Speaking of Health/Safety

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Health and Safety in Costa Rica

First of all it’s important to note that Costa Rica is not really in the same category as other Central American countries when it comes to health issues. Costa Rica is NOT third world as some may think.

Drink bottled water.
Drink bottled water.

Your odds of contacting any serious tropical disease while visiting Costa Rica is slim, especially if you spend your time at the beaches or other traditional tourist spots around the country.

Staying healthy while visiting Costa Rica consists of three things- common sense and watching what you eat and drink.

Know your physical limits and don’t let passion for doing a strenuous activity over ride your reasoning skills.

Costa Rica is located just 10 degrees from the equator, so the sun is intense. Use sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply liberally.

Every travel book loves to say you can drink the water in ‘most’ parts of Costa Rica with no problem. And that is true. But why figure out where ‘most’ is. When traveling here drink bottled water and leave it at that. Although I must say, I’ve never had any problems with ice cubes or fruit drinks mixed with water ANYWHERE in the country.

Travelers’ Diarrhea

Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers to Costa Rica. Travelers’ diarrhea in normally caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout the region and can contaminate food or water. Don’t let the word ‘contaminate’ scare you- most Travelers’ diarrhea is just a stomach thing- namely your stomach getting use to the slightly more aggressive Latin America intestinal flora.

Keep hydrated and drink only bottled water or soft drinks and avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes.

It’s a good idea to eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Boil it, cook it, peel it, or FORGET it.

Be wary of street vendors.

Don’t handle animals, especially monkeys, iguanas, dogs, and cats.

Again, this really isn’t the problem here as other Central American countries, although it would be an error to dismiss it completely. But I’ve eaten some really good food made by street vendors and munched on my share of ice cubes- now Nicaragua, that’s another matter. That said, why take chances with YOUR vacation.


Yup, this is the pesky little mosquito that causes dengue.
Yup, this is the pesky little mosquito that causes dengue.
Every travel book will tell you about Malaria, and yes you could get it here, but the chances are slim. It can be found in remote wooded regions, along parts of the Caribbean Coast, and the lowlands on both coasts. Malaria is preventable.

However, Dengue is serious, as the last few years would attest. Puntarenas, Liberia, and especially Limon have been hardest hit. When dengue outbreaks occur they tend to hit hard and many, many people can and are affected. Find out before hand if the areas you plan on visiting are having problems. The Tico Times is in English and a good source of information.

Concerning malaria- if you plan on backpacking or traveling ‘remote’ Costa Rica, than you may need to see your doctor for an antimalarial drug, such as Chloroquine or doxycycline, before you do so.

Pay close attention to mosquito protection between dusk and dawn. This is when the type of mosquito whose bite transmits malaria is active. The mosquito responsible for Dengue normally bites in the daytime hours.

Use insect repellents that contain DEET.

Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.

Using nets and coils are also a good idea. Bed nets impregnated with permethrin are best. Coils should contain a pyrethroid insecticide.


Leptospirosis is an animal-borne bacteria (by the urine of infected animals) transmitted to humans via contact with drinking, swimming, or bathing water. I’ve only heard of a couple cases of this, but I think you should be aware. This bacterial infection is easily treated with antibiotics, but can rapidly cause high fever and chills.


I’ve had Leishmaniasis and I can assure you, it is not fun, and although I got it in Nicaragua, it’s quite common in Central American countries. Sand flies cause this nasty little problem. Slow growing ulcers appear, but take a couple of weeks to manifest, which probably means you’re back home by the time they do. These sand flies are found in newly cleared forest and areas of secondary growth.

To prevent Leishmaniasis follow the same guidelines as for mosquito prevention. Costa Rica has been relatively free of Typhoid fever, cholera, and yellow fever (you’ll need a yellow fever shot if entering or exiting Panama during your travels), and aren’t really a concern at the present time.

Snakes, Bugs and Creepy Critters

There is approximately 132 species of snakes in Costa Rica, which 17 are venomous. It is true that snakes really don’t want the interaction, but bites can occur. See Fer de Lance. Stay calm when encountering a snake and make no sudden movements or attempt to handle the snake. Avoid straying from the path, but if you must, avoid sticking your hands under rocks, branches, fallen trees and dense ground cover.

