Staying Healthy in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Most visitors to Costa Rica remain healthy for the entirety of their visit. Costa Rica has much better sanitation than many other countries in Central America. But there are a few health risks you will encounter in Costa Rica that take a little planning to avoid.

Basic Precautions

Food & Water

Costa Rica is an agricultural society that offers a wide variety of superb fruits and vegetables — all of which are safe to eat. So, eat well and healthily as you enjoy the country's bountiful harvest during your trip.

Do not order dishes like ceviche (a dish made of marinated raw fish) unless you are in a restaurant that you are relatively certain has spotless hygiene. Shellfish are especially risky. If you have any doubts about how clean a restaurant is, stick to foods that are served hot.

One of the most common health complaints of visitors to Costa Rica (and anywhere else in Central and South America) is an upset stomach. Carry anti-diarrheal medicine with you during your travels. Water in Costa Rican cities is safe to drink, but you should buy bottled water when you’re traveling in other parts of the country. You should also avoid milk — take note that roadside stands and restaurants serve fruit drinks that may be mixed with milk.

Insects & Snakes

Take steps to prevent mosquito bites. There is a limited threat of malaria and dengue fever, but the risk of these types of illnesses varies from year to year. If you have any flu-like symptoms — chills, fever, sweating, headache, vomiting, diarrhea — be sure to seek medical attention. The CDC does not currently recommend that you take malaria pills to Costa Rica, and there are no vaccinations for dengue fever. Make sure to check the CDC’s health warnings for Costa Rica before you depart.

There are also sandflies near the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast, and they are especially pesky in the evening. Bug spray will also keep these types of insects at bay. Do not scratch any itchy bites you might have. Like mosquitoes, these types of insects are most active during the evening. Other pests include scorpions, Africanized bees, tarantulas, and a few rarely seen species of poisonous snake. These are the easiest pests to avoid — simply watch where you step and don’t reach into dark spaces.

Beach Safety

Both of Costa Rica’s coasts boast gorgeous beaches but extremely strong currents, popular with surfers but dangerous nevertheless. There is plenty of fun, safe swimming to be done in the waters of Costa Rica. Look at our list of safe beaches for recommendations. Accidents are typically the result of people overestimating their swimming or surfing skills. If caught in a riptide, the best way to survive is to tread water — while calling for help — instead of fighting against the current. Keep parallel to the shore rather than attempting to swim directly back to the beach.

Safest Beaches for Swimming

• Bahía Junquillal Wildlife Refuge – Calm clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling.

Playas del Coco – Near the party town of Playa del Coco. These beaches are safe and packed with travelers.

Playa Hermosa, Northern Guanacaste – A smaller beach near Playa del Coco with an expanse of shallow water.

• Playas Rajada and Jobo (La Cruz) – A secluded stretch of white sand

Playa Sámara – Calm, warm water and beautiful surroundings.

• Playa Carirllo – Shallow water protected by a coral reef makes this beach the best pick for kids.

• Bahía Ballena/Tambor – Calm waters invite swimmers of all ages.

• The Golfo Dulce (between Puerto Jimenez and Golfito) — The gorgeous mangrove-filled region of this gulf is absolutely perfect for swimming.

Vaccinations

Travelers coming from North America or Europe have no explicit requirements for malaria prevention, immunizations, or other vaccinations. However, it is always best to check with your healthcare provider before going on an international journey, especially if your adventures might take you to jungle areas.

Doctors, Clinics, and Hospitals

If you do get sick, Costa Rican medical facilities are usually quite good, especially in San José. Medical care is also relatively affordable — an overnight stay in a hospital will cost around 350 USD.

If you need medication during your stay in Costa Rica, there are plenty of pharmacies, so getting the medicine you need will not be an issue. In fact, you may be able to obtain most basic medications without a prescription.

In an emergency you should dial 911, or 128 for the Red Cross. For advice on non-medical emergencies, consult "While In Costa Rica, What Should I Do In An Emergency?"

Crime

As a premier tourist destinations in Central America, Costa Rica is both remarkably safe and not immune to crime, for this very reason. If you practice common sense, most of the safety tips you will need to enjoy your vacation relate to sun protection, beach safety, and avoiding stomach bugs.

Violent crime is not an issue in Costa Rica, and guns are illegal. However, that still leaves petty opportunistic thefts. The advice in "Is Crime A Probelm In Costa Rica?" is full of tips to help you avoid finding yourself in a bad situation, and having your vacation ruined.