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.

Current Weather Conditions Arajuez – San José Costa Rica

Current Weather Conditions

Food Costs in Costa Rica

How much should I budget for food on my Costa Rica Vacation?

One question that we get a lot from friends and others planning travel is “how much should we budget for food?”  Many people think of Costa Rica as a budget destination but our experience is that for sustenance you’ll spend at least as much there and often a bit more, as in the U.S., Canada or Europe.

So how much should you budget for food on your vacation? The short answer is a little more than you budget for lodging.

That surprises most people, but it’s better to know in advance than be shocked after you get the bill.

Corleone’s Restaurant Cahuita
Corleone's Restaurant Cahuita

If you’re an average traveler

  • you’re staying about a week
  • you’re spending about $800 – $1,000 per person in Costa Rica for transportation, lodging and tours (not including international airfare)
  • and your average hotel or lodge costs $80-$150 per night double occupancy

Since you’re the average traveler the price estimates below are for average restaurants. Not the cheapest hole in the wall, nor the Sunset view lobster bib place on the cliff.

Breakfast is often included and sometimes pretty hearty, but if not, it’s the cheapest meal of the day if you end going to a restaurant ($3 – $8).

At lunch you might want a chicken sandwich ($9), salad ($8), burger ($8) or personal pizza ($11) and a fresh fruit drink ($3).

At dinner grilled fish ($13), shrimp pasta ($16), steak ($12), or grilled chicken ($12). Split an appetizer ($10) and a desert ($5), add a couple of beers for him ($7) and a couple of glasses of wine for her ($15).

Throw in a couple of powerbars ($3 each), two gatorades ($3 each) and a bag of chips ($2) for snacks on the road or while you’re hiking.

Add it all up and it’s $48 to $69 per person. Tack on the 13% tax and 10% service and two people spending $80-$150 per night on a lodge will be spending about $118 to $170 for food each day.

Obviously at popular vacation destinations you expect restaurants to have high prices just as they do at tourist beaches, ski areas and amusement parks all over the world, but food prices have gotten crazy in Costa Rica even in supermarkets in backwater ranching towns.

Next, Options From the Cheapest to the Most Expensive

Airfares are Down and Travel to Costa Rica is Up

Update – May 24, 2010 – in the past two weeks prices have been heading up.  They’re still lower than the past few years for all the reasons described below, but we’re not seeing the super bargains for $2-300.

The official ICT (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) numbers are in and they confirm what we’ve noticed over the past several months; Travel is up  5% to 15% all over Costa Rica.

Although the ICT does not keep statistics on advanced reservations we’ve seen a significant increase in map, guidebook, and travel sales over this time last year and the most popular lodges are already filling up.  Whether you’d like professional travel planning assistance, or you’re doing your research and booking directly with hotels and tours of choice, please get started early or don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Despite worldwide decreases due to the economic downturn travel has remained strong in Costa Rica for a number of reasons.  Airfares that are lower than we’ve seen them any time in the past ten years ($220 – $550 round trip with all taxes etc. on are making Costa Rica vacations very attractive.  For example, a search a few minutes ago found one stop fares from Chicago for $237 round trip including taxes and fees on Mexicana or $287 on American Airlines or Continental.

Because Costa Rica is close enough to reach easily from anywhere in the U.S. without refueling (3½ – 5½ hours from most U.S. cities), the airlines are adding more non-stops from places like New York City ($353 on American Airlines and $408 on Continental, again round trip including all taxes and fees) and Denver($455 total on Frontier).

These result weren’t just for one seat on one flight next Tuesday.  The prices are available for dozens of dates in April all the way into the peak season in December. It’s hard to believe that they are even covering fuel costs at these prices, so if you’ve ever wanted to visit Costa Rica it would be hard to find a better time.

Another factor is people choosing Costa Rica Vacations instead of Mexico where the horrific drug cartel violence is keeping tourists away by the thousands.

Costa Rica’s warm peaceful people, stable democratic government, national parks covered in rain forest, and of course beautiful tropical beaches make it an irresistible escape even in tough times.

Costa Rica is not a magic wonderland with no crime.  Especially on the crowded streets of the capital you should exercise common sense keep an eye out for a hand that’s not yours headed for your pocket, not carry large sums of cash or wander in neighborhoods you don’t know late at night.  Leave your expensive watch and jewelery at home and use the hotel room safe box for your camera.

However, violent crimes are rare and Costa Rica is more like Disneyland than the mess that is Mexico now.

The final reason that tourism continues to grow in Costa Rica while dropping of nearly everywhere else is that it’s a nearly unbelievably wonderful place to visit.  We’ve been all over the world in four decades of travel and we keep going back to Costa Rica again and again.

Once you’ve visited you’ll be tempted to too!

A somewhat clumsy (and not in any way guaranteed to be completely accurate) translation of the letter sent to members of the ICT is posted below for the curious.

Official data on ICT Tourist arrivals grew in January and February 2010
Increases of 4.3% and 16.5% compared with 2009

San Jose, Costa Rica, 18 March 2010 – Tourist arrivals to Costa Rica, by all means,grew in January and February compared to the same period in 2009. Official data of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) show an increase of 4.3% in January and 16.5% in February, numbers similar to those of 2008.

In the first two months of the year the country received 428,233 visitors – 37,405 tourists more than reported in January and February 2009. “These figures are similar to those recorded in early 2008, when the tourism in the country had not suffered the impact of international economic crisis, “said Minister of Tourism, Allan Flores. “Although there are regions and businesses affected by the decline in visitation recorded in 2009, these numbers bode well for recovery,” he said.

The data are grouped and analyzed by the ICT based on information from the Directorate General of Immigration.

The growth in international tourist visitation is more noticeable from the air arrivals. For Juan Santamaria International Airport the first two months of last year combined for 208,610 visitors. In January and February 2010 227,026 arrived through this port, an increase of 18,416 tourists.

The increase is also seen in the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste. Here, 50,427 tourists entered during January and February of this year, 9,863 more than the same period of 2009.

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.