Just cause it looks good on the surface, always ask about swimming conditions.
Just cause it looks good on the surface, always ask about swimming conditions.
Scorpions, black widows, tarantulas, bullet ants, and biting insects too numerous to mention can all be found in Costa Rica. That said, they don’t pose the problem many tourist fear. Keep your distance, watch where you stick your hands, and it’s a good idea to shake your clothes and shoes before putting them on. Other than that- enjoy them, they’re VERY interesting and unique. BTW- just because you may not like them, don’t feel you have to kill them, as they ALL serve a purpose.

Rip Tides

Riptides account for the majority of tourists deaths in the country. Many of Costa Rica’s beaches have riptides: strong currents that can drag swimmers out to sea. Riptides are also known as rip currents or undertows. The strength of these riptides can vary from beach to beach and season to season. A riptide takes place when water that has been dumped on the shore by strong waves forms to make a ‘channel’ back out to open water. These channels can have extremely strong currents. If you’re not sure how to spot riptides, TravelCostaRicaNow.com recommends you ask a local surfer or knowledgeable hotel staff about the swimming conditions at your beach as well as the beaches nearby you may be interested in utilizing. See more on riptides.

Find out what every visitor should have in their Basic First Aid Kit before traveling to Costa Rica.

Wilderness – Health, Safety & Etiquette

What we’re about to say is pretty much common sense, and it’s not that people don’t have any, we just think they sometimes FORGET what they already know.

In Costa Rica there are an abundance of tours and activities from which to choose, and most are safe- BUT there are risks involved in any adventure activity. First and foremost,
Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in.
Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in.
know thyself. Respect your physical limitations before undertaking ANY strenuous activity. For example, if a hike up to Cerro Chato in La Fortuna seems like a great chance to see a dormant but interesting volcano, you should be aware the hike is fairly exhausting if you haven’t done any physical activity for some time; and you probably won’t make it to the top, or if you do, you’ll be too exhausted to enjoy it. So, don’t let your passion for wanting to do an activity over ride your reasoning skills. Be prepared for extremes in temperature and rainfall and for wide fluctuations in weather. A beautiful morning hike can rapidly develop into a cold and wet ordeal, so it’s a good idea to bring along some type of rain gear when venturing off into the rainforest, or to have a dry change of clothing waiting at the end of the trail. And don’t forget the sunscreen as Costa Rica is located just 10 degrees from the equator.

I don’t want to say that it’s a jungle out there, but it’s a jungle out there, so when backpacking or camping off the beaten path, remember don’t go poking under rocks, fallen branches and ground vegetation. Snakebites are not quite as rare as some travel books would have you believe, so try not to increase the odds of being bit inadvertently. Stay calm if you encounter a snake and don’t make any sudden movements, and don’t try to handle it as of the approximately a hundred and thirty-two species of snakes here, seventeen are quite venomous. It’s best to avoid swimming in major rivers unless a guide or local operator says otherwise. See leptospirosis. Although many sections of white-water and most stretches in mountainous areas are typically safe, many mangrove canals and river mouths in Costa Rica are home to crocodile and caiman populations as well as snakes and other ominous critters.

Really, it’s not the snakes and crocodiles you have to worry about- its the bugs, mosquitoes and sand flies, they will more than likely be your biggest danger or inconvenience. But they don’t have to be. Bugs are an inconvenience, but mosquitoes can carry malaria and dengue. Although your chances of contacting malaria are quite slim, especially in tourist spots, dengue should be taken seriously and has been quite the problem in a few areas the last few years. A good repellent (with DEET) and proper clothing decrease both the danger and the inconvenience. If you’re spending a lot of time at the beaches you’ll probably be bitten by sand flies. They can leave an irritating and somewhat ugly little welt. Try not to scratch as this could lead to an open sore and infection could occur. Sand flies are most active during sunrise and sunset, so cover up, or avoid the beach at this time.

Most of all, whenever enjoying nature, “leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but memories.” If you must take home a souvenir, take pictures. Do not dig up plants or flowers, don’t litter, and pack out everything you pack in.

I said you already knew this.

ENJOY! There’s a lot of nature out there.