Tourist scams in costa rica

Common Costa Rica tourist scams

 No matter how much a country claims to be safe for tourists, there will always be a risk of getting conned. Every country has a fair share of tourist scams, and Costa Rica is no exception. With an inflow of more than 2 million tourists per year, the tourism sector is one of its primary income sources. And though it is a very safe and incredible tourist destination, tourist scams are a proportionally common occurrence. However, if you are cautious and well-versed with these scams, avoiding them can be pretty simple. 

So, to help our fellow tourists have a safe and fun touring experience, we’ve compiled a list of some common tourist scams. Skim through our Costa Rica safety tips to learn how to avert such happenings! 

Online Travel Scams

The first and foremost scam that tourists can fall prey to are the internet/online travel scams. There are numerous travel companies online with no authenticity, just waiting for someone to fall into their trap. Though this isn’t an everyday occurrence, being careless on a bad day can cost you a lot.

How to avoid this?

Being careful is the key. Before you entrust any company with your money, make sure to check its ratings with organizations like BBB ( Better Business Bureau), Canatur, and ICT. These organizations rate the companies after thoroughly checking their legitimacy and the ones that make the cut, are the trustworthy lot. Most of the companies and hotels are responsible and legitimate but it’s your duty as a consumer to go through their details before trusting them. 

The taxi meter scams

It’s a common practice among taxi drivers to try their best to get as much money from their customers as possible. Tourists are the most vulnerable group to be targeted. This is due to the notion that tourists are usually naive and less likely to pay attention to the taxi meters. All the official Costa Rican taxis come with a meter. However, some sly taxi drivers either don’t turn the meter on or don’t reset the meter from the previous trip. If the tourist happens to acknowledge this fact, some would claim that their meter is broken. These are all common lies that you must look out for.  

How to avoid this?

Preventing such scams from happening to you is pretty simple. The best way is to refrain from taking a taxi. Whenever you can, it’s best to call for an Uber instead, as they are a cheaper and a much safer travel option than taxis. However, if you don’t have any choice other than to take a taxi, please ensure that it is a legally registered one. Also, see to it that the driver resets the meter to zero before beginning the ride. If they don’t, board a new taxi.

The slashed/popped tire scam

This is a scam that people planning to rent a car in Costa Rica need to be aware of. Renting a car comes in handy when you want to tour around the city without any hassle. However, rental cars are also popular subjects to this popped tire scam. This act involves two people. One slyly gets your tires slashed and when you get out to check out the tire, the second one comes in to help you and then robs you and takes off. 

How to avoid this?

Falling victim to such a con is very tragic, but you can do some things to ensure that the harm remains confined to just your tires. Firstly, if you need to check on the condition of your tires, it’s best to do so in a populated parking lot. However, if you happen to be in a remote area, lock your car and call your rental company. Stay inside till they send the police or someone else to help you out.

The Currency Exchange scams

The Currency exchange rate serves as another popular means of scamming tourists. For over a decade, the currency rate of the Costa Rican colones remained around 500 colonies to 1 USD, which was easier to calculate and use. However, over the years, the colon has seen a gradual decline in its value. With daily fluctuations in its value, it is very convenient for native businesses to take advantage of you as a tourist by simply using the older conversion rates to gain profit.  

How to avoid this?

As a tourist, you should keep yourself up-to-date with the current conversion rate. If you think that the exchange rate offered to you seems irrational, you should look for the conversion rate they have posted or the one published on a banking website or in any newspaper. Another way to prevent such happenings is by paying in colones for things whose rates are mentioned in colones. 

The fake taxi scam

Most commonly experienced in San Jose, this is another popular scam the tourists need to be aware of. Many times when you get out of a bus at a bus station, there are plenty of supposed taxi drivers waiting, asking if you need to hire one. Mostly these taxis are illegal and if some unfortunate soul tends to agree to hire them, they will charge 4 to 5 times the actual taxi fare for the same ride. However, once the ride is over there’s nothing much you can do, especially in an unknown country, other than pay the entire amount. 

How to avoid this?

The only way to prevent such mishaps is by knowing what a legal Costa Rican Taxi looks like. The legal taxis in Costa Rica are orange or red ( orange for the airport ones and red for the official ones). All these taxis have a meter installed and there’s a yellow triangular symbol imprinted on the driver’s side door. So, only after thoroughly checking whether the taxi you’re about to board is an official one or not, should you get in. In case you can only board an unofficial taxi, it is best to negotiate the price beforehand.

