While I can’t promise you’ll never be robbed, there are ways to minimize your risk of falling victim to theft in Costa Rica.
Jake and I had a preeetty sad dinner last night. We had planned a run to the “super” after work but it began pouring rain so we decided against it. Immediately regretted that decision when we saw how little food we had in the house. Jake managed to whip us up a passable pasta dinner, but we were out the door ASAP this morning to restock our provisions.
As we were rushing back (salivating at the thought of breakfast) we ran into our neighbor who gave us the grim news that two motorized bicycles were stolen last night from his backyard. Which FYI, is enclosed with a 9-foot brick wall. The vintage motorcycles he kept there were also not light, so he suspects it must have been at least a 2-3 man job lifting them over the wall.
10 Tips for Protecting Against Theft in Costa Rica
His reaction to the loss was surprisingly positive. Instead of the tedious and endless task of trying not to get robbed in Costa Rica, his new solution is just trying to live a simpler life. Did he need those motorized bikes when he rents a car every time he comes down here? Probably not. Were they cool to have? Oh, most definitely. But they were also a bummer to lose.
In yesterday’s post on Playa Avellanas I mentioned that I believed the key to tico living is the easy-going “pura vida” attitude, but with a healthy dose of caution. i.e. Help your neighbors, but also lock your doors at night. Here are other top tips we’ve come up with for staying cautious in Costa Rica.
How to Protect Your Things Against Theft in Costa Rica
With Your Car
In less-developed/jungle areas like Nosara, leave your car unlocked. In a jungled area like Nosara where buildings are not close to each other, it’s easy for thieves to break in and slip away without being caught. One of the things Jake and his family has learned to do in Nosara is to take all their stuff with them from the car, but leave it unlocked. Why?
Thieves around Costa Rica are typically looking for cash and valuables they can hawk. By leaving the car open, you allow them to check without having to break in. If you do lock your car, make sure not to leave anything visible as they will probably just break your window and take it.
The above doesn’t apply in cities, more-developed towns, or anywhere there will usually be other people around. It’s way less likely that someone will physically break into your car because somebody around will hear it.
In that case, you should:
- Take everything with you if you can, and hide from view what you can’t. (This is pretty generic advice for going anywhere with a car!)
- Test all the doors and the trunk after you’ve locked it to make sure it really is. (You should just make this a habit, especially with rental cars!)
- Don’t forget to hide or take things you might not think are valuable, such as a USB cable or car charger. One man’s junk is another man’s reason to steal!
On the Beach
Never leave your things unattended. Unless you’re on your own private beach, this is never a good option anywhere you go.
Hide your Sandals. It’s not unheard of for one of the local surfers leaving the water to spot a pair of sandals laying on the beach unprotected, look around to see if the owners are nearby, then slip into them and just walk away.
If you can’t bring your shoes with you (e.g. when you surf) you can try to find a place to hide them on the beach. However, this is not a foolproof method. While Jake and I have yet to have our shoes stolen, we’re always paranoid about seeing people around when we hide them. More than the cost of the sandals, it would suck walking through glass and gravel to get home.
Consider renting from a business that will allow you to store things with them. When Jake and I first visited Tamarindo for 3 weeks, we discovered that most stores in the area rented surfboards for about $10/day. Since we weren’t picky about what we rode, we went with Banana Surf Club since it was close to the beach. More importantly, they provided lockers so we could keep our wallets and shoes safe while we went in the water!
In Your Home
Keep things away from the windows. Jake was staying with his family in Nosara when they were robbed overnight. Although the house was gated and manned by a security guard (apparently not a very good one) they woke up to his dad’s wallet gone from the bedside table that he had been sleeping next to.
Although it looked like a break-in, upon closer inspection they found a small hole carved into the window screen. The laptops in the living room were untouched, but there were things strewn around the ground outside the bedroom window. It appeared that the thief used some kind of mechanical claw to reach through the hole and pick up items that were within reach. Lesson learned: keep valuables far away from windows!
Check all doors and windows before going to bed. You would think this is obvious! But more than once, Jake and I have rushed in with our groceries and quickly shut the door to keep mosquitos out–but then left our key in the lock. One time, we didn’t even discover it until the next morning!
Now we both check the back and front doors separately to make sure we’re good. We also keep windows closed so we can’t forget to close them. Although we live in a gated community, we don’t have a security guard. Many people also come and go around here, and we’re not even sure all of them all of them are our neighbors.
Don’t underestimate your risk for theft in Costa Rica.
Hide your valuables from view. If you take away one lesson about protecting yourself from theft in Costa Rica, make it this one: don’t make things easy for thieves. Keep bicycles and shoes inside the house, not out in plain sight where it can be easily swiped. If you’re on the first floor, keep the shades drawn. (Bonus: it’ll help keep the inside of your house cooler too!)
If you learn one lesson about protecting against theft in Costa Rica, make it this one: don’t make things easy for thieves.
Don’t keep your laptops and electronics out when answering the door, and hide them before you leave the house. If you’re renting an apartment, the property manager may occasionally send people to the house for one reason or another (e.g. your fridge is dripping and they finally sent someone to look into it, etc.) and they’ll usually have a key to get in even if you aren’t home!
In A Hostel
Put your things away. Living out of a backpack in a dorm isn’t easy. Trust me when I say I know how annoying it is to unpack everything just to find what I need! But if you leave your things in a mess around the room, it’s easier for something to disappear without you noticing. Put all your valuables in a locker or take it with you, and don’t leave anything out you can’t risk losing.
Label your food in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, or effective. Most communal hostel fridges have an honor code, which works most of the time. Just don’t be surprised if you come out in the middle of the night for juice, and find some drunk girl drinking it. Keep your food in a bag, so people can’t see what’s in it without opening it. Also try to hide it towards the back of the fridge where it’s less visible.
On Your Person
Be discreet. I cannot stress this enough. Put away your Rolex’s, your expensive jewelry, laptops, and other overt signs of wealth. You might as well be wearing a bull’s eye for thieves. Do not overestimate how much trouble you’ll avoid just by not drawing too much attention to yourself!
Edit: Someone asked in the comment section if carrying around expensive DSLR cameras would draw negative attention. If you don’t leave it around, then probably not. I understand it’s not fun to be worried about thieves while you’re on vacation, and I don’t mean to scare anybody.
The ticos aren’t predatory on tourists, so you shouldn’t feel unsafe visiting Costa Rica. But you can’t expect people to walk away from free money lying around unattended. This is true of anywhere that you visit. Don’t be the “low-hanging fruit.” Keep an eye on your things, lock up your valuables, don’t leave things in your car you can’t risk losing, and you should be fine.
Have you ever been a victim of theft in Costa Rica or know someone who has? Share your story in the comment section and help other tourists avoid the same fate!
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