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Costa Rica with teen daughters...help me plan safe trip?

Costa Rica with teen daughters...help me plan safe trip?

Old Nov 10th, 2004, 10:09 PM
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Costa Rica with teen daughters...help me plan safe trip?

I could really use some help from fodorites who have travelled in Costa Rica. I am nervous about planning a safe family trip to Costa Rica for June...this will be the first trip south of Tijuana for me and my 2 daughters, age 19 and 18...my husband, who is a biologist, has been begging me to agree to this trip and I want to accomodate him (since he agreed we can go to Ireland in June 2006!)

I am worried about dengue fever from mosquitoes; cholera and malaria; and traveller's diarrhea....worried about washed-out roads; kidnappings; crime. Whew! Full of worries...

I need to plan our itinerary for a 2-week trip. I need to narrow our choices down from the following list of places my husband has suggested: the entire Pacific coast side of Costa Rica; Peninsula de Osa; San Jose; Monteverde (cloud forest); Parque Nacional Santa Rosa; Manuel Antonio; Arenal Volcano; Penas Biancas Wildlife Refugee; Poas Volcano National Park; Brauilio Carrillo National Park.

Can anyone help with suggestions of places which would be fun and safe for my daughters and I, and preferably would be mosquito-free; malaria-free; cholera-free, crime free? Okay, I am only half kidding...But I do want it to be as safe as possible...

Can anyone suggest accomodations where even the timid can feel safe and comfortable?
Thank you!
Old Nov 10th, 2004, 11:05 PM
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It's perfectly natural to be well-prepared for your trip. No matter where you stay in terms of hotels, you'll be fine. Remember that in Costa Rica, the tourism dollar is very important. I met strangers there nicer than strangers in my home town.

The crime dangers occur in a city environment - just like a large city in the U.S. Same rules apply all over the world.

Don't flash your wealth - even costume jewelry.
If your families appearances are attractive, then dress down and cover up.

You can take insect repellant for chiggers, noseeums, mosquitoes and Cipro for the stomach. Dengue, malaria, cholera, etc. happens to a small percentage of people.

Washed out roads in June? Delete this one.
Kidnappings are common in Mexico City, not Costa Rica. Two totally different environments.
If you go into the city of San Jose, see if you can hire a guide to make your excursion more enjoyable. A bilingual taxi driver will suffice.

As you've likely read here, keep your personal belongings secure in a hotel room - not in plain view in a rental car. Same as if you went to NYC, LA, Seattle, whatever. Criminals are criminals. Most are opportunists. Some will open an automobile's trunk, so storing valuables there is not a good idea, either.

By the way - you're not any safer, or less safer in Ireland - than in CR or USA.

Before our arrival in CR, we had similar concerns. After the first 2 hours, we met some really great people and we launched into "vacation mode". Make no mistake, we are reasonably cautious in no matter what city we find ourselves.

I know the safety of your "babies" is very important. Do you have the common FRS or GMRS two-way radios? We carried ours to always be in contact with one another. Please consider the models with rechargeable batteries as the radios are used with great frequency when "new" to a family and you'll recharge them overnight in the hotel(s). (think : new toy!)

You're going to love Costa Rica.

Okay, who's next at bat here?
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Old Nov 11th, 2004, 12:47 AM
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TripleSecDelay, thanks for the great tips.

I think it's impossible to hide 2 gorgeous "teens" (actually young women, who will be 18 and 19 in June...where did my babies go?!)...one of them a natural blonde so she will stand out anywhere...Ahh, the other one is just as obvious...Sigh, I don't think they will dress down, they dress like any young women their age...

I once witnessed men ogling the older daughter when she was wearing a baggy basketball uniform...

What do young women wear in Costa Rica in June? Spaghetti strap tops? T-shirts? Shorts? Jeans? Short Skirts? Long skirts?

Is the way men treat women any worse in Costa Rica than it was in Italy? (I was worried about this in Italy but everything was fine...except for the rude peddlar who grabbed us when my husband and son went away, but he wasn't Italian anyway...I had heard the Italian men would shower too much attention on blondes but the girls were fine. The Italian men were respectful.

Anyway I'm just as worried about the mosquitoes!!!

Old Nov 11th, 2004, 03:39 AM
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Having traveled all over Costa Rica with 2 good-lookin' daughters (now 22 and 27) I can tell you to just get your sense of humor ready! They wear much the same things your girls do, I expect, and it will get them attention. Mostly looks, occasional verbalizations (not rude, just appreciative!). Best advice is to ignore. This isn't Saudia Arabia where the women are forbidden to reveal themselves, but a culture where conservatism has always been the norm.

My girls and I both wear shorts everyplace, but often feel out of place in the city or larger towns where NO ONE wears shorts. That's beach wear in Costa Rica!

The 3 of us have traveled all over the place, without my husband a few times, and have had a ball. We are careful in ways we should be, but generally have a blast together. Very safe place. These days it feels like home every time we return. My youngest daughter studied Spanish there for 8 weeks this past summer. She even rented a car and drove herself about one weekend.

