Before you go on any solo trip, there is one question you’re going to ask yourself: is it safe to travel solo there? This is especially pertinent for solo female travellers and solo travellers of other minority groups, but personal safety should be a priority for everyone when travelling.
If you want a quick answer… is Costa Rica safe? Yes! Actually, it’s one of the safest countries in Central America, but we’ll get onto that.
Feel free to stop reading, if you want 😉
Whilst you’re preparing your travel plans for a solo trip, there are some things you need to take into consideration. How are you going to travel from place to place (including to and from the airport). What kind of travel insurance do you need? Click here for my solo travel safety tips!
Costa Rica is a safe place, and it’s also home to some of the most diverse nature and scenery on the planet, especially for such a small country. From scorching beautiful beaches to hot springs and cloud forests, you can see just about everything there is to see in Costa Rica. This is why it’s the most popular destination in Central America for travellers and digital nomads alike.
Remember that the rainy season in Costa Rica is from May to November, the summer months for Europeans. This can cause added logistical difficulties when you’re moving around, so bear this in mind when you’re planning.
Common Sense for Solo Travelers
This doesn’t just apply to travelling in Costa Rica, but for travelling just about anywhere. Wherever there are tourists (and often without, too!) there will be petty theft, whether that’s seemingly harmless street scams or pickpockets on public transportation. I found that Costa Ricans were especially friendly, especially in the capital of San Jose (which most travellers seem to dislike, but I LOVED). This doesn’t mean you won’t get the odd one trying to pull something from your pocket, so the best way is to be careful; as you should be anywhere.
Always ask at the reception of where you’re staying if the tap water is safe to drink, but generally in Costa Rica the tap water is totally safe, and on the rare occasions that it isn’t, bottled water is usually provided by your accommodation!
A word of warning: make sure you’re carrying plenty of cash. I’m such a sucker for just relying on my debit or credit cards, but a lot of places in Costa Rica will only take cash, and many cash points (ATMs) are unreliable. When I was travelling, a bunch of people in my group had problems finding a reliable cash point, and I ended up sending a heap of money to someone I was travelling to draw out for me when my card got eaten by an ATM.
Read more from our Travel section:
Travelling Alone in the Rest of Central America
As I mentioned before, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the whole of Latin America, and is considered the safest country in Central America. Of course, every country will have safer places and more dangerous places. Some countries in Central America, like Honduras and El Salvador, are known for high rates of violent crime, so wherever you go, make sure you do your research. One of the best ways to find out where is safe is to ask the locals, and ask the people that work at your hotel or hostel. This is because the situation with regards to safety is always changing, and these people are likely to know the latest information about where is and isn’t safe.
Is it Safe to Travel Solo in San Jose?
San José is the capital of Costa Rica, and it’s most likely to be the first place you arrive. Whilst smaller towns and rural areas can be a bit less predictable, in San Jose you’re relatively safe during the day time. I would advise never to walk alone at night when you’re travelling, especially if you’re a woman or travelling solo.
You can take the bus from Juan Santamaría International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría), but it’s not immediately obvious where to go. As soon as you leave the airport you’ll be surrounded by people trying to sell you taxis. If you want to take a taxi, make sure you talk to the driver directly and agree on a price.
When I first arrived in San Jose, me and a girl I’d met on the plane shared a taxi into the city. We agreed with The Woman Who Was Selling The Taxis to pay $30 USD, but when we arrived at the destination the taxi driver demanded over $60 USD and claimed not to know The Woman. Obviously they were in cahoots, but we were trapped in a car in a foreign country with a guy demanding money from us, so we paid up.
(Bear in mind that Uber is illegal in Costa Rica. It’s not totally dangerous to try it, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to be stuck talking to the police all day in the unlucky event that your driver gets pulled over.)
Hear from our Travel Columnist, Lauz Explores:
The Best Places to Travel Alone in Costa Rica
Of course, if you want to hit up the beach, you need to visit either the Pacific Coast or the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. The Pacific Coast has a large peninsula (the Osa Peninsula), home to many incredible beaches including Santa Teresa, Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa. If you’re unsure of where to go when you’re travelling alone, I always recommend sticking to the touristy areas. Although you have to look out for instances of petty crime and pickpockets, that’s usually the worst you’ll see in touristy areas. Travelling off the beaten track is always a great experience, but make sure you’ve spoken to the locals first and, if possible, go with a group.
The rest of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is generally more developed and a little safer than the Caribbean Coast. You’re more likely to find fancy hotels and cute AirBnbs around here, especially in the touristy beach towns of Quepos, Puntarenas, and Jaco. This side of Costa Rica, including the whole Pacific Coast, is the better side for surfing, with larger waves and surf schools in abundance on practically every beach. It is also better connected with Costa Rica’s national parks, including La Fortuna waterfall and the Arenal Volcano, both must-sees when you’re travelling solo in Costa Rica.
On the Caribbean Coast, the vibes are more chill, the accommodation more relaxed, and (in my opinion) the food much better. There are less places that are safe for solo travellers, but you know me; if I was on a solo trip I’d just turn up at a hostel in San Jose, make some friends, and find out where they’re going. I went to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon and Tortuguero National Park, and I loved them all. Tortuguero is not the easiest place to access (you have to take a boat to get there), but I promise it’s worth the hassle and I didn’t feel particularly unsafe in any of these places.
Overall, I had the best experience in Costa Rica, especially for solo travellers. Latin America can be difficult to navigate when you’re on your own, but Costa Rica felt like a safe haven for someone like me. Out of everywhere I’ve travelled, it’s one of the places I’m most looking forward to going back to. (Expect more articles January 2024!).