Central America Warnings
Girl Travels World
Let me start by saying that overall, Costa Rica is incredibly safe. Especially outside of San Jose, you have very little to worry about as long as you keep aware. That said--
-Especially when in San Jose, please please please make sure you use a verified taxi. In San Jose, these are red with a yellow triangle on the side of the door. I know one person who had a harrowing taxi experience his first day down there (got driven somewhere other than he requested, and then robbed at knife point). Even if it does look reputable, use your instincts. Even though they appeared to be real, I turned down several taxis in San Jose because it just didn't feel right to me. It's a bit overly precautionary perhaps, but it's always better to trust your gut.
-Again, with taxis, agree on the price before getting into the car. In Monteverde and San Jose, drivers would occasionally make up ridiculous prices or insist that their meter was broken. Learn how to talk about prices/taxis in Spanish before you go. Agree on the price or make sure they will use their meter (maria in Costa Rica).
-This is common knowledge, but for heavens sake, watch your bags/purse, especially on city buses. I know several people that got things stolen. About two weeks in, I started to keep money in my bra when I went out, and felt much safer with my money.
-Again, in San Jose, just be careful. I studied at a wonderful school and had a homestay in San Pedro. I had no problems there, and was very thankful to live in that neighborhood. Several of my peers lived in other, "reputable" neighborhoods, but about five guys I know got mugged at knifepoint very close to their homes. Most occured when we'd go out as a group, and the guy would walk a girl home and then start to walk home on his own. The best advice is to just comply and try to remain calm. While a mugging is never funny, one of my friends got mugged (for about $4 USD), and when the mugger told him to go home, my friend told him he gave him all of the bus money, so the mugger actually gave my friend money for the bus.
-Finally, in Jaco we stayed in seemingly nice cabinas on a street that goes down to the beach. The name of the cabinas actually changed day to day on the white board outside (i'm not kidding), so I don't know how to advise against it really. It was blue-green though, and very close to the reputable Hotel Posideon. It was raining and dark when we arrived, and a guy offered us a room there. We looked at it and thought it was great, so we stayed. It turned sour, however, when one of the workers would run aroudn drunk 24/7, looked at my friend changing through our window, said inappropriate things to my friends and I, and then tried to overcharge us. It was a nightmare.
-Be careful in Puerto Viejo. A disproportionate number of drunk and high people come out in the evenings, and one manhandled my friend, and one screamed obscenities at me when I wouldn't dance with him. Just be careful there.
That's about it. As you can see, outside of San Jose, everything is pretty safe. Just keep aware, as you would in any other country.
"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."
My advice is to lock down your pack any time you might either nap or not pay attention on a bus. A cable lock and locked compartments of the bag are great for this.
antigua is an amazing place but just to let you know there is still viloence there.
Check out My Blog for 2006, and see pictures from previous trips.
bar shootings. Wow. Still, better there than Guat City!!!
Everyone who is a resident of the United States should remember that we live in the most violent country of all. Since Missouri passed a concealed carry law, the murder rates in Kansas City have soared - to over 70 so far this year.
But I should add that I've lived here for over 30 years and have never witnessed a public act of violence. Of course, thats because I don't go to dumb places.
On a drive thru CA back in '94, I had lots of warnings from friends re violence. I never had a hint of it (other than an attempted pickpocketing in San Jose) because I never went to dumb places.
On the trip down CA-1, I left at dawn each day and packed it in well before dark. I usually began looking for lodging by 4 PM. I perferred staying in small towns - near the square if possible.
As to the larger cities - Guat City, San Salvador, SJ, Panama City - if I wanted to go somewhere in the evening, I never drove my own car. And I usually went to advertised or recommended places - much as one would do here in the States.
The most dangerous places are the bus terminals, which unfortunately you will encounter if you go on the busses. If you keep an eye on your bag and do what everyone else does, you will most likely be fine. Zone 1 in Guatemala city should be avoided after dark. The Pacific Guatemalan beach (which isn't that nice to begin with really) is one of the more dangerous spots also. If I think of some more specific examples I'll post it!
I was walking with some friends on the way to taking a cab, and I saw a guatemalan man walking along the street. Next thing you know a youth ran into the man, took his wallet,and ran off. This happened in broad daylight.
In Zone 1, don't go out after dark, and especially to small bars. Bad things can happen to tourists there. Best off sleeping in Antiqua in any case.
Ya just stay in Antigua, get out of guatemala city. It's worth the money to get a cab to Antigua if it's too late.
If you stay in Guatemala City, choose one of the many hotels in Zona 10. The Biltmore is about $62 US per night and a 5 star hotel. From there they go up to over a hundred.
During major holdiays (the biggest being Semana Santa), be cautious of pick pockets and faulty ATMs.
This includes all areas, especially Antigua and Chichicastanengo, due to their many tourists during the holidays.
Anywhere in Central America look at the ATMs before using them. If the card slot looks damaged or has tape or any other substance on it, don't use it. If your card, for some reason, gets trapped in the machine, and a 'nice local' (no matter how he/she is dressed) offers to call the bank and gives you a 'code' to use + your pin # to retrieve your card...dont do it. Just leave the card and immediately call your card issuer or bank and suspend it until you can have the ATMs bank get your card back out of the machine. There have also been reports of this around the globe. I am just speaking of my local experience.
Nice little money belts under your clothes are a good investment during the holidays.
Although these things happen more frequently even in the US, being in a foreign country can throw your guard off.
And you don't want a mishap to ruin your adventure.
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