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When you prepare your travel to Costa Rica, you probably dream of national parks full of colorful toucans, hairy sloths, and shiny blue butterflies. But there are smaller insects in the lowland tropics that are less exciting to encounter: mosquitoes.
Their bites are not only unnerving but can also have graver implications if the animal that bites you carries an infection. Especially if you are visiting Costa Rica with your kids, you really want to know exactly what the mosquito situation is- no one wants their kids to get sick or itchy on vacation!
While Costa Rica is effectively fighting mosquito-borne illnesses with measures such as avoiding standing water and having an abundance of public health notices about the illnesses, the fact of the matter is that you are going to find mosquitos in Costa Rica.
Especially in the lowland tropical areas around the coast, some cases of Malaria, Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya do occur, so it is good to have some bug repellant around and take some other simple measures to keep the itchy bites at bay.
In this post, I’l give you a quick overview of mosquito-borne illnesses in Costa Rica, and then tell you what our family does to mitigate mosquito bites while we are traveling in Costa Rica.
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Overview: Mosquito-Borne Illnesses in Costa Rica
The relatively new Zika virus exists throughout Central America. Its symptoms are mild fever, skin rash, and inflammation in the eye and typically last between two days and a week, but many cases are asymptomatic.
The real problem is that Zika can cause birth defects in the baby if a pregnant woman gets infected. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant soon, it is recommended to abstain from traveling into Zika-affected areas.
Just like with other mosquito-borne illnesses, the cases of Zika infections are low in Costa Rica due to well-organized mosquito fighting efforts by the government.
Typical symptoms of dengue are fever and headache with pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle aches, and a rash. There is a less common severe form of dengue that comes with high fever, persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, bleeding, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases can be lethal.
Dengue is the most common mosquito-borne illness in Costa Rica, but is not a problem if you are not around standing water.
Another relatively new mosquito-borne virus in Costa Rica is Chikungunya. It presents itself with fever and joint pain very similar to arthritis which typically lasts between some days to a week and does not have any long-term effects.
The virus does occur, but very rarely. In 2019, the Costa Rican Health Ministry registered 38 cases of infection in the country. The whole country! Typical symptoms of malaria are fever, headaches, and vomiting.
The pills against Malaria are only needed if you know that you will be out in the jungle for extended periods with no medical help in reach within three days (highly unlikely in Costa Rica).
If you do show symptoms of malaria infection, go to a doctor as soon as possible.
Where Are Mosquitos In Costa Rica?
Generally, the lowland areas of Costa Rica with a hotter climate are more affected by mosquitoes than the higher areas such as the Central Valley. This is because at higher elevations the temperature is cooler and not as hospitable to mosquitos.
The worst areas include the Caribbean coast including the area around Tortuguero National Park as well as lowland forests and the Osa Peninsula including the Corcovado National Park and the Southern Pacific area around Pavones.
Most Malaria cases are registered in the northern San Carlos area close to the Nicaraguan border. Areas of little concern are higher altitudes such as the Central Valley with San Jose, Cartago, Dota, and the area around the Chirripo National Park.
Best and Worst Time Of Year For Mosquitos
During the rainy season from May through November the higher precipitation makes mosquito populations rise.
Some areas along the coast especially swampy, wet areas, are better avoided during this time or require some precautions and mandatory use of bug spray.
During the dry season, the risk of mosquito-borne illness and itchy annoyances decrease. You should always avoid mosquitos located around standing water.
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Preventing Mosquito Bites: Insect Repellent
Some of the most common repellents are those based on DEET such as OFF! and those based on Picaridin as their active ingredient such as Natrapel.
While both work fine, DEET will keep mosquitoes that landed on you, from biting, while Picadin will deter them from landing on you in the first place.
Some say that DEET might be harmful to human health and while there is no scientific proof for that, it can damage plastics and can harm your gear.
Whichever one you choose, check for the concentrations of DEET or Picaridin in your repellent, as they should be above 20% to assure mayor effectiveness.
You can buy repellents in Costa Rica in pharmacies, supermarkets, and many tiendas, but be aware that these products are more expensive here than in the US.
Best Mosquito Repellents For Costa Rica
I recommend that you bring your mosquito repellent to Costa Rica because generally, the brands we find in the US are much more expensive in Costa Rican than in the United States. I have tested the following:
Naturapel contains Picaridin, which has shown effectiveness against the greatest range of insects (mosquitoes, ticks, flies) and its active component is a synthetic version of a repellent found in pepper plants.
I think it works well and does not absorb into the skin in as toxic a manner as DEET.
ParaKito – Highly Recommended
My personal favorite is ParaKito for the kids. They come in reusable nylon bands you can place on your wrist or ankle. Each band has a place to add a small pellet with repellent, and each pellet lasts up to three weeks.
They also have an amazing roller ball for extra protection. We used these with the kids in the deep deep rainforest at Casitas Tenorio and never got one bite. The owner even ordered some for her kids because she said she’d never seen anything work so well. I highly, recommend them!
Costa Rican Bug Spray
In Costa Rica, the best repellent sold in pharmacies is the blue one for less than $5. It’s natural, formulated by scientists in Costa Rica, and generally pretty easy to find almost anywhere. I took this photo at a random tiny grocery store in the middle of nowhere.
I also found these different repellents at Maxi Pali (also known as Pali, Mas x Menos, and Walmart) in Costa Rica in November 2020. Prices aren’t bad (between $3-$10) and you can just buy them if you need them.
Alternatively, you can buy repellent-based essential oils such as citronella, patchouli, or lemon eucalyptus or make your own blends.
I will start by saying I am not a huge fan of DEET because it can be so harmful to the skin. With 20 years of traveling around Costa Rica, even living near Corcovado National Park during the rainy season, I have never had a problem with any mosquito-borne illnesses when using natural products.
Still, many of my readers are dead set on using DEET in Costa Rica because of a fear of the illnesses outlined above. If you are going to go this route, I recommend using Ben’s DEET Clothing Spray which you can use to treat your clothing and gear before heading into mosquito territory.
Non-Repellent Alternatives – Physical Barrier
Apart from using repellents, clothing is key to avoiding bites. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is recommended as well as long-sleeved shirts.
There is outdoor clothing that comes impregnated with mosquito repellent if you want to be extra sure.
For the nighttime, mosquito nets are essential in some parts but should be available in your accommodations.
It is good practice to spray your gear before leaving and not wear perfumes or smelly shampoos when you leave the house.
Are the mosquitoes bad in Costa Rica?
No. While there are mosquitoes in Costa Rica, they are localized to certain areas and compared to other tropical regions really not that bad.
Is Costa Rica safe from Zika virus?
There is Zika virus in Costa Rica, but with some simple precautions and avoiding certain areas, especially during the rainy season, the risk of getting the virus is low.
Do you need a mosquito net in Costa Rica?
Depending on where you go, a mosquito net can be essential. In those areas, the nets are standard in hotels, so you don’t have to bring your own.
Is there dengue fever in Costa Rica?
Yes, there are some cases.
How common is dengue fever in Costa Rica?
Until June 2020, the Ministerio de Salud had reported 3.729 cases of dengue this year.
What mosquito-borne diseases are in Costa Rica?
There are dengue, malaria, zika and chikungunya.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!