Insider travel and visit tips from the locals #33


When you visit Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, there are a few things to be aware of.

Remember, you are in a rain forest. There’s an abundance of plant life. I’m not a botanist and can’t provide you with too many of the fancy names for the flora that surrounds me, but I appreciate its beauty. A link to some of the photographs I’ve taken is provided at the end of this post.

Keeping the rain forest in check, however, is also a big job. In my area, it’s not uncommon to see residents carrying machetes, the long, broad-bladed knife that is often used to trim back branches and leaves. Don’t be surprised if you see several of them in holsters on any given day.

There are also insects and animals everywhere. Many of the ones you came to see (sloths, monkeys, birds, etc.) are very enjoyable. But the smaller ones (mosquitoes, spiders, bugs in general) might impact your stay.

Mosquitoes are not more abundant here than in some areas of the southern United States, but they can, of course, affect your outdoor activities and your nightly sleep.

Lavender oil is very helpful for repelling mosquitoes. If you purchase lavender oil, make sure it is pure lavender oil, and not the watered-down variety. For reference, two ounces of pure lavender oil runs about $15. It’s not cheap, but it works well.

About a week before your arrival, you can also drink lemongrass tea to ward off mosquitos. Citronella, the main ingredient that repels mosquitoes in the natural candles people buy for that purpose, is found in lemongrass. A 2011 study found that 95% of a specific type of mosquito were repelled by lemongrass. You can buy lemongrass tea at many grocery stores or online. Here, I grow my own lemongrass and make my own tea. Lemongrass discourages mosquitoes as well as deodorizes and freshens the air. Its aroma calms you and prevents drowsiness. I can’t speak to everything it’s supposed to do, but other claims about lemongrass include that it relieves headaches, muscle and toothache pain, stomachaches, lowers cholesterol, prevents infection, and is an excellent anti-inflammatory so it relieves bite pain.

In that area, should you experience a bite, you can also rub papaya on it to relieve the itching. Papaya is plentiful on the Caribbean coast. You can find the fruit almost everywhere.

Another step you can take to reduce mosquito bites is take showers twice a day. Especially before you go to bed at night. Your wonderful, clean body repels mosquitoes.

Note: Perspiring will attract mosquitoes because they need water to reproduce, and they are naturally attracted to areas with higher humidity levels. This includes people who are sweating. Perspiration will also dilute any mosquito chemical repellents that you might have applied, making you more attractive to mosquitoes. I have found that running my fan at night seems to reduce my chances of bites. I also sleep under a mosquito net which takes just a moment or two to get comfortable using.

Some people say: “I am going to be indoors most of the time, so I don’t need to repel mosquitoes.” Here, on the Caribbean side of the country, all our restaurants are open air. Yes, that is right, no walls. No restaurant here is enclosed or has air-conditioning. At a restaurant or diner, you will always be eating—breakfast, lunch, and dinner —in the open air. The good thing is that a lot of dining areas are next to or near the ocean. You’ll experience wonderful, beautiful ocean views which are so much more enjoyable in the open air. Note: Limon is the exception. There are a few enclosed restaurants in Limon that have air-conditioning. It is a city of 60,000. Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, the main tourist towns in my immediate area are small, with populations in the 2,000 to 3,000 range.

The unique ecosystem of the Caribbean coast

The ecosystem here takes care of most flying insects that you might normally experience in the U.S. I have been here three years and it is very rare for me to shoo flies or other insects away from my food. That is right, you are not in the States. It is enjoyable here.

However, we do have geckos in most homes and hotel rooms. Depending on where you stay, you might see a lot of these little guys, or not. In my house, I have several geckos, each perhaps up to two inches long, which is okay with me because they love to eat mosquitoes. Anything that eats mosquitoes is on my side, and I am happy to have them. Just be aware you might see one or two running up the wall of your bedroom. Don’t be afraid. They only want the mosquitoes and other insects. They are not interested in you. Also, unlike in some U.S. areas, the geckos here seem to be almost translucent. They’re not clear enough to see through, although you might think that from a quick glance. They will also drink your wine if you leave a glass on your night stand.