Don't worry about dengue or the other illnesses. I've never heard of any of that with the exception of dengue. There was a rise in occurences a couple of years ago. A Costa Rican friend of ours contracted it as well as an American friend who was in school with me. Use repellent if you think you need it. The no-see-ums don't bother me, but they do my girls. Lots of bites (itchy) on feet and ankles is usual. Haven't noticed that much mosquito activity in most places. Some areas it is more of a problem than others.

As to itinerary, you can fulfill a good part of it if you spend a couple of days in the central valley upon or arriving or just before departing. Stay outside of San Jose in one of the little towns--there are any number of excellent hotels to be recommended. You can see Poas, Braulio Carillo, etc. in this way. I always recommend the full day Highlights Tour because it takes in those 2 things plus much more in one day--gives a fantastic overview of that part of the country in 10 hours. Excellent guides and tour company--Ecoscape Tours. Check it out online.

Arenal--2 days
Monteverde--2 days
Guanacaste and Pacific beaches--4 days
Manuel Antonio--2-3 days

You could work in the Penas Blancas tour during part of this time as well as the Cano Negro area. I assume you have a guide book and are reading up!

The Osa is wonderful--a place all unto itself. We had been to CR many times before we finally made it down there.

If you go, just rearrange the above a bit. For example, there is little need to go to the Osa and Manuel Antonio both. The Osa is bigger and better.

You guys are going to have a great time. Your fears are unwarranted. And that is coming from a person who is the queen of worry and fear! It is a fascinating place, quite safe with normal precautions (as in the U.S.), and the people are truly delightful. We've stayed in homes and have many friends there. Relax!

By the way, I know TripleSec recommends those radios, and I'm sure they are a good extra precaution, but we have never even remotely (no pun intended) felt the need for them.

When planning your itinerary, don't try to do too much. You'll want to return because there is no way you can experience the fullness of this country in 2 weeks. Choose 4 locations tops so you can enjoy your time at each place and not feel like you just got there when it is time to move on.
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Old Nov 11th, 2004, 05:24 AM
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Melissa, we took three trips to Costa Rica over the last 5 or so years and have to say that we felt very safe wherever we went in the country (in fact more so than in some places in Europe!). And we don't stay in all-inclusives but rather rent a car and drive to various locations and stay in small hotels. We travel with our daughter (since she was 6 years old) and Costa Rica is one of her favorite vacation destinations. Costa Ricans are friendly and helpful. Of course there are instances of petty crimes (mostly thefts from cars and pickpocketting in San Jose) but with basic precautions that you would take wherever in the world you go, you will be fine.

If you are concerned about getting sick, make sure the family has the recommended vaccinations and consider taking anti-malarials (we never have but if it makes you feel safer, you should do it). There is nothing that can protect you from dengue except for avoiding mosquito bites. But if you bring insect repellant and dress appropriately you will not have problems.

Let me know if you are interested in our trip reports (are last two trips were 2 weeks each).
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Old Nov 11th, 2004, 01:57 PM
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Iza, I am definitely interested in trip reports. For a 2-week trip it would probably be best to choose 3 or 4 destinations at the most. Is it possible to select places that have no moquitoes, or the least mosquito problems? I can't find information that specific on mosquitoes.

shilmac, thanks for the great info. I have been to a Caribbean island where women wore long skirts downtown so I know what you mean about a more conservative culture. Will keep that in mind. What do young Costa Rican women wear downtown? Certainly we will wear shorts to the beach...

I have been doing my research on the internet and haven't bought the guidebooks yet. I like to use the internet to get info and feedback until I'm feeling 100 percent commited to a destination...Then I buy a pile of guidebooks once I'm 100 percent committed.

Old Nov 11th, 2004, 04:43 PM
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Well, as I said, we just dress as we would at home, even in the city--shorts and tanks or t-shirts. BUT, the Costa Rican women wears skirts or jeans/slacks. Very tight ones, I might add. I figure my moderate length shorts aren't any more unsightly than the tightness of their long pants!!

I understand your worries, but I can assure you, that they are 99.9% unfounded. Surely you don't want to get gray hair over that remaining 0.1%!!!

Most of us who travel to Costa Rica frequently don't prepare any differently than we would for a trip somewhere in the states. It is totally different from Mexico and the other countries of Central America. Very civilized. . . .a bit too much for some! I'd call it a 2nd world country--definitely not 3rd world status.

The mosquitoes (should you come across some in the first place) could bite the heck out of you (which is highly unlikely) and your chances of getting dengue would still be very slim.

There is absolutely no need to plan your destinations in the country based on where you think the mosquitoes are hanging out! I'm pretty sure that is a variable and never constant! The no-see-ums are way more offensive. They tend to inhabit beach areas toward the end of the day when it begins to get dusky. They are similar to chiggers and itch like the dickens. I've never had a problem with them, but my poor girls are both quite susceptible. They had many tens of bites on their feet and ankles from those little buggers. They've learned to apply a little spray before going out in the evening--particularly near the beach.
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Old Nov 11th, 2004, 11:42 PM
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Shillmac, too late, I already have grey hairs...I call them silver streaks.

