There's no reason to be afraid while driving in Costa Rica, however excessive confidence can make you an easy target for thieves. Follow these recommendations when travelling, and make your trip a safe one.
Your car is not a safeEdit
Remember when you're driving that you car is not a safe. It can get broken into quite easily, and your belongings can be gone in a matter of seconds. Thieves will operate in tourist-prone areas during peak season, seeking out rental cars by their identifying stickers, and opening them as soon as their owners are gone.
- Always lock your car and roll up your windows: leaving your car parked with unlocked doors at the beach is the #1 way to get your stuff lost. What may seem like a no brainer back home, is usually not considered by people travelling in Costa Rica. We have the same problems other countries do, you can't leave your car unlocked here. Don't.
- Don't leave stuff in plain sight. Don't leave your camera, your computer, your Nintendo DS, in plain sight. Put it away or take it with you, even if your car has an alarm system. Not even for an instant. Most horror stories I've heard from tourists start with "I was only gone for a minute..."
- Leave your luggage at the hotel. Leave you luggage back at the hotel, and take only stuff that will be easy to carry with you, so that you don't leave anything in the car. A car filled with luggage and packages only makes you a more attractive target at the parking lot.
- Under the seat or in the glove box? Get real. Don't think you're really smart for hiding your stuff under the seats, or locking it in the glove compartment. Those are the first two places any thief will search after breaking in.
- Take your GPS and cell phone out. Remember to take your GPS unit and cell phone with you when you park. There's nothing more attractive than a $200 GPS, just sitting on a suction cup on the windshield.
- Consider tinted windows. If you're going to be driving for a while, and often have the need to carry valuables with you, consider getting tinted windows on your car.
- Know where you're going. Check your GPS, the coordinates of your destination, and the route you're supposed to take. Find waypoints you can use to guide yourself along the way, they'll come in handy if you should need roadside assistance.
- Perform a walkaround check. Before you get in your car, walk around it. Check for flat tires, and check each tire for rocks or stuff that might puncture it as you roll out (see below).
- Stay out of trouble spots. Most GPS navigation will warn you if you're about to go into a troublesome part of town. Take the advice and stay away.
- Don't play around with your cell phone. Not only is it dangerous, but if you stop to think about it, you're flashing a $400 piece of equipment through the window, for all to see.
- Keep your GPS in the center console or in the middle of the dash. Those are the safest, most out of reach places where you can put a GPS unit.
- Keep the windows up and doors locked. Especially when you're stuck in traffic, keep the windows rolled up as high as possible and the doors locked. It's not unusual in the middle of traffic for thieves to run up and snatch whatever they can get through an open window.
- Keep stuff off the seats. Don't place your laptop or briefcase on the passenger seat. Place it in the trunk, or if you must have it with you, on the floor. Same thing with cameras, cell phones, and other valuables. Putting them on the seats is a good way to get your window broken at a traffic light.
- Keep your jewlery safe. Don't go riding around looking like Mr. T. if you want to avoid trouble.
If it should come to thatEdit
Driving in Costa Rica is safe. That's a known fact. Still, there's no guarantee that you'll never be a victim. Crime exists here, as it does everywhere else.
Always write down the information for your hotel, car rental, credit card company, and local embassy and keep it in a safe place outside your luggage and wallet. Most people write it down and stick it in a purse, next thing they know they're missing their purse and the critical information they need to react. Keeping a digital copy in your cell phone or even your camera can be a lifesaver.
Car thieves operate two ways here: they'll attack parked cars, or hijack a moving vehicle at a traffic light or stop sign. In some instances they'll force the car to stop by using obstacles or deflating the tires. In these cases they'll puncture the tire while the car is parked, so halfway down the road it goes flat.
Always do a walkaround check of your car before getting in, and check your tire pressure before driving off.
If you're confronted or stopped for your car, just give it up. Don't try to resist, don't try to stall, don't try to drive off. Carjackers are normally well prepared in advance: you might see 2, but there's 3 more and a getaway car hiding nearby. And since they only have a minute or two to complete their operation, they'll stop at nothing to get what they're after. So don't put your life on the line, get out and hand it over.
Get to a safe location or a place where there's other people and call for help. 9-1-1 works anywhere in the country, land line or cellular. Call your car rental immediately, as well as your credit card company, if your cards were taken. If your passport is gone, don't forget to call your embassy at once as well. Notify your hotel, so they'll restrict access to your room, as well as help to send someone to pick you up.
Reserve the next few days, you'll probably be required to fill out police reports and insurance forms, as well as whatever might be needed to get your credit cards and passport replaced.
Breathe easy now. The possibility that you'll be a victim of car theft is very low, if you follow the basic precautions. Costa Rica is a safe place, and the vast majority of people come and go without a hint of trouble. Be safe, and enjoy your trip.