How safe is Costa Rica for tourists?
Costa Rica is actually one of the safest countries in Central America as far as major crime is concerned. But things like pick-pocketing or petty thefts can happen, so I suggest taking basic safety precautions when you travel – like not walking in unfamiliar areas at night, not using ATMs after dark or located in isolated locations, using a flat waist pouch that can be tucked just inside your waistband for carrying your documents and cash.
Don’t consider hotel rooms to be automatically safe, so use in-room safes or those provided at hotel receptions/offices for your valuables. Keep a set of copies of all important documents (Passport numbers, Credit Card details etc.). Have a copy made of the picture/info page of your passport and the entry stamp and take this with you wherever you go – this will be accepted as a valid ID.
It’s best to avoid carrying a lot of cash, jewelry or other expensive things. Don’t leave valuables unattended even in a locked vehicle and never hand over your luggage to anyone with the exception of hotel porters.
If leaving any of your bags in a luggage-storage facility at a hotel while you travel around the country, make sure it is locked (I use small padlocks to loop through the double zippers), has your name prominently written on it and leave instructions for it not to be removed by anyone but yourself, under any circumstances.
Is bargaining/haggling allowed, or is shopping fixed price?
It is not really the norm like some other countries, and it really depends on what you are trying to buy and where. If you are, for example, buying an expensive souvenir (or several items) at a crafts shop, it’s ok to bargain a little. If you do ask for a discount, whether they offer it or not, don’t drag it out too long… that is considered impolite. So be prepared to walk away if the price doesn’t match your budget. Generally most shopping is at fixed prices. At roadside shacks, I’d generally stay away from haggling because the seller is usually not making much money off the item to begin with.
With taxis, it’s acceptable to haggle if they quote you a ridiculous price (helps to know the distance to the place you want to go, so you can judge if it’s reasonable or if he is quoting you a price that you’d expect to pay in USA – which would be too high in Costa Rica).