Action packed adventure in Costa Rica equals rain forests, spectacular national and private parks. This special allure for travelers, especially here on the Pacific coast and the north side of Rincon de la Vieja conjures thoughts of thundering waterfalls, blue rivers, hot springs, exotic and colorful animals. Such majestic natural wonders are what travelling to Costa Rica is all about. However the alarming number of tourists who get lost, causing rescue teams to search for these poor souls should not be lost upon you. Action packed adventure requires awareness and safety measures. Safety measures are necessary to avoid common dangers outdoors in Costa Rica.
If you are wondering, “what could go wrong, here in paradise, on marked trails”, just look up news stories on the internet. At the time of the writing of this article (March 2018), in a news story in the Tico Times, “Sadly this is not the first time this happens and likely it won’t be the last, a tourist got lost at the Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica, the alert was received by the authorities at around 6:37 p.m. on Saturday, March 10.” …” a group of four tourists disregarded the warning signs and safety rules, and took one of the illegal improvised trails..”
Costa Rica outdoor activities, nature vacations, adventure travel and family active travel are Costa Rica “Pura Vida”. And indeed, the tropical rain forests, mountains, oceans and rivers are teeming with flora and wildlife. That said, Costa Rica outdoor travel requires making safety is priority number one. If you are wondering, “What could go wrong, here in paradise?” this blog offers Costa Rica outdoor safety measures for adventure travel.
Fun filled family action packed adventure are available throughout Costa Rica, from the lofty mountains teeming with exotic flora and wildlife, to the pristine rivers and oceans churning with diverse aquatic species; there is something here for every adventurer. But it’s important for even the most experienced explorers to use knowledge and to keep them safe; Experience is available in the form of Guides and here will give you the knowledge needed.
Common Outdoor Travel Dangers in Costa Rica
Another easily overlooked issue is sunburn which can be uncomfortably painful; especially for kids. Sunburns will ruin a good night’s sleep and continue doing so for many sleepless nights. They may be accompanied by high fevers and a heat-rash.
Insect bites can introduce serious infections to your blood stream. These infections can lead to serious health issues, some with long lasting effect that will continue long after your vacation is over. More on this topic later.
Lets admit it; most readers are ‘big-city dwellers’. Just as your city-instincts say “No! That’s not a good idea!” to walking along a lonely street, downtown late at night, wearing flashy jewellery and waving bundles of cash (well, anywhere), wearing a sleeveless top that exposes your bare shoulders on a nature vacation outdoors can be just as unwise. Baring your skin outdoors invites unnecessary hazards, best avoided, immediately exposing you to two common dangers outdoors Costa Rica:
Here are a few common-sense advice to take before your departing on your action packed adventure in Costa Rica.
The most important item on the list is a spare pair of prescription (or contacts). Keep your spares securely wherever you are staying. Then, should you lose or damage your regular pair in the great outdoors you can quickly switch to the spares. They can be made here in Costa Rica but- “How long will it take and how much will it cost to replace them?” Avoid the inconvenience and travel with your spare pair.
If there are any other ‘essential items’ in your daily routine (medication etc.) you may want to pack extras as well.
Don’t pack essentials (medication etc.) with your checked baggage for travel; too often your bags end-up at destinations other than yours.
Recommended items on the list of things to bring are-
- Glasses & Contacts
- Bug spray
- Sunscreen or Sunblock
- Prescription Medication- Respiratory Inhalers, Insulin
- First Aid Kit- (Pocket Size)
- Insurance Coverage
Protect Your Feet
The activities planned for this vacation will determine the proper Footwear required.
Ask experienced people what is the best protection for your feet under specific conditions. The Web is a good place to start searching; read other ‘buyer’s reviews’. Combine that knowledge with advice from experts in the footwear industry.
Begin with choosing the right socks for the job- they should be comfortable, lightweight and fast drying after rinsing. Socks are the last layer of protection for your feet against the terrain. Various manufacturers are offering specialty socks to select from. Be sure to wear them when fitting the next level of protection- the shoes or boots.
Boots, Shoes and Sandals
The top recommendation for walking and exploring trails in Cost Rica is a good pair of waterproof hiking boots; this will be a purchase you won’t regret.
The right footwear justifies its expense when trekking across the rugged outdoor trails winding across the Country. Trails can span a variety of terrains, some slippery slopes covered with mud or moss; alongside rivers bordered by craggy rocks and streams flowing down the slopes of a volcano. All can be brutal on both feet and toes. At a bare minimum, closed footwear is required for this job and will double to keep crawling critters off your feet.
Besides traction, hiking boots provide some amount of ankle protection, ankle injuries rank high on the list of outdoor traumas. Some people will opt for their trusty sneakers but those offer little support or protection.
Mud will coat your footwear and you will need to give them a quick rinse before setting them up to dry. You must ensure they are made of a quick dry material when buying them. Wet footwear will soften your flesh and bruise easily.
