One of your top concerns when traveling to Costa Rica is probably safety. I mean, after all, you are traveling to a foreign country that is unfamiliar to you. To help you with Costa Rica safety we decided to create this guide to help you have a worry-free and fun vacation in paradise.
This guide focuses entirely on safety from environmental factors and activities in Costa Rica. If you are looking for a guide to staying safe from crime in Costa Rica, just head on over here.
Alright, lets get to it!
Costa Rica Safety from Bacteria
Occasionally people develop illnesses due to bacteria in Costa Rica. I am a prime example of this. After living in Costa Rica for about a year I developed some weird rashes on my arms. The started to spread in size so I went to the doctor to see what could be done. My doctor put me on antibiotics but that didn’t help at all.
I then started doing my own research and decided to try probiotics instead. I thought maybe it was a bacteria living in my body that I could possibly kill off by probiotics. This actually worked. Within a few months, my skin was completely clear.
Anyway, it is hard to completely stay away from bacteria. However, you can eliminate your chances of bacterial infections by not swimming in any rivers or streams. Also, the water is generally fine to drink here but always ask at your hotel first.
I recently bought a Lifestraw waterbottle and highly recommend it for killing possible bacteria in the water.
People also sometimes get sick from the food here. It happens to us occasionally, but fortunately, it has never been severe.
To minimize your chances of getting sick from the food we suggest avoiding street food vendors. It is hard to know how long their food has been sitting out in the sun. You should be fine at restaurants, but we suggest reading reviews on TripAdvisor when possible before selecting a restaurant to eat at.
Safety from Weather Factors in Costa Rica
During the dry season, you don’t have to worry too much about safety from weather factors in Costa Rica. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
– The sun is extremely strong here, especially during the dry season. After all, we are close to the equator. Even when it doesn’t look sunny out you should always wear strong SPF. For more information check out our guide to the sun in Costa Rica and how to protect yourself.
– Along the same lines, no matter what time of year you are traveling to Costa Rica you need to keep in mind that it is very hot here. Always drink lots of water because you can get dehydrated very fast.
– Occasionally it can get so hot and dry that there are forest fires and mini tornados. We have only seen this happen in the northern part of the country up in the Playas del Coco area, but if there hasn’t been any rain in several months fires could start popping up around the country.
In the rainy season, you have a bit more to worry about. Occasionally the rains are so heavy that they bring about floods, landslides, etc.
– This past year a man from Massachusetts died after driving across a river in Dominical during a flash flood. He was unfortunately sucked out to the ocean. If there are heavy rains please be careful where you drive. We have seen these flash floods first hand and they are scary!
– Two years ago we got stuck in Tropical Storm Nate. We were unable to get home for two days because of the damage to roads due to landslides.
– Try to stay up to date on the weather during your stay in Costa Rica and plan your travel days around in when possible.
– We also suggest following the Ministry of Public Works on Facebook. They are great about posting up to date information on road conditions.
Safety from Animals in Costa Rica
There are dangerous and poisonous animals in Costa Rica (like this cute little froggy). However, the chances of you seeing a poisonous animal here are pretty slim. Most animals won’t bother you unless you disrupt them first. However, we do have a few tips for you.
– In the Cahuita National Park, we always see poisonous vipers. They are always on the trees and won’t bother you, however just be aware that you shouldn’t grab on to random trees.
– There are poisonous spiders (we once had a tarantula in our washing machine here) but they typically won’t bother you. However, I religiously check under my blankets before I go to bed and I suggest doing the same if you are a bit paranoid.
– You definitely need to protect yourself against mosquitos. They are prevalent in Costa Rica and can carry all sorts of illnesses like Zika. We have a complete guide to mosquitos here.
– Two words…Bot fly. Anybody heard of it? Don’t Google it. The pictures will traumatize you for life. Basically, it is a fly that lays its eggs under your skin. It won’t kill you, but you will have to kill them and cut them out of your skin if you get them. I think it is super rare, but it can happen here.
– Sometimes you could just get some weird bites here and have no idea what they are. I got bit by something once at the beach and a big part of my thigh swelled up for about four days. It may have been a spider bite, but I felt fine and it eventually went away on its own. You just never know in this country!
