AM Costa Rica is reporting there’s been a decrease in visitors to Coast Rica. Further, internet statistics show a “decline in interest in Costa Rica”. online papers and e-zines are losing readership. “Tourist operators say business is off 35 percent”
What’s up with Costa Rica? Tourism officials there suggest several possible explanations for the decline in tourism: bad roads, crappy infrastructure, the softening of the housing market in the U.S. But talk to anyone who’s done time in Costa Rica, and the reason will hit you upside the head and demand your wallet.
On my last visit to San Jose (’07) I was surprised by the up tick in violence and filth (I had traveled there in ’06, ’05 and ’04). Sure, the downtown area (see picture) was still a nice place to hang out. It was still a cool 70 degrees, and all the wonderful architecture was still there. But danger lurked on many side streets. I was hassled everyday by somebody wanting money. It felt like every Costa Rican I met was on the grift.
In the last year I’ve noticed more and more refugees coming to Panama from Costa Rica. Intrigued, I decided to interview an expat who’s lived in Costa Rica for years. He’s in the process of getting his Panama passport. And he’s young, a savvy marketer, and college educated. Not the stereotypical frail, geezer-gringo unable to speak Spanish and deal with culture shock.
“So there’s crime in Costa Rica. Big deal. Isn’t crime a problem everywhere?”
Aaah… it’s the “Crime happens everywhere” argument. Sure it does. It just tends to happen more in Costa Rica. You cannot talk to five people without meeting someone who’s experienced crime (and not pansy crime). Stop believing the travel brochures and start using your eyes and ears. EVERY Tico you talk with will have a story about how they’ve been affected by robbery, violence or theft.
I talked to people in Palos Verdes, Torrance and Redondo Beach, California… and almost nobody had a story for me. (One guy actually, but it had happened several years ago). Sure, you read about stuff in the papers… but rarely do you meet someone who is affected by it personally.
But here in Costa Rica, it’s endemic. Even in the most “swanky” part of the country, Escazu, if you have money– then you probably live in a gated community with an armed guard with a shotgun. You (or your neighbors) probably have a guard dog, too.
This is not a normal way to live. It is a manner of living that will eventually take a psychic toll and leave the people of this country fearful and paranoid. (Hell, they already live in houses that look like prison cells, so maybe it’s too late?)
Sure, you can compare Costa Rica to Compton or Watts or Harlem and say, “Well, it’s still so much better here.”
Whatever. When I’m in the States, I can choose to live in a community where I can go for 40 years and never lock my front door– and never be affected by crime. Even in my years living in a Beach Community of Los Angeles, and five years in Austin– I’ve never known anyone (let alone a majority) of people to have been affected by so much crime.
There’s a saying the Ticos have here: The good people live in houses that look like jail cells (because of the bars on the windows, gates, front yards, metal doors, alarms, padlocks, etc.) … and the criminals roam the streets, freely.
In most parts of rural America, you can drive to the grocery store, leave your car window open and put your wallet on the dash– every day of the week– and nobody’s going to touch it. Why? It’s a different culture.
Try that here… in the “Switzerland of Latin America.” Gone in 60 seconds.
“OK, to be fair, we’ve got crime in Panama too.”
Look here’s a simple test: Drive around a better area of San Jose (Rhormoser, Pavos, Escazu) at night and see how many people with BMWs and Mercedes park their cars on the street, or in their driveway– without a gate and a guard. Now do the same in Panama City. What you’ll see in P.C. is that people do it– successfully– without getting their cars stolen.
Does crime happen in P.C.? Yes, crime happens everywhere. But it happens a lot more, here in Costa Rica. Try taking your toy poodle for a walk at 9 pm, alone, in Manhattan Beach, California. No problem. You can do it every night of the week for a month, and nobody will bother you. Do it here and I guarantee you’re going to find trouble.
“Well, I was out last night at 11pm and there were couples and single women on the street. I feel very safe in El Cangrejo Panama.”
Hey, even in Bogota, Colombia, there are good parts and bad parts. But in the good parts, you can generally feel pretty safe walking around at night. Not so, here in Costa Rica. Look, if some folks like Costa Rica, then fine. Enjoy life. But let’s not pretend this is a rose garden without thorns, or that Crime happens everywhere, so pura vida. — when in fact, it’s a heck of a lot more dangerous (even in the good areas) here, compared to the good areas in many, many other countries.
For those of you who don’t live here yet… make sure you factor in all elements before moving. It’s not the “peaceful paradise” the tourism ministry would have you believe. It is a life of constant vigilance, if you wish to live a regular, normal life. (If you live like a hippie at the beach, far away from good hospitals, restaurants, infrastructure, etc… then go for it!)
“Funny that. My friends and I were living like hippies in Pavones, Dominical, Mal Pais, and still, anything that was not locked up, like our towels and flip flops, would get stolen.”
It’s a problem. Costa Rica’s still a great place to live… but security must be a constant concern. I hope this changes in the future, and the government will get serious and get it’s act together. But until then… Buyer Beware.
I think the crime here is an aspect of the culture. There are many, many parts of Asia where the people are (on average) much poorer than your average Tico– but do not engage in this level of crime.
“So what do you think of the websites promoting this false image of Costa Rica as tropical paradise – for example, the Escape Artist?”
Yeah, I’m familiar with Roger Gallo. His marketing is very good. Albeit bullshit. “Costa Rica– it’s all sunshine, smiles and ice cream. Not to mention… cheap beer!” — Yeah, until your 70 year-old wife breaks her hip on one of the pot holes, a transvestite takes her purse while she’s unconscious, the paramedic feels her up on the way to the hospital, and the hospital itself catches fire and needs to be evacuated, while half the patients are stuck inside because some moron locked the exit doors. Pura Vida, mother fucker.
Um … to be fair, it’s not all bad – I understand the coffee’s good.
Yeah – and you see what good Costa Rican coffee does to a guy’s blood pressure …
-More crime in Costa Rica.