Flip-flops or open-slippers are a definite ‘no-no’, they are completely inadequate outdoors.
Clothing & Ziploc Bags
Clothing is a necessity that is best enjoyed dry. Take clothing that will dry quickly after washing (like your boots) these items must dry quickly; overnight.
Re-sealable bags are perfect for keeping all sorts of things organized and dry- electronics, cameras, documents, clothing, medication and the list goes on. Costa Rica is humid and enjoys plenty rainfall, you will need to protect electronic gadgets from the damp atmosphere. Pack them in re-sealable plastic bags; Ziploc’s will become your ‘best friends’ here.
Costa Rica has two kinds of weather- sunny or raining but temperatures can vary wildly. To get a good idea of the temperatures where you will be visiting, check the weather stations on the Internet or ask travel or tour agents then dress for the weather. Costa Rica has day time temps that tend to be warm (hot in reality) but evening and nighttime temperatures will always be a few degrees lower (colder). At higher elevations such as Cerro Chirripo hikers will experience nightime temps of 0˚C (32˚F) in the summer.
Dangers Under the Sun
Ticos are accustomed to Costa Rica’s intense sunlight; being constantly exposed from birth they are almost immune to the dangers under the sun.
The two main dangers are-
- Overexposure (mentioned previously)
The sun in Costa Rica feels hotter than in most other places. That’s because Costa Rica is positioned only 9⁰ above the equator. (The effects of the sun’s rays are greatest at the equator)
The most harmful of the sun’s rays are the UV rays. They are intense here and increase as you move from the low coastal plains to higher altitudes in the rainforest. Having hiked a trail and the pausing to enjoy a swim under your waterfall remember the water will wash off your sunblock (sunscreen) and bug spray. Infants and young children’s tender skin will require frequent reapplications for protection.
Ticos in Costa Rica appear to be unaffected by the sun’s rays, they are as their skin has grown accustomed to the intense sunlight here; they don’t burn easily. On the other hand, you will need brimmed headgear to protect your forehead, nose, ear lobes and nape from a sizzling sunburn.
When the sun dips behind the clouds at the beach, especially on an overcast day, your chances of getting a blistering-sunburn are just as great; the sun’s rays are indirectly deflected in all directions.
Outdoor activities dehydrate the body if not balanced with adequate fluid intakes. Activities like sport fishing, hiking, horseback riding, or rappelling all dehydrate the body. So protect yourself by drinking lots of water but avoid alcohol as it might affect your judgment at a critical point.
Costa Rica’s drinking water is very good but don’t take chances outdoors. Bottled water here is filtered, inexpensive and available in most places.
Dangers of Insects and Critters
Outdoors Costa Rica you are the live-bait for the ABC’s or ants, bugs, and critters. It’s as if they were standing in line just waiting to get a bite of you.
The best insect repellents to bring on vacation are those containing ‘Deet’ or ‘Picaridin’. They provide the best defence against the world’s most dangerous insect- the mosquito. They are the same ones found everywhere else and in Costa Rica; the female Aedes Aegypti mosquito is responsible for spreading blood disorders including-
Zika Virus Dengue FeverMalariaChikungunya
Covered skin and bug spray are usually enough protection from mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. Sleep under a mosquito-net suspended over your bed at night guarantees solid protection. Nets offer great protection whenever you are lightly clothed or relaxing with open unscreened windows. Most lodgings here offer insect-screens and fans too as a minimum line-of-defense, others will be air-conditioned.
You may have heard somewhere ‘mosquito’s only bight after dark’– well nothing could be further from the truth. During the day the mosquitoes continue their blood transfusions and are a common danger outdoors.
‘Peak First!’ Develop the good habit of inspecting your shoes before putting them on. You might have to evict over-night visitors, scorpions, spiders and other insects, that may have moved in during the night.
Costa Rica has several species of snakes. Most prefer to hang-out in the rainforest although there are a few ocean-going ones as well.
It is true-‘the average snake is more afraid of you than you will ever be of them.’
In the outdoors prevention is always better than a cure and it is a good idea to look before you place your feet in growths or reach for that overhang ledge. If you do happen to surprise a sleeping snake- he may then offer you a few surprises of his own.
This frisky, inquisitive critter is found near beaches and rivers outdoors. As if dressed for the part, these masked bandits steal food, sea-turtle eggs and anything in a tourist’s handbag. They will quickly rifle through things left unattended the instant you stop watching.
Insurance is a detail to attend to before taking-off on your vacation. It is usually best to get the advice of a trained representative; carefully study all the options available and satisfy yourself that you have the coverage needed.
- Does your credit card’s insurance offer any travel coverage?
If so, to what extent?
- Will your insurance issue a refund if you are delayed or unable to participate on a tour?
Most tours offered have a non-refundable clause and will require payment in full at the time of booking.
- Will you go for the basic coverage only or are there special clauses that relate to your vacation plans?
