Before you pack your bags and slather on the sunscreen, there are a few things to consider that will help keep you healthy and out of trouble during your stay.
If you are visiting Costa Rica from the countries of Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru or Sub-Saharan Africa, you are required to be vaccinated for Yellow Fever. Authorities will verify this by checking your certificate, so bring it along otherwise you won't be allowed into the country.
Malaria is a serious problem, particularly in more rural areas. The provinces of Puntarenas and Limon are especially risky as is the area along the Panama border.
The wet season (typically April through November) can bring other insect-borne diseases like Chagas' Disease and leishmaniasis. There have been recent outbreaks of Dengue Fever in various areas throughout the country, including San Jose, with over 20,000 confirmed cases in recent years. People between the ages of 20-30 are most susceptible to the disease. To avoid contracting these illnesses always use a good quality insect repellent, preferably one containing DEET, and wear clothing that covers arms, legs and feet.
Visitors to Costa Rica often find themselves battling a case of traveler's diarrhoea. To avoid this lovely condition, avoid drinking tap water (bottled water is recommended) and make sure your food is cooked thoroughly.
Other than that, you're off the hook for jabs and pills, however it is always advised that you consult with your physician at least two months before travel so if you need a precautionary immunisation there'll be enough time for the medication to take effect, typically takes between 4 and 6 weeks, so plan accordingly.
(Be prepared you don't want to be up a creek without a paddle)
The Costa Rican authorities do not tolerate any form of lawlessness, they don't care it's a foreigner who was unaware of the rules. If you break the law you may be ejected from the country, arrested or even imprisoned. Here are a few things to keep in mind so you don't unwittingly cross any boundaries.
Ask first - shoot later! It is illegal for you to take photographs of any official building. If you are uncertain, check with a local or someone in authority, just in case.
Similarly it's a good idea to avoid taking pictures of women or children. Although it's not illegal per se, the practice is seen as suspicious and may be met with violence. If you really feel you must get that 'perfect shot' of someone, always get their permission or the permission of the parents if it's a child you'd like to photograph.
Buying, selling or having possession of any type of illegal drug is considered a serious offense in Costa Rica. You can be certain that if you are caught doing any of these things you will be arrested and could face either a hefty fine or a lengthy prison sentence. You will likely run into quite a few locals during your stay that will offer to sell you something, usually marijuana. If you buy it, do so at your own risk. Just keep in mind that Costa Rican prisons can be a bit rough and accessing legal help to get out can be challenging.
Prostitution is not illegal, however 'sex tourism' is a crime that is still prosecutable by foreign governments. In other words, if it's illegal where you come from, you can still get in trouble for engaging in it here. The areas where prostitution is more prevalent include San Jose and Jaco. Again, participate in these activities at your own risk but know the possible consequences.
All visitors to Costa Rica are required to carry proper identification and documentation with them at all times. However, that there is an increasing problem with passport thefts so it's advised that you leave your original documentation back at your hotel (preferably locked in a safe) and carry copies. Be sure the copies are clearly readable and contain an image of the entry stamp.
Whether you're into wild outdoor adventure, peaceful treks with nature or just relaxing to the sound of the tropical surf, Costa Rica has everything you need and more. The natural beauty is unmatched, from beaches to rainforests to magnificent active volcanoes, you're sure to be inspired by the unique biodiversity and fiercely protected natural environment. Make the most out of your trip to Costa Rica by heeding these health warnings and staying within the limits of the local laws. You are certain to have the journey of a lifetime.
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