So How safe is Jaco, Costa Rica?
The answer may depend on you.
I feel the need to address the safety in Jaco mainly because I met a lot of people who told me how dangerous it was before I got there. I was given account after account of how dangerous Jaco was by people who frequented Costa Rica and never went to Jaco. Yet, Jaco is one of the top tourist destinations in Costa Rica. I knew something was out of whack before I arrived. Really, how safe is Jaco, Costa Rica?
All of the stories about Jaco seemed to boil down to two man themes. It wasn’t far fetched to imagine these being two specific cases and as I got to know people and the stories better that’s what it seems to be. As with any type of 12th hand knowledge, it’s likely to be skewed severely, but here is the best I can estimate as the truth.
There were two major incidents, one being bad enough that I won’t recount the story. It involved a couple doing some remote beach camping and were stumbled upon by a group of thugs. As far as I can gather, the horror story did occur but there is some good news. First, this couple was probably not taking any safety consideration into account and just a few simple ones would have probably stopped this incident. Second, there seems to have been massive community outrage by both locals and the large American expat community. Third, it is most likely the case that these were not residents of the area. Jaco is a small town with lots of tourism and construction crews are brought in from all over the place which seems to have been the case in this issue.
The second horror story of an American business man being killed in his hotel room has some truth to it as well. Although this story has a lot of spins on it, suicide is the culprit. On this one I was able to get people who actually knew the guy and the circumstances to ensure me of the facts and convince me that this was the only such incident in at least the decade that some of these guys had been living or visiting Jaco.
My own experience is no different than any other location. Think of what you are doing and you’ll be fine. The main section of Jaco is as safe as can be expected. It’s well lit and well traveled. You should be perfectly fine if you stick to the tourist areas and get a reputable hotel or condo. I, of course, wanted to test the waters a bit and know just how bad it gets.
My personal experience
I took a couple late night adventures that included taking the “long way home.” By long way, I mean getting lost. I stumbled around the back alleys and country side and saw the worst that I could find in Jaco. Mostly, this was one or two guys who looked like trouble or dark alleys where trouble looked like it could occur. I saw no roving hoards or gangs. In fact, I would classify Jaco, Costa Rica as one of the safest places I visited during this trip. Even the drug dealers were nice in Jaco! I’ll relate one such story.
Drug dealer: “Hey man, I haven’t seen you in long time, how you beeeen?”
I look at him strange.
Drug dealer: “You no remember me? We smoke big one right here last year.”
Me: “This is my first time here man.”
Drug dealer: “oh, sorry. You want to share 420 with me?” he had a very welcoming smile and truly wanted to smoke and make friends.
Me: “Sorry man, not my thing.”
Drug dealer: “That’s too bad. You come in restaurant anyways, very good food here.”
Best burrito in Jaco! Super friendly service to boot!
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that if you travel anywhere, including Jaco, keep basic safety precautions in mind and you should be just fine. If you wouldn’t do it in D.C. or New York City, don’t do it anywhere else. Here are some more personal stories if you plan to take the trip and are concerned enough to read them.