In 2019, 381,448 women traveling alone arrived in Costa Rica, representing 15.8% of the total number of tourists arriving in the country that year. Such figures show the importance of that market in the Costa Rican economy; we are talking about a promising market. At the same time, figures from the Judiciary indicate that in 2020 there were 8,941 complaints for sexual crimes against women (nationals and foreigners). If we look at the situation of Costa Rican women who are forced to take extra security measures when walking the streets of the GAM and in tourist areas, we are then in a position to ask ourselves the legitimate question: What is the situation of the conditions that Costa Rica offers to women traveling alone, whether nationals or foreigners? Is it safe for a woman – whether tourist or national – to visit the country alone?

The safety of women travelers in Costa Rica: figures and notorious cases

If so many national and foreign women have decided to visit the country, it is a sign that Costa Rica is definitely a safe destination for women. With minimal care, it is possible for a woman to visit the length and breadth of the country without great difficulty.
However, if we look at the figures from the Judiciary and its Observatory of Gender Violence against Women, in 2020 there were 8,941 complaints of sexual crimes against women. According to the Observatory, in 2021 there were 13 murders that were already judged as femicides and another 37 are still under investigation. In 2020 there were 28 confirmed femicides.

In addition, in recent years there have been cases of rapes and murders of women who were alone, both foreign and nationals that have shaken the idea that Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”. Let’s take a closer look:
In 2018, Arantxa Gutierrez had arrived with her husband, Miguel Escribano, in Tortuguero. Miguel had to return to Spain with Arantxa in a coffin after she was found dead on the path of a hotel, murdered by a Nicaraguan who was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The following day, on Santa Teresa beach, Maria Trinidad Mathus, a Mexican tourist, was also killed and raped. The main suspect was released and the case went unpunished.

In November of the same year, Stefania, an American-Venezuelan was raped and murdered by the guard of the airbnb where she was staying in the GAM. 16 prison

In July 2020, Costa Rican doctor, Maria Luisa Cedeño, was savagely raped and murdered in her room at the 5-star Hotel La Mansión. The case is still under investigation but the 3 suspects include the same hotel owner, a Dutchman.

More recently, 4 men raped Emily, a young Danish tourist who had taken a tuk-tuk with her friend and was taken directly to her rapists. They managed to get out alive, but the incident was a sore point and highlighted the dangers of tourism for women in the Costa Rican Caribbean area.

Controversy surrounding the ICT and INAMU Good Practice Guidelines

In June 2021, prior to the events in the Caribbean zone, the ICT, INAMU and CONSETUR had signed a groundbreaking agreement between the public and private sectors to create better safety conditions for women travelers. Thus was born the SOFIA Network program, created within the framework of the Specific Institutional Support Agreement between the ICT and INAMU on March 22, 2021. The program actively involves communities in tourist areas and is designed for all people working directly and indirectly in tourism and tourism companies established in the country, in order to raise awareness.

Despite the good intentions behind SOFIA, after the rapes that occurred in the province of Limón, the guide of recommendations elaborated by the National Commission of Tourist Security (CONSETUR), integrated by the Ministry of Public Security, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), the Public Ministry, the Judicial Investigation Agency, the Embassy of the United States and the National Chamber of Tourism, began to circulate in networks.
The guide gives recommendations to women on how to dress, interact and behave. These recommendations caused a stir in Costa Rica and harsh criticism to the Government for certain recommendations such as “try to dress similar to the locals to avoid attracting attention”, “avoid walking alone at night”, “maintain personal control” in case of drinking alcoholic beverages and “be careful with the messages that a friendly or trusting attitude may generate”.
The guide was harshly criticized in the media by political parties, congresswomen and feminist organizations, which pointed out that the Government revictimized women through the document, tried to limit their autonomy and reproduced messages that justify gender violence.
Among the organizations that repudiated the Guide of Good Practices for Tourism is UNIDAS Talamanca, which considers the text as a “revictimization”:
“We repudiate the negligent actions of the Government, which through its institutions places the blame for sexual aggressions on the victims, with ‘recommendations’ aimed at limiting our physical autonomy, including those that cover the way we dress, the time we decide to go out, the alcohol we decide to consume, among others,” the organization expressed.
The statement adds that the document contains “profoundly revictimizing” measures that “reproduce and justify the structural violence that we women suffer every day.”
“Again, we must vindicate that aggressions will never be the responsibility of the victim. To insinuate otherwise is to feed the stereotype that, in a sexual aggression, the woman’s behavior must be reviewed,” she lamented.
In the face of the controversy, on January 9, 2022, the Costa Rican government offered an apology to women for the publication of a guide on tourist safety that provided recommendations on how to dress, interact and behave.
“At the request of the President of the Republic (Carlos Alvarado), the Government offers an apology to all women in the country for the errors in the Guide of Good Safety Practices in Tourist Operations,” an official statement said. President Alvarado said that the document “contains statements totally out of place, in any context, which must be corrected” and expressed that “violence against women has no justification and we must fight it from all areas”.
The document was also removed from the digital platforms of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.

What is being done?
Since then, new measures more focused on ensuring the safety of women travelers were announced:
“Training will be redoubled for police forces on issues of violence against women and the 72-hour protocol is being revised to provide timely attention to women victims, among other proposed measures, all with the goal of making tourist communities safe places for all people, and in particular for women, whether locals or visitors,” a government statement said.
On the other hand, many initiatives to protect women come precisely from other women taking private initiatives. For example, the tourism agency Illusion Travel and Duruimity Adventures joined forces to create safe adventures for women who want to connect with nature.
“This is a safe space, where girls go to the mountain to enjoy, to laugh, to play, to just be. In these adventures it doesn’t matter that you don’t have anyone to travel with, because you know that many friends are waiting for you to share” says Mari Jimenez, facilitator of the experience.
Other women have launched transportation services by women for women and the famous Didi and Uber platforms have also launched programs in that direction.

All in all, Costa Rica is a safe country to travel alone, but there is still much to be done to ensure that no other family has to live through the mourning and trauma of a daughter or friend who has been raped or murdered. For the time being, women will have to continue to sacrifice their freedom to be protected.

Author: Sensorial Sunsets