- Is your electronic gear covered and under what circumstances; lap-tops, phones, tablets and camera equipment. These things are prized trophies for thieves but also think also about water damage or electrical burnouts.
- Consider special coverage for natural disaster risks common to Costa Rica- eg. earthquakes</strong> and floods.
- Ensure that your vacation activities are covered by your health insurance- riding ATV’s or Quads; Zip-lining; Kayaking; Sailing; etc.
- Finally, ask your agent, ‘What am I not covered for?’It is good to know upfront.
Costa Rica’s Roads
Costa Rica is famous for motor vehicle accidents and they come in all forms- those involving other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, animals, objects movable and immovable. The biggest threat to public safety here is motor accidents.
If possible, avoid driving yourself and try not to walk on the roads at night; take a cab instead.
Roads in rural areas are the most unsafe. Visibility at night is poor as there are very few streetlights. The occasional street light in rural areas will have people gathered under its dim glow for a social chit-chat.
Ticos walk in the middle of roads lit by the stars; you will notice there are few (if any) public sidewalks. If you must walk on the roads at night wear light-colored, reflective clothing to increase your visibility.
Corners in the road are high risk zones- you cannot imagine what could be taking place around the next corner- be prepared for anything.
Tree branches piled or heaped in the road is a caution or signal for ‘danger’! It could mean anything from a large pothole in the road to a missing bridge.
Driving under the influence of a mind altering substances, from beer to narcotics, is very common especially on weekends. Use the roadways defensively.
Trails in Costa Rica
National Parks and tour companies have established safe trails and routes to remote destinations all over the Country.
- Never hike alone.
- Never deviate from marked trails and explore the rainforest without a Guide.
- Always use an experienced Guide and pay attention to their warnings.
There are uncharted trails and paths leading off into the wilderness- most will meet upon a river and a volcano. Stick to the trails and routes recommended by Park Rangers, tour operators and Guides.
Rains in Costa Rica
Every heavy downpour of rain can send rivers roaring. Rivers flood areas changing the landscape of the countryside downstream. Flooding rivers can claim the lives of livestock and people in an instant; often in areas where it hasn’t rained.
Heavy rains may be falling several miles away upstream (or uphill) and cause landslides or flash-flooding elsewhere. This is where a guide’s local knowledge is unbeatable; inexperienced adventurers can be trapped and not know where to find safety.
It is most important to rely on reliable local advice especially if it comes from a Park Guide or Ranger.
Sometimes a trail will be closed by National Park Rangers. They closed it because the area is known to be dangerous. Data collected on the number of persons killed or injured on trails suggest- it is usually the ‘thrill-seeker’ ignoring their warnings that becomes a statistic.
Failure to follow the ‘safety warnings’ will endanger the lives of those coming to your rescue. Do not become a statistic in a foreign land.
Tours In Costa Rica
Book tours offered by credible tour operators; consult the Tour Desk at your Resort for advice; read ‘User Reviews’ and testimonials of past guests.
Ask to see the tour operator’s certification and insurances. Check the validity of their documents and understand their stated liabilities. Costa Rica’s tour industry is self-regulated so take nothing for granted.
Adventure-tours here are very safe and tour operators, although not Government regulated, strive to ensure visitor safety.
Before taking control of any motorized vehicle (ATV; Jet-ski; Trike; Quad) make sure you can operate it properly. Check the rides physical condition and general safety before risking anyone’s life on it.
Does your travel and health insurance cover accidents or injuries that could occur whilst operating the vehicle or ride?
Weight is a factor affecting the carrying-capacity of aerial rides, zip-line tours, helicopter tours, canopy tours, etc. The tour operator may ask for your weight, be honest.
Every tour is an energetic adventure and a new experience for vacationers. Rivers will have several waterfalls along its course; a trip to one waterfall can lead to another further upstream. Guides will tell you the level of difficult to be encountered and it is wise to listen to their recommendations. Most tours are ‘rated’ according to fitness levels and the dexterity required by participants. Know your personal limitations, physical conditioning and agility. Don’t be ego-driven beyond your limits.
Why the Questions?
A responsible tour operator will ask questions to assess each individual’s capabilities and judge their suitability for participation. Age limits and other variables can prevent your participation since it may be outside the scope of the Operators insurance coverage.
Cash or Charge
Tours in remote regions will require some cash in the pocket for paying and tipping. Small business’ along the way may not be able to process credit cards.
In Costa Rica, the C.R. Colon, US Dollars, or Traveler’s Cheques, are accepted as payment everywhere. Some small towns may have a single ATM and banking transactions may be difficult or impossible. If you are booking a tour ask the operator for a general guideline for the extra cash you will need to take along.
This information has been gathered with the kind assistance of the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs. It is the intention of all persons involved in Costa Rica’s tourism industry to ensure that everyone enjoys a safe stay here in their beautiful Country.
For further assistance or advice call Blue River Resort and Hot Springs. Together, lets avoid common dangers outdoors in Costa Rica