– There are larger animals such as jaguars in Costa Rica. We have never seen them and the chances of you seeing one are slim to none, but I just wanted to give you the heads up anyway!
– There are jellyfish and stingrays in the oceans. We have only had experience of this in the northern part of the country near Playas del Coco. We have not heard of anyone dying from jellyfish or stingrays in Costa Rica, but they sure do hurt! Thomas got a stingray sting on his foot last year and it hurt for up to a few weeks after.
To protect ourselves we always wear shoes when hiking and try to wear pants if we know we will be in a very densely wooded area.
There is not much you can do to protect yourself from jellyfish or stingrays if you plan on going in the water. However, just ask at your hotel. They can usually tell you if that is something you need to be concerned about in the area you are visiting.
Safety at Activities in Costa Rica
It’s important to remember that safety is not regulated in Costa Rica the same way it might be in your home country. Just because something is not off limits here, doesn’t always mean it is a good idea. Let me give you some examples…
– At places like waterfalls, national parks, river etc. there are not usually areas which are blocked off to the public. This means that you can get right up to the edges of waterfalls, stand on the edge of cliffs in national parks etc. You need to constantly be judging a place and situations safety.
A girl from the US died in 2018 because she slipped off the edge of Nauyaca waterfall. There are signs warning you at this waterfall to not get too close to the edge and that rocks may be slippery, but there are no railings blocking you from getting to close.
This is pretty standard in Costa Rica. Just remember that even though something here may be accessible to the public that doesn’t mean it is safe.
– Activities (zip lining, rafting, rappelling etc.) are not regulated in the same manner as they might be in your home country. In other words, it is always up to you to use your best judgment. I always suggest reading reviews of any activity before you book it. Most companies are very good about keeping things at a high standard to please tourists, but this is not always the case.
In 2018 five people were killed when their raft flipped within five minutes of being on the water during a rafting tour. Their raft flipped due to heavy rains which flooded the river. In this situation, the company should have not allowed the rafting tour to happen because it was very obvious that the river was not safe. However, it is believed that they had a lot of pressure to keep the tour running to make a profit.
As I said before, this is not the case with most companies, but you do have to use your own judgment. Thomas and I booked a kayak tour in Uvita once and due to lightning the company canceled the tour and refunded our money. They were great about looking out for our safety. You just never know!
– You also need to be careful when swimming. There are areas of the country with strong rip currents. We suggest always asking at your hotel about swimming conditions before getting into the ocean. Sometimes two beaches right next to each other can have completely different conditions.
Safety from Plants in Costa Rica
You don’t need to worry too much about poisonous plants in Costa Rica. Chances are you aren’t going to be stuck in the wilderness surviving off of wild berries or anything like that. However, we have just a few warning anyway.
– Mango trees have the same oil in them as poison ivy, poison sumac etc. Yes, I learned that the hard way.
– If something looks like a tasty fruit to eat of a tree or bush, just check with somebody who knows the area better first. There are a lot of berries here that may look delicious but are actually poisonous.
Our Tips for Staying Safe in Costa Rica
– Definitely, register for STEP if you are a US resident. This is a great system that the US government uses to keep track of where its citizens are. By registering for STEP the government will get in contact with you if anything such as natural disasters occur while you are in Costa Rica.
– Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. It may not actually keep you safe, but it will help you out a lot if something does go wrong on your vacation and you need to get medical help.
– We didn’t get into it in detail here, but you should also be aware of how to protect yourself from natural disasters. We have a complete post on that here.
– Read our post on Common Scams in Costa Rica and How to Protect Yourself as well as Crime in Costa Rica – What You Need to Know for more info on safety in Costa Rica.
Hopefully, we didn’t scare you with this post. That is definitely not our intention. Costa Rica is generally a very safe place to travel in our experience. However, we just want you to have the best vacation possible and feel that sometimes having a bit more knowledge can keep you from getting in a bad situation.
If you have any questions about Costa Rica safety just leave them in the comment section below and we will help you out. Also, if you have any tips to add, we’d love to hear them to help future travelers out.
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