason why you should not carry lots of cash, your original passport that can be sold on the black-market for lots of money or expensive jewelry). If you resist or try to be a hero, chances are you will wind up another front page article. San Jose can be a lot of fun, but nothing will ruin your trip and your perception of Costa Rica faster than becoming a victim of a crime.