How to stay healthy while traveling in Costa Rica
You are planning to visit Costa Rica, to find your perfect piece of our beautiful little country… but do not know how to keep yourself safe and healthy…
Some basic planning and precautions can help keep you healthy and happy while traveling in this awesome little country.
Where to Get Care
Emergencies – you can dial 911 toll free from any cell phone, and no coin is required at any pay phone for emergency assistance. 911 works in all areas of the country!
In extreme emergency, The Red Cross Rescue unit may be reached directly at 128 throughout the country (2221-5818 in San José).
Tourism Care Medical Services has road and air paramedic and ambulance service throughout Costa Rica (2286-1818).
For non-emergency care your first line of defense should be your own first aid kit. Second, you can turn to the local farmacia (pharmacy). Most Farmacia’s have someone who speaks English and there usually is a DR on site, or they know one!
Drinking the Water
Note: overbuilding, lack of planning and drought conditions have lowered many aquifers (especially in Guanacaste and the Nicoya peninsula) to the point that water quality in these areas is suffering. Arsenic and other natural contaminants are being concentrated, and tap water is no longer drinkable in some lowland and coastal areas
Outside isolated problem areas municipal water supplies in most of Costa Rica are excellent. Especially in the mountains, the water is often of a higher quality than what comes out of the tap at home. Ojochal water all comes from springs and is very safe to drink. It is tested every 2 weeks to ensure it’s purity!
One of the reasons so much land is protected in parks and reserves is that Ticos recognize the importance of their watersheds. Water quality standards monitored and enforced by the AYA and local ASADA’s are similar to those followed in North America and Europe.
Water from rivers and streams is generally not safe to drink without purification. As nearly anywhere in the world, free running water contains parasites and bacterial pathogens (including giardia). Downstream from San José and in the waters around Puntarenas pollution and contamination can be severe enough to make swimming unsafe in the rivers.
The ministry of health does occasionally shut down beaches due to high coliform bacteria counts (basically sewage in the water) even in supposedly pristine areas like Manuel Antonio National Park. Only about 20% of Costa Rica’s sewage passes through a treatment plant and that only came on line in 2015. Most sewage goes into septic systems many of which are inadequate or prone to leaking into the groundwater during rainy season. A surprising amount of wastewater still simply gets dumped into the nearest river.
Red tides (algal blooms) are becoming more frequent in the Guanacaste area, as the ocean temperature rises and more fertilizer is carried out to sea in runoff. It’s generally not considered very dangerous but can cause rash, irritation and should not be ingested.
Look for a “Blue Flag” beach… you can trust that these beaches are tested regularly to ensure their safety. There are 3 “Blue Flag” beaches on the south end of the Ballena Coast – Playa Ventanas, a very popular beach! Playa Tortuga at Ojochal and Playa Ballena – entrance is at Villas Leonor, south of Uvita and north of Ojochal.
Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways of preventing disease transmission whether you are traveling or not.
Common sense is your best defense against digestive ailments. Wash any fruits and vegetables (especially ones you don’t peel), don’t eat food from stands or restaurants unless it’s as hot or cold as it should be, and don’t change your diet dramatically overnight. That being said… we eat everywhere and very rarely have an issue!
A separate travel insurance policy might be a good idea. Your normal health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid will not be accepted and will not pay for any care you need.
Many multinational companies offer policies that cover trip cancellation, lost baggage, medical costs, and emergency evacuation. For what you get this insurance is relatively expensive so shop around, get details from the providers, and read the policy carefully before purchasing.
Your ultimate medical resource must be your physician. Here is some general information, and there are daily updates by qualified medical professionals available on the CDC and WHO web sites.
No inoculations are currently required for travelers from North America to Costa Rica. However, you may want to consider a gamma globulin injection to boost your general immunity and defenses against hepatitis.
If you are from or have recently traveled to some regions of South America or Africa proof of inoculation against Yellow Fever will be required. It is not present in Costa Rica and they want to keep it that way.
Use repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk. There are a couple of mosquito borne diseases in the tropics world-wide and in Costa Rica, which are very unpleasant – chikungunya, zika, and dengue fever. On the Ballena Coast there have been few cases of these diseases, and Ojochal had no reported cases in 2017! Our personal favorite repellant is “Repel Lemon Eucalyptus”. No Deet and works!
If you get a fast, high fever and muscle pain, or are concerned you may have dengue.. make a papaya leaf tea and drink 1 cup every 4 hours or so. If you have dengue, you will be amazed how fast you get well! Personal experience on this one!
Everyone should carry a basic first aid kit when traveling. Hikers, backpackers, campers, surfers and others who are likely to find themselves away from medical care should carry more extensive supplies.
A minimum kit includes pain relievers/fever reducers (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, or Aspirin) Imodium, little packages of electrolytes to replace mineral salts lost in sweating, band aids, blister treatment, tweezers, neosporin, tape, eye drops, insect repellent, sun screen. The benefits of having each of these items convenient should be apparent.
That said, by using the same common-sense practises and taking good advice from locals, Costa Rica is a very safe place to travel and live! Exercise normal precautions, just like you would at home!
Do you have questions about this article, or buying property in Costa Rica? Contact us!