Creepy Crawlies and Airborne Annoyances

Most of the insects you’ll encounter in Costa Rica are more of an annoyance than a safety concern, but some can carry diseases.

Mosquitoes are the most significant threat, but not because of malaria which pops to mind when people think of the tropics but is uncommon in Costa Rica. Instead, mosquito borne dengue fever (bone break fever) is on the rise throughout the world and is becoming more common in the Guanacaste and Caribbean regions of Costa Rica.

The dengue virus is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which hunt most actively at dawn and dusk, in shady areas, or when the weather is cool and cloudy.

Aedes aegypti
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit the dengue fever virus

There is no treatment for dengue fever. Fluid replacement is important to prevent dehydration and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps control the fever (Do Not take aspirin).

Purrujas (no-see-ums) are mosquito’s super evil microscopic twins that can transmit encephalitis – very rarely transmitted to humans in Costa Rica.

Africanized bees are present. We saw a miniature stampede down the main street of Puerto Jiménez when a group of horses being prepared for a tour group disturbed a hive. Dodging back and forth while running is better than running in a straight line (but don’t trip), get inside a building car or tent as quickly as possible. The Warner Brothers® standby of diving in the pond and breathing through a reed until the bees move on is not recommended since the bees can be very patient.

Scorpions like to snuggle into your shoes or crumpled up clothing while you sleep, so shake them out before you put them on.

Violent Crime in Costa Rica

Violent crime is rare in Costa Rica when compared with crimes of opportunity like theft from parked cars and foreigners are nearly never victims.  As with most places the majority of violence is domestic – however, muggings, beatings, stabbings and shootings are no longer shocking rarities in San José or to a lesser extent in some of the populous beach areas.

Drug related crime is on the rise as well.  Corruption and inefficiency in the government have allowed cartels latitude to operate, and as other international smuggling routes have come under scrutiny both the trans-shipment and import of cocaine, marijuana and meth are increasing rapidly along with the inevitable associated violence.

U.S. coast guard plane in Costa Rica
U.S. coast guard plane flying drug interdiction surveillance along the Pacific coast

In the past year Costa Rica’s headlines have often seemed more appropriate to Detroit or Mexico – a bus driver shot by a junkie for a fare box full of coins, a headless body of a Colombian national washed up on the beach, and a Canadian woman beaten and shot to death near her home.

The Costa Rican government is well aware of the impact it would have on the tourism industry if any serious harm were allowed to come to an international visitor and although it’s cynical, you can be sure they are doing everything possible to keep violent crime away from tourist destinations.  If you get mugged it might cost you a hundred bucks, but it could potentially cost them millions in negative publicity.

There are simple things you can do to reduce your risk.

Leave your jewelry home and don’t flash cash.  Electronics (camera, i-phone/pad, notebook) are also dangerous temptations so be aware that your new Nikon D90 will make you a target.

There’s more going on in cities causing confusion and distractions that criminals love to take advantage of.  Don’t go to San José if you don’t have to.  If you do go, plan your route on a map ahead of time, know where you are going, walk or drive with relaxed confidence and purpose. If you get lost, pretend you know where you are going until you can duck into somewhere safe (cafe, bookstore, someone’s house). If you have to ask directions on the street, ask a woman because they are generally more safety conscious and won’t direct you through bad areas.

Taxis are all over – in an emergency jump in one (make sure it’s an officially licensed cab, they are usually obvious). Buses work well too, but you never know exactly where they are headed…if it’s an emergency you probably won’t care.

If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, stay calm, look down, be quiet, remember that it’s just stuff and let them take it if they really want it.