15 Tips to stay safe and prevent emergencies on your Costa Rican vacation
Costa Rica is one of the safest and most tranquil nations in the Americas, with low crime rates, good healthcare and infrastructure, and millions of visitors enjoying their vacations without a hitch every year. While the overwhelming majority travelers will remain safe and have no problems, the reality is with all of that zip lining, horseback riding, surfing, swimming, diving, whitewater rafting, cliff jumping, jungle trekking, and partying at night (probably the most dangerous of all), sometimes stuff happens in life that is out of our control.
Yes, in Costa Rica there are pick pockets, car thieves, volcanoes, earthquakes, and a lot of ocean – all things that could cause unforeseen problems. But remember that all of those same things exist in the United States, Canada, and almost every other place in the world.
So if a travel emergency strikes, what should you do? Or even better, how can you stay prepared and help prevent emergency situations?
Here are my 15 tips to stay safe through any travel emergency in Costa Rica:
Email yourself any vital information.
Before you leave home, put any pertinent user names and passwords, pin numbers, social security number, passport information, etc. together on one document. Email it to yourself (on a secure email) that you can log in from anywhere to access.
Make sure other people have your itinerary.
Enlist someone to be your safety net back in your home, and make sure they have copies of your vital information. Provide them with your detailed travel itinerary and have a few planned check-in points where they are expecting an email from you, letting them know all is well.
embassyRegister with the U.S. embassy.
It’s a great idea to register with the local United States embassy when you visit Costa Rica, called the Smart Travel Enrollment Program.
Give your hotel information to your contact back home.
Consider your hotel your “safe house” and always let them know if you are going on tours or day trips and with whom. Provide the hotels’ phone number, email address, etc. to your contact person back home.
Put money in the sole of your shoe.
This has saved me a few times. Fold up $20 bills and place them under the soles of your running sneakers. If you ever get robbed or stranded, $40 cash will be invaluable.
passportCarry a copy of your passport.
Make multiple copies of your passport, but only carry a copy out with you. Leave the original in the hotel safe.
Split up your debit and credit cards for safety.
Don’t make the classic tourist mistake and put all of your debit cards, credit cards and identification in one place. Obviously, if that bag or wallet is lost or stolen you’ll lose everything. Put one in your toilet bag in your checked luggage, one in your carry on or backpack, and keep one on your person.
Know where your hotel is, as well as the tourist information center, police station, and hospital.
It doesn’t hurt to scope out the local emergency services when you get in town, especially if you have medical conditions or it’s your first time there. Often times, these places will have business cards with their address and maybe even a map. Or, if you look them up online, just snap a photo or screenshot of their address and the map.
Get a prepaid local cell phone.
You can usually buy a local cell phone for temporary use and put the number of your hotel and a trusted taxi driver in it, just in case.
Organize any medications.
Make sure you document any important medical information like blood type, medical conditions and allergies. Keep a copy on your person and one at the hotel. Keep your medications well organized and have a few dosages — enough for 24 hours — in your day bag in case of emergency. It also doesn’t hurt to travel with a few basic medical supplies like Aspirin, Neosporin, butterfly Band-Aids, etc.
Check local and international news.
In case of emergency (like an earthquake, protests, etc.) pay attentions to what the locals do, as they’ve probably dealt with those situations before, but also watch international news and research global Internet stories so your information is well rounded. Be especially alert for travel advisories.
Have an “Oh, Sh*t!” bag ready.
Keep one backpack or day bag stuffed with everything you would need if you had to make a quick exit or evacuate in case of catastrophe. Keep a few extra bottles of water around and your electronics charged.
Prevent emergencies on your Costa Rican vacation
Tips to stay safe and prevent emergencies Costa Rican vacationBe very careful around water.
Unfortunately, water-related injuries and drowning are all too common at beaches, rivers, and lakes all around the world. Always respect water and ask locals about the currents, rip tides, waves, and where it’s safe to go swimming. Exert particular caution around rivers where people are rafting and never jump off of a cliff or into water without knowing for sure its depth and that it’s safe.
Use official taxis.
It’s usually best to arrange taxis and car service through your hotel or legit tourist agency because then you know they are accountable and official. But if you do need to hail a cab on the streets of Jaco or late at night out by the beach, it’s a good idea to ask for the river’s ID and then snap a photo of it. Also, if you need to get out for any reason, snap a photo of the car’s license plate number. Show them you’re doing this so they understand that you’re on guard, and also you can pretend to talk on your cell phone while driving, too. But usually just making small talk and asking about their family, their hometown, and their favorite futboll (soccer) team will do the trick as well!
Err on the side of caution.
The good news is that nothing out of the ordinary happens to 99.999% of vacationers, but in case there is an issue, play it safe. Don’t try to be a hero, don’t put yourself or your family in danger, and please don’t think it’s a good time to be macho. It’s much better to be overly cautious and get through the situation unscathed, alive and well to go on vacation again.