The fake tour guide scam

Another popular scam we’ve heard people fall prey to is the fake tour guide scam. What happens here is that you’ll find plenty of people at famous tourist destinations asking if you’d like to have a tour guide. To give their best impression they are usually well-dressed and some even go as far as to wear a shirt from an official tour company. They usually come well prepared and hence will go into every detail to lure you into saying yes. From amazingly discounted prices to a detailed plan of the tour, they tell you everything that will convince you that they’re doing the best you’ll find. Next, they ask you for an advanced payment. And once you pay them, they’ll vanish with your money, never to be found again. What’s more tragic is that not only do you lose your hard-earned money but also your precious time.

How to avoid this?

To avoid buying into such bluffs it’s best to book a tour guide through an official company. The hotel you’re staying at can also help you find a reliable company for arranging worthy tours. Irrespective of who you’re trusting, it’s best to do a background check beforehand to avoid such problematic situations.

The Gas Station Scam

Such types of scams are a more common occurrence than you’d like to believe. Since there’s no option of self-service at the Costa Rican gas stations, your experience of the same depends on the respective attendants. Scamming tourists at a gas station can either be done by starting the pump before it reaches zero or through incorrect currency exchange rates. Some even try to simply charge more on your credit card than the amount shown in the meter.  

How to avoid this?

Your physical presence, as well as the presence of mind,d is very important if you want to avoid getting scammed at a Costa Rica Gas Station. Make sure that both the colones section and the liters section read zero before they start filling up your tank. Do not leave your vehicle unattended while it is being filled. 

The lengthy taxi route scam

Another easy and common means among the taxi drivers to fool the tourists and gain as much money as possible is by taking the longest possible route to reach a destination. Tourists have no idea of the common shortcuts and hence are unsuspecting and easily fooled.

How to avoid this?

All you need is google maps on your phone! You can simply download the maps for the route you’re about to take and follow along as the taxi driver takes you to your desired location. In case they make any deviation from the original route without any reason, just call them out politely. Or you can always book an Uber, which usually has a lower fare and if anything of this sort happens, you can call the company and get compensated.

The fake parking-lot scam

This is another common scam occurring near famous tourist destinations such as Manuel Antonio. What usually transpires is that a person standing on the roadside near some famous tourist destination will call you when they see you driving past them. Then they’ll tell you that the original parking lot is not available for parking and will state a plausible reason for the same. Then they take you to another location and charge you about double the original parking cost.

How to avoid this?

Before you start your journey, make sure to look up whether the destination you’re headed to has a parking lot or not. If there is one, then you should check its location and the fare they charge. To know more about Costa Rica and its famous destinations, you can always go to our Costa Rica FAQs and shoot some of your queries as well.

The faked car accident scam

Working on the lines of the popped/slashed tire scam, here the perpetrators try to either stay behind you to slam their car lightly into yours, or stay in front of you and then apply brakes all of a sudden so that your car slams into theirs. And once you get out of your car to inspect the damage, they try to rob you.

How to avoid this?

This is a rather unfortunate act where nothing much can be done to prevent it. However, what you can do to minimize the damage is to stay in your car and lock it from the inside. It is best to call the police as well as your rental car company to avoid things escalating in the negative direction.

The drink spilling scam

This is something you need to look out for at crowded places such as bars and restaurants. The culprit here will ‘accidentally’ try to spill your drink and then try to help you clean the stain all the while acting apologetic and guilty. And taking advantage of your distraction their accomplice will smoothly pickpocket you.

How to avoid this?

You cannot do anything about someone spilling something on you. But if someone offers help with cleaning it up, refuse and tell them you don’t need it. Even if such a thing does not happen to you, it’s best to beware of the people around you whenever you’re in a crowded place. 

The ATM scam

While we’re at it, let’s look at ATMs through a cautious lens as well because they’re equally susceptible to scams. Though a rather uncommon occurrence, you can never rule out the possibility of such a thing happening to you. There has been news of people installing card readers in ATMs that allow them to access your card details. Also, it’s always a good idea to look out for any suspicious person at or near the ATMs. 

How to avoid this?

Refrain from using ATMs located in secluded settings, instead opt for one that is located in a well-populated area. Also, if you find anything off about the ATM, go find another one. 


The list of scams indeed runs long and by no means are these supposed to scare you off and prevent you from coming to Costa Rica. It is a beautiful country with rich natural inheritance and a flourishing tourism industry. And we simply want every tourist that visits or plans to visit Costa Rica to have the best time of their lives. By equipping yourself with adequate knowledge of all these potential scams, you can easily dodge any such problematic situation. 

With this article, hope you’ll have one less thing to worry about especially with covid still lurking around. All you need is to follow these safety tips, know about the current CoronaVirus Update and you’re all set for a happening trip to Costa Rica!