Health Advice for Costa Rica

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Health Advice for Costa Rica

Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of social care in the world. Its doctors are known worldwide as some of the best. Many people from U.S, Canada and Europe go there to be treated, not only because the quality of the service but for the cost. First class Hospitals can be found in the capital. There is a public/private hospital system. There is excellent care in each. The public system has much longer waits, while the private system has shorter waits. If you are unfortunate enough to have a very sick child requiring hospitalization, the child will be transferred to the only children's hospital in CR, located in the capital. This children's hospital is public.

There have been outbreaks of dengue fever in some areas of the country and an outbreak of malaria was reported in November 2006 from the province of Limon but just a few cases. Protection against mosquito bites is very important, wearing lightweight long pants, long sleeved shirts and using insect repellents with high concentrations of DEET is recommended by the CDC. If you are going to be in very rural areas known to be malaria-infested areas, you might want to consider an anti-malarial med. However, most travelers to Costa Rica do just fine with updated childhood immunizations and taking preventative measures against mosquito bites (rather than take anti-malarial medication).

Tap water in urban areas of the country is almost always safe to drink. However, being cautious may be in order in rural areas with questionable water sources.

Stay Safe

With 1.9 million travelers visiting Costa Rica annually, more than any Latin American country, travel is quite popular and common. Still, travelers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.

  • Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians in general do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
  • Use common sense. Do not leave valuables in plain view in a car or leave your wallet on the beach when going into the water. Close the car windows and lock the car or other things that you might not do in your own country.
  • In the cities, robbery at knife point is not altogether uncommon.
  • The capital of San Jose is usually packed with foot traffic during any part of the day. However the streets rapidly become deserted shortly after dark when the public buses stop running. It is extremely dangerous to be walking in San Jose after dark when there is no foot traffic, and if you find yourself in this situation, it is recommended you find a taxi to go to wherever you need to go.
  • Buses and bus stops - especially those destined for San Jose - are frequent locations for robbery. Any bus rider who falls asleep has a good chance of waking up and finding his baggage missing. Don't trust anyone on the buses to watch your things, especially near San Jose.
  • Like any other tourist destination, watch out for pickpockets.
  • Purse snatching, armed robberies and car-jacking have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose area.
  • "Smash and grabs" of car windows do happen, so do not leave valuables in your vehicle, or if you must, make sure they are not visible.
  • Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two "friendly" people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
  • If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.
  • Make use of hostel or hotel lock boxes if they are really secure – this is great when you want to swim or kick back and really not worry.
  • On a long trip, it's advised that you make back-up CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy back home. In the event that you are robbed, you will thank yourself!
  • When encountering a new currency, learn the exchange rate from a reliable source (online ahead of time or a local bank, preferably) and create a little cheat sheet converting it to US dollars or the other Central American currency you are comfortable with. Travel with small denominations of US dollars (crisp 1s, 5s, 10s) as back-up... usually you'll be able to use them if you run out of local currency.
  • Go to a bank to change money when possible and practical. If you find yourself needing to use the services of a person who is a money changer (Sunday morning at the border, for instance) make sure to have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their doctored calculators, change the least amount of money possible and take a hard look at the bills – there's lots of false ones out there. Always insist that your change be in small bills – you'll lose more at one time if a large bill is false, plus large bills are hard to change (even the equivalent of $20 USD in Costa Rica or $5 USD in Nicaragua can be difficult in some small towns, believe it or not!) Money changers do not use the official exchange rate - you are better off going to a state owned bank to exchange your currency at no fee.
  • Do not exchange money at the San Jose airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get a lot fewer colones.
  • Traveling alone is fine and generally safe in Costa Rica, but carefully consider what kind of risks (if any) you are willing to take. Always hike with other people and try to explore a new city with other people. On solo forays, if you feel uncomfortable seek out a group of other people (both women and men). A well lighted place with people you can trust is always a plus. A busy restaurant or hostel is a great source of local info as well as a great place to relax and recharge.

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