It has been said, Costa Ricans are so polite even the thieves say "please" and "thank you"; and "if you don't mind may I have your watch too?". But crime is a fact of life in all countries and we want to make you aware of what can happen, although violent crime is far less frequent than in most western countries.
Costa Rica is a much safer destination than most. Violent crime, such as murder or rape, are not common but do occur, especially to the unwary. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in violent crime over the past few years, mainly due to an influx of foreign criminal elements that have influenced the criminal population of Costa Rica in a negative way. It is important visitors keep on guard and stay away from areas where you face increased risk.
Opportunists can steal almost anywhere in Costa Rica, however you will find a higher concentration of thieves in San Jose and the major tourist destinations along the coast (near beaches). The following is an overview of the highest risk areas:
Areas where crime has increased over the past few years:
Downtown San Jose - all areas, especially at night. Pickpockets and petty thieves are common around the National Theatre and in the Clubbing District near the Holiday Inn Aurola as these tend to be frequented by tourists. El Pueblo is a popular night club and shopping area and one should take extra precautions in the area.
Quepos - sadly, what used to be a great beach town is becoming a haven for thieves and even some violent crime. Some tourists have been held up at gun point. Again - where you walk and at what time you are out has much to do with your safety.
Jaco Beach - the large influx of foreigners into the Jaco Beach area has resulted in an increase in crime. They have increased police patrols but one must be cautious none-the-less.
Escazu - Escazu is one of the most upmarket suburbs in San Jose with great restaurants, shopping and hotels. It's affuence has resulted in an increase in crime - even some violent crimes such as carjackings and home invasions. Having said that we at Try Costa Rica commonly visit Escazu and enjoy the advantages of their great shopping and dining establishments. Just like any city in the world - keep your eyes open and avoid dangerous situations and you should have little trouble.
Some "grab and release" kidnappings are taking place. The victim is taken at gunpoint to an ATM where they withdraw enough funds to pay their "ransom" and then released. These are rare but be careful when you are in poorly lit areas or in places where you can be caught alone.
Beach Areas: If you leave anything unattended for even a few minutes, it will be stolen. It seems every month we hear a story of a bag being stolen with the usual "I just took my eyes of it for a second". Be vigilant and use the room safe for your valuables.
Hotels: Most larger hotels are pretty safe. Be careful what you leave exposed in your room, at the pool, in a Casino - anywhere. You must assume there is always someone waiting for you to stop watching your belongings.
Driving/Parking: NEVER leave valuables exposed in your car when parked. The window will be broken and the goods gone in a flash. Always try to park in a paid parking lot where a guard will watch your car. The cost is minimal and well worth the peace of mind.
Some highly creative thieves will cut the tire of your car and then offer to help you change it. One thief changes the tire and keeps you distracted while the other makes off with the goods in the car. Another gang of thieves was putting small leaks in tires outside of banks. When the tire goes flat a few miles down the road, they assault the victim and take any money withdrawn from the bank.