Fortunately, San José is a relatively safe city with pick-pocketing being a tourist's top concern. We sometimes see visitors so worried about safety they forget to have a great time. So, follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy the capital city and create positive memories.
Keep That Cell Phone Under Control!
Many people don’t realize that they’re making themselves obvious targets for a street robbery. While at home, it might be normal to walk around chatting on your cell phone. Walking on the street, it’s a pretty sure way to get your phone stolen out of your hand. You’re not only showing off that you have a new iPhone, you’re walking around distracted and therefore won’t hear when someone walks up behind you. If you’re texting, it means you’re looking down and won’t see someone coming up to you. If you want to chat on your phone, step inside of a shop or stop at a café. If you’re using your phone as a map (a great thing to do!) try to have the route already mapped out and just glance at it from time to time.
*If you have an unlocked phone it is totally worth getting a SIM card for your trip to have data wherever you are. We recommend Kolbi or Liberty, you can even get one in the airport. This will greatly alleviate stress during many parts of your trip.
San Jose has decent foot traffic in most areas until about 8 p.m. After that hour we recommend definitely taking a taxi or Uber, the latter preferable even if only a short distance. The golden rule is if no one else is on the street, don't walk down it.
If you’re out at night, don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you’ve left your drink alone, its better to ditch it and buy a new one.
If you'd like to meet local people, especially if traveling alone our tip is to arrive somewhere a little early, meet the service staff and ask for recommendations before they get busy. Going to see live music can be a great way to 'bump' into people, as well as stepping outside with the smokers. Ticos are more than happy to ask you about where you are from and if you have yet fallen in love with Costa Rica so find a way to start a conversation and enjoy making new friends!
Going out? Check out our post on the Best Bars in San José
Avoid the Taxi Runaround
The old taxi meter scam is alive and well in San José. that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a cab - it just means you need to be smart. Only take official taxis. They’re bright red with yellow triangles on the side panels of the car. Before you get in the taxi, make sure the driver has a working meter (la maria). If he doesn’t, or says he can’t reset it, politely decline the ride.
Ask the driver if he knows the route to where you’re doing. If you have wifi, you can download the route on your phone and confer with him before hand. If you’ve downloaded the route on Google Maps, you can follow along on your progress even if you’re offline, to make sure you don’t get taken for a runaround.
If you think the taxi is ripping you off feel free to pay him the appropriate amount and then walk away, do not let his attitude/anger/etc. intimidate you.
This potential runaround is our main motive for suggesting the use of Uber whenever possible. You must remember that if an Uber driver is caught it is illegal to offer transport services without being registered with the government and he will be fined. So, when using Uber learn your driver's name and get in the front seat.
Solo Female Travelers
Ladies rejoice - There are many things to do in San Jose and it's a great city for women traveling alone. Most Ticos are very educated, and will treat you with kindness and respect. It is the hub of activity and culture in the country and therefore affords many opportunities to connect with locals.
Costa Rica still has its roots in Machismo - macho culture - so you might get catcalled as you're walking down the street. You could consider opting for wearing city attire vs. slinky beachwear. This will keep you warmer (San Jose is 3400 ft. above sea level) and reduce unwanted attention. ----Don't worry we are involved with various groups that focus on counter-machismo culture and we work on educating men about eliminating 'acoso callejero'. Let us put up the good fight and you enjoy your trip dressing for the amount of attention you want or don't.
If you are looking to connect with other travelers or locals we recommend using Airbnb to connect with a host or following various Facebook venue or community pages ahead of your trip to see if there will be special events during your stay. Maybe you'll happen upon a mini craft beer festival or vegan taste-testing.
Our recommendation is to avoid having a rental car in San Jose. There are pick-up locations on Paseo Colon, it's easiest to get your car as you head out of the city or drop it before heading to airport.
If you do have a rental car in San Jose you should know that you cannot leave it in the street unattended. There is an informal industry here of 'guachis' (pronounced watchees) that hang out in the street and watch cars. There is no actual guarantee your car will be safe but it's usually the only option if a parking lot is not nearby. You can pay them about 500 colones per hour as a general rate, pay when you leave. It usually comes down to whatever change you have in the car.
Downtown San Jose also has lots of new metered spots. You must pay these (look for a machine a few blocks distance) or it is likely you will get a ticket. Unfortunately there is no security associated with it so you might also have to pay a guachi.
Parking lots usually charge about 600 colones an hour and some will negotiate an overnight rate.
When parking in the street or a lot you CANNOT leave anything in the car. A few dollars worth of valuables can help someone get the next high or meal.
Be Sensible - Other Random Tips
As mentioned, San José is relatively safe. That doesn’t, however, mean that opportunists aren't out there. Just have a normal amount of caution when you’re out and about.
Use common sense, and you’ll have a great time in Costa Rica’s capital city.
By Stacey Auch.