Much of Latin America has a bad reputation as being unsafe for women, with tales of "forward" men, pick-pocketing, and harassment prevalent. However, Costa Rica has been increasingly popular with Americans, and it's considered one of the safest Latin American destinations, particularly outside of San Jose, the capital.
Editor-in-Chief of travelgirl magazine, Stephanie Oswald, recommends Costa Rica based on two visits to the country. Before she and a girlfriend left for Costa Rica on one of her trips, other friends were concerned about the two women traveling without other companions. But the trip went smoothly, with Oswald and her friend driving both the city streets of Quepos and unpaved, mountainous roads to Monteverde, without incident.
Oswald says that she found the locals to be friendly, and had a particularly positive experience that might have turned out differently in another country. At a restroom stop, Oswald left her wallet behind, complete with at least $100 and her passport. When she contacted the U.S. Embassy, the wallet had already been returned and the person who returned it also included a small handcrafted wall hanging. "I have it hanging in my kitchen to remind me of how nice the people are," Oswald says.
Costa Ricans have adopted the motto "pura vida" or "pure life," which has various meanings, but roughly translates to "living the good life." Many locals with this attitude seem very laid-back, and go out of their way to help visitors. In April 2005, I had several positive experiences with locals, and one in particular has stayed in my memory. In La Fortuna, as my friend and I descended a steep hill on a hot day, a man in a pick-up truck pulled over and offered us a ride. In the U.S., I never would have accepted the ride, but I felt so safe in Costa Rica that I hopped in. The man dropped us off a few blocks from our hotel with a wave.
Costa Rica is also a good destination for women on a budget. Comfortable, safe accommodations are available for less than $40 per night, and Costa Rica has plenty of ecotourism and luxury accommodations as well. Shared vans shuttle small groups of tourists around the country so you don't have to rely on public buses or a rental car.
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