If I can't plan my vacation around where the mosquitoes are unlikely to be, would it be better to choose where I want to go and then ask the mosquitoes to evacuate temporarily?

Old Nov 12th, 2004, 03:57 AM
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LOL--guess it would be worth a try! I can't think of anyplace we've been where they have been in very strong force! Rather than trying to avoid them in your planning or trying to get them to evacuate temporarily during your stay, just use repellant as needed. By the way, I think it was mikemo (originally) who recommended on this board Ultrathon spray. It contains the necessary amount of DEET and would be a good choice for you.
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Old Nov 12th, 2004, 07:35 AM
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and preferably would be mosquito-free; malaria-free; cholera-free, crime free = A BANK SAFE DEPOSIT BOX
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Old Nov 12th, 2004, 08:51 AM
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Hi Melissajoy--you could always try the new BugOff clothing. You can find them through REI and other sporting good stores. I even read that you can do it yourself (?) by saturating your clothes with bug spray. I would research this one first, though! Also, if you wear the quick-dry, long-sleeve shirts and pants, that will help to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I worry about that too.
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Old Nov 12th, 2004, 11:43 AM
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This reminds me. Stores that sell outdoor sporting equipment (and online, too) have all net clothing that a person could wear over their regular clothes. Like wearing yellow rain slickers, except these are green nets. I own some. Good stuff. There's even a hat with a net that seals around the neck. Think: beekeeper's suit. It's a little ridiculous, but it works.
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Old Dec 15th, 2004, 10:36 AM
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Aside to Shillmac: Where did your daughter study last summer? Was she in San Jose? Did she do a homestay? I am looking into a few CEA (Cultural Experiences Abroad) programs for my 18 yr old for the summer, in a dormitory setting, and there is a 6-wk program at Veritas University in San Jose that looks good.
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Old Dec 15th, 2004, 02:11 PM
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She (and I the previous summer) studied with Centro Panamericanos de Idiomas (CPI). We thought it was great because, besides good instruction with very small classes (4 persons or less), there are 3 locations: Playa Flamingo, Monteverde, and San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia province (about 10 minutes from the airport).

We both did the Flamingo and Heredia programs--neither of us studied in Monteverde. The MAJORITY of people I've talked to (who studied at all 3 campuses) preferred the other locations over Monteverde. That said, when I study the next time, I'll use the same program and probably spend a week at Monteverde just to experience it for myself.

I'm not familiar with the program you've mentioned, but I would much prefer to participate in a program NOT located in San Jose. I'm a small town girl, and San Joaquin is a town of about 16,000 people. I felt comfortable walking all over town, day or night.

We both loved it there. She stayed with the same host family that I did the summer before. We consider them good friends and frequently correspond, exchange gifts, and talk on the phone.

Costa Rica is an excellent place for language study. The younger kids quickly meet up with others their age and have a great time together. You really won't have to worry about her being in a foreign country "alone"!

My daughter teamed up with a woman about my age from New Zealand and they had a great time together. Being in an immersive language program definitely promotes bonding--with people one might otherwise not spend time with at all! It's a very interesting experience!
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Old Dec 15th, 2004, 04:55 PM
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I studied with CPI several years ago and enjoyed all three campuses. I had already been to Monteverde several times but my son was living there so I went ahead and studied there also so I could visit with him. The school has a real family feel. We were all strangers for just a very short time. I was down there alone for the first 2 weeks. I practically adopted a sweet young girl from the Netherlands who was going on to do some volunteer work. There was actually a young couple who adopted me! I spent my birthday in Flamingo and Liberia and Mick gave me a piece of the dried mud from our hike on Rincon de la Vieja a couple of days earlier. I still have it.

Melissa.....Costa Rica is a very civilized country. Almost too civilized for me, I sometimes feel like I am in an extention of the United States because there are so many North Americans down there. Nothing at all like some of the places you hear about. You will probably go home loving the people just as much as we all do. The men will whistle and talk about your daughters but they are pretty harmless for the most part.

I have had very little problems with mosquitos and have traveled quite extensively to both larger towns and smaller out of the way lodges over many many years. Dengue does present a problem at times in the fall (ours) when the rains are the heaviest. A very close friend of ours did get Dengue after traveling in early Dec last year. Malaria, Yellow Fever, rare. Cholera....haven't heard of any cases of that.

Petty theft is on the rise (don't worry about kidnappings) but my first heartbreaking visit to Ireland in the early 80's found Dublin to be even more of a problem. What broke my heart were all the signs warning people of the pickpockets and how the kids could get in and out of a backpack that was on you without you even knowing it. It is still a beautiful country and we have lots of friends who visit Ireland frequently. You will love it.

Back to CR. Stop worrying and start dreaming about all the wonderful and strange things you will see. Your husband will love it and so will you. Our son is a botanist and he was just fascinated with all the different plants down there. There will be plenty of things for you and your daughters to enjoy also.
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