Is Puntarenas, Costa Rica Safe?

Petty theft remains one of the main safety concerns for tourists in Puntarenas province, just as in every other town in Costa Rica. If you want to feel absolutely safe, there are better towns in Costa Rica to consider instead of Puntarenas. Still, you can enjoy a peaceful stay in the seaside village by observing basic safety precautions.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Puntarenas, it’s natural for you to worry about the area’s safety. Before visiting Puntarenas for the first time, I read articles and Facebook posts about the destination that gave me pause. 

I was only able to spend two weeks in Puntarenas and did not see the need to be scared throughout my stay. However, this hasn’t been the experience of many other visitors. 

So I did further research and asked locals about the town’s safety in terms of moving around (especially at night), the water, the weather, driving alone, the red zone in the city, and many other relevant details.

If you’re curious about how safe Puntarenas is, keep reading to learn more. 

Key Takeaways

  • Puntarenas is generally a safe place to stay. However, petty theft is on the rise in this area compared to most other Costa Rican towns. 
  • You’ll still need to exercise some caution, such as carrying a well-protected bag, not leaving your valuables unattended in your car, at the beach, or any touristy location, and not walking alone at night. 
  • There’s not too much nightlife in the area, so it gets dark quite quickly on most streets. I don’t recommend driving at night. 
  • Locals would tell you the water is safe to drink. But I recommend that you rely on bottled water to be safe.
  • It wasn’t easy to find an expat community in Puntarenas, so if you don’t speak Spanish well, it may not feel comfortable to stay for a long time. 
  • Areas to avoid in Puntarenas? None—during the day. At night? All places. Especially the beach areas. 

How safe are puntarenas? (My Two-Week Experience) 

My first impression while in Puntarenas, safety-wise, was that getting around Puntarenas and its nearby areas in Costa Rica is smooth. 

The roads are mostly paved, and some are even wider with two lanes. But driving can be a bit hectic, especially along the Pacific coast, where there are lots of tourists.

Jaco is an excellent spot for tourists with exciting shops and restaurants, and this is likely the only area you’ll feel safest in. 

Puntarenas, on the other hand, is more of a place where locals live and work, although cruise ships often stop there.

I never felt unsafe in Puntarenas town itself, especially if you stick to the main streets where there are more people. Taxis are easy to find and a safe way to travel around. However, I did develop a stomach ache after drinking from the tap a few times, so I recommend you stick to treated water. 

You can also catch a ferry to Tambor from Puntarenas, but be prepared for some traffic jams around that area. Also, don’t leave your bags unattended on ferries.

While I didn’t have any personal encounters with robbery or waylaying, the accounts of many expats and locals I spoke to revealed that this place has quite a heightened level of petty theft, which only happens when you’re careless.

Meanwhile, the food is decent, but it’s more for folks who prefer simple, everyday meals rather than fancy dining.

What Kind of Crimes Happen in Puntarenas?

It may surprise you to know that in Puntarenas, where you can enjoy an aquarium, wildlife center, nature walks, and a beach right in town, the most common crimes are petty thefts, verbal harassment, and street scams. 

On-street scams: keep an eye out for broken taxicab meters, undervaluing currency exchange, low-cost rental cars, and “cheap” tours off the street.

Is Puntarenas Costa Rica Safe

Source: Numbeo

So, when you visit, be smart: stay with others, keep your valuables safe, and don’t show off your belongings.

In 2022, Costa Rica had 656 murders, mainly related to drugs, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ).

The OIJ report showed that 111 of these homicides happened in Puntarenas, while the others occurred in Limón and San Jose.

Meanwhile, when you’re considering the safety of a tourist destination, you have to look beyond just crimes. Water, weather, driving around, and other aspects of life all play a role.

Water safety in Puntarenas

Drinking water directly from a tap is safe in most towns across Costa Rica. However, in Limón and Puntarenas, it’s best to stick to bottled or purified water just to be safe.

Remember, especially if you’re from the US, that the water in Costa Rica may be more complex than you’re accustomed to due to the lack of added fluoride.

Based on my experience living here, tap water is generally safe for showering and brushing the teeth. However, make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially to remove pesticides.

I have drank tap water in various places like San Jose, Tortuguero, Sarapiqui, Arenal, and Manuel Antonio and didn’t get sick. But if you’re in Puntarenas, I wouldn’t recommend it.

FRIENDLY ADVICE

  • If you fall ill from drinking tap water, you can find anti-diarrheal pills quickly, even in grocery stores and small shops called pulperias. 
  • The most popular brand is Alka-D, which you can get in either powder or pill form.
  • Beware of cheap alcoholic drinks because of the methanol risks, which can cause illness or even death. Exercise caution, especially in local establishments.

How safe is driving alone in Puntarenas?

Puntarenas generally offers safe driving conditions, but it’s not advisable to drive alone at night. If you drive to touristy locations in the seaside town, don’t leave valuables in your car. I’ve heard of numerous burglary cases in parking lots.

To be safe, stick with the primary means of transportation in Puntarenas rather than driving yourself.

The primary means of moving around in Puntarenas are taxis and shuttles, bus transportation, and ferries.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of petty theft on ferries that travel between Puntarenas and Paquera in Costa Rica. So, you have to beware. 

The video below is an account of a traveler who had a similar experience is described in the video below:

Safety Precautions When You’re in Puntarenas

  • Be smart: Stick to well-lit and busy places at night, and try not to show off expensive stuff in public.
  • Stay informed: Monitor local news for any travel warnings or health updates.
  • Get travel insurance. It’s always a good idea. It can be very helpful if something goes wrong, such as getting sick or having to cancel your trip suddenly.
  • Know the emergency numbers: In Costa Rica, you can call 911 for emergencies, so keep that number handy.
  • Embassy details: Make sure you know where your embassy or consulate is, as well as how to contact them if you need assistance.

Final Thoughts

If you ask for my opinion, I’d seriously recommend you consider other towns in Costa Rica for your holiday instead of Puntarenas. But if you absolutely must come down here, you have to be cautious. The theft issue only happens when you’re careless. 

Puntarenas, a Costa Rican seaside town, has its good and bad sides. It’s in close proximity to San Jose and has an all-inclusive resort, which is convenient. Plus, you can try some really fresh seafood at local restaurants.

But before you pack your bags, you have to know that safety is quite an issue here. Even beyond crimes, the water near Rio Barranca isn’t safe for swimming, so you might have to skip the beach. 

Additionally, it’s important to exercise caution in Puntarenas due to the prevalence of petty theft, where individuals steal small items. There aren’t many fun things to do for tourists, plus there aren’t many hotels to choose from.

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About 

Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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