While you are here, please do not pick up or try to assist any animal that you may come across anywhere. It can be dangerous to touch them. Even a sloth, being very slo-o-o-w, can cut you quickly with its sharp claws. If you see an animal in the road, you could stop and wave traffic around the animal to protect it. But the animal probably won’t be there long. Normally, a local resident will come by, stop and remove the animal properly. They have been helping these animals for years and know how to handle them without hurting the animal or getting hurt themselves.

Be aware that traffic in the south Caribbean is probably different than other places you have driven. Yes, they drive on the right side of the road, just like in the U.S. and unlike in, say, England. But traffic is different here because a lot of families cannot afford a car. They ride bicycles or motorbikes. Motorbikes will weave in and out of traffic without any regard, it seems, for safety. The riders manage to stay alive somehow. Motorbikes and bicycles are commonly used to go to and from work, as well as deliver food or packages.

I am most concerned about bicycles. For me, it is the number one traffic concern. Because there are lots of families that do not have a car, many in the family will ride bicycles. Not just the father or mother, but the whole family. Yes, you might see mom and dad on a bicycle with one or two small kids–all on one bike. When the kids get older and if they can afford it, you’ll see a family riding on more than one bicycle in a group. The bottom line here is please drive carefully because there are a lot of bicyclists. Be especially careful at night. Most bike riders do not have reflective clothing or lights on the bikes. They are very hard to see because most of the roads do not have streetlights. I have 20-20 distance vision and I normally do not drive at night unless it’s vital and my task can’t wait until the daytime.

If you drive here, you must understand the traffic norms. If a car stops right in front of you, do not honk your horn. If you do, honk your horn, you are being rude. This driver could be talking to an old friend, and they may talk for a while. Being social here is important and the norm. You must wait for the passing lane to become clear and then you can go around. Here people stop in their lane because lots of the streets are narrow. There is not always room to pull over to the side. So, if you need to talk with someone, you just stop the car where you are and talk. You will also see lots of delivery trucks stopped on the road taking up a whole lane because there is no place for them to pull over and park. Parking lots here are at a real premium. Because of these conditions, I strongly suggest that you be very alert when trying to pass stopped vehicles. Also, be very patient.

Maximize your day by getting an early start

Here, we have about 12 hours of daylight. Depending on the time of year, daylight can be 6 am to 6 pm, or 5:30 am to 5:30 pm. If you are expecting, in the summer months, to enjoy daylight until up to 8 or 9 pm like you would in the States, it’s not going to happen. Don’t expect to go to the beach at 4 or 5 pm to enjoy a few hours of fun and sun at the beach. LOL. Not going to happen.

You can maximize your day on the Caribbean coast by getting an early start. My suggestion is to get up early, around 6 am to 7 am, to start your day. Most restaurants open at 7 am. Several of the tourist attractions open around 9 am or 10 am. As an example, the Jaguar Rescue Center opens for tours at 9:30 am. But you should be there by 9 am to purchase your tickets. The Jaguar Rescue Center has a coffee shop.

Activities are best planned for the morning hours or the later afternoon hours here. Mid-day is not the ideal time to be out in the sun engaging in energetic activities. It gets very hot in the middle of the day. Remember, you are much closer to the equator where more direct sun rays can and will burn your skin. A tip: purchase sun block and sun lotion in the States and bring it with you. You can buy it here, but it goes for twice the U.S. price.

Begin activities that are physically active either in the morning or after 3pm. By the late afternoon, the day begins to cool down. But remember, you only have two to three hours left of daylight. Another option, and the one I prefer, is to hit the national parks or waterfalls early, say, at 8 am to enjoy them longer.

Hopefully this information will help you be better prepared for a wonderful vacation on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

Now here at the end, let’s talk about the end. Or should I say, your bottom. LOL.
When you go to the bathroom here in Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, you will need to place your tissue paper in the trash can next to the toilet. That is right you do not put your toilet paper in the toilet! Here, next to the ocean in this region, we do not have waste treatment plants. The government here does have plans on the drawing board, but the building of any such plant has not happened yet. (as of 7-15-22)

Remember do not flush your paper down the toilet. We do not want any stopped up pipes. Thanks!

For more information:

Check out this Link for a few ideas about places in this area to visit.

View some of my photographs of the local animals and flora here.

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