Our accumulated experience in Latin America will help to minimize the chances of any serious illness or injuries occurring during your stay in Mastatal, yet it is important to understand that there are certain inherent risks when traveling overseas and undeniable risks associated with travel in Latin America and the Tropics.
There is not a full-time doctor at Rancho Mastatal or in the region nor can anyone here foresee all that can potentially go wrong in this environment. We generally have at least one Wilderness First Responder on site but this does not signify that they can help you in all situations. We will not compromise the safety of any individual for any reason, but it is critical that visitors understand the risks, and if there is any apprehension once the facts are known, we recommend that you reconsider travel to Mastatal. It is not uncommon to get mildly sick when traveling in Latin America, although by taking the right precautions before, during and after your trip, it’s unlikely that you will become seriously ill. Costa Rica has one of the higher standards of health care and hygiene in Latin America.
Allergies to Stinging Insects
If you know that you are allergic to any stinging insects and have been instructed to carry an Epipen by a doctor, it is critical that you carry it, along with Benadryl or a similar antihistamine, with you at ALL times during your stay in Mastatal. There are many wasps, bees and other stinging insects in our region and it is not uncommon for people to get stung. We are somewhat remote and therefore travel to the closest open medical clinic can take up to two hours. If you know that you have an allergy to any stinging insects, please think hard about a trip to Mastatal. If after weighing the risks you decide to join us at the Ranch, please come fully prepared in the case that you get stung. And please advise us of your allergies as soon as you arrive.
No special vaccinations are necessary for travel in Costa Rica at this time. Nevertheless, health care providers may suggest vaccinations against hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B or influenza. Hepatitis A is generally recommended for all travelers. Typhoid is often suggested for those with adventurous dietary habits and those traveling off the beaten path. Hepatitis B is recommended for those open to engaging in sex with a new partner while traveling. Routine immunizations, such as those that prevent tetanus/diphtheria or “childhood” diseases, should be reviewed and updated as needed. Make sure that all normal vaccinations are up to date. Consult your physician for more information. There is no malaria in or around Mastatal. Visit the Center for Infectious Diseases (Center for Disease Control or CDC) website for more health information regarding travel in Central America.
Some items that you should consider bringing with you:
- your own prescription medications
- antihisamine or other anti-itch cream for insect bites
- Benadryl pills or another antihistamine
- antiseptic cream
- tea tree oil
- calendula cream
- aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (Motrin)
- Imodium and/or Pepto-Bismol for diarrhea
- antacid tablets
- lip salve
- antifungal powder/cream
- band aids
- a thermometer
- medical tape
The water at Rancho Mastatal is potable, clean and delicious. Please do not bring a disposable water bottle to the Ranch unless you plan on taking it with you when you leave.
If you wear prescription glasses, make sure you have a spare pair and a copy of the prescription. The tropical sun is strong, so you may want to have a pair of prescription sunglasses made. Ensure that you have an adequate supply of any prescription medicines that you use regularly. If traveling with young children, please exercise extra care to ensure their safety.
The change in diet that you will experience means that you will be susceptible to minor stomach ailments, such as diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol- like products usually take care of the discomfort quickly, although it may take a few days to "work it out" of your system. We also make ginger tea and other natural remedies at the Ranch to help with upset stomachs and other minor health ailments.
If you get bitten by an insect, avoid scratching. This is oftentimes easier said than done. To alleviate itching, try applying hydrocortisone cream, a clay slip, citrus juice or calamine lotion to the bite, or soak the affected area in baking soda. Scratching can open bites and promote infections. Infections do not heal well in the Tropics, so if an area does get infected, it is critical to care for the area by keeping it clean. Scorpions and spiders can give severely painful, but rarely fatal, stings or bites. A common way to get bitten is to put on your clothes and shoes in the morning without checking them or shaking them out first. Look where you place your hands when reaching to a shelf or branch.
A number of venomous snake species reside in our region, amongst them the fer-de-lance, the eyelash pit viper and the coral snake. Around 500 snakebites are reported each year in Costa Rica. Most occur amongst farmers and field workers. It is unlikely that a snake will bite you during your stay in Mastatal though the possibility does exist, and therefore we stress education about our local reptilian friends and caution when walking in the forest and at night. We have each Ranch visitor read through an information sheet about snakes upon arriving. With groups, we talk about snakes extensively during their orientation session. If you use common sense when in the forest and when walking at night, you will most likely not have any problems with snakes while in Mastatal. Always walk with a flashlight at night. Stay on the path when hiking in the forest. Always hike with at least two other people. Never reach into holes or branches or under rocks without first looking what might be there. Snakes, especially pit-vipers, can be extremely wellcamouflaged creatures. Some are arboreal. If bitten, it is important to stay calm, remove restrictive jewelry and clothing, immobilize the bitten limb and get to medical attention as soon as possible. Many venomous snakes are nocturnal, doing their hunting at night. It is best to do your hiking during the day, and leaving the
nights to stargazing, playing music, and listening to the mesmerizing sounds of the forest. Again, we will go over all of this information with you in more detail upon your arrival to Mastatal. If you have any specific questions about snakes prior to your arrival, please send us an email.
Mastatal runs along a ridge. This coupled with occasional thunderstorms can put uneducated visitors at risk of a lightning strike. When rains associated with thunder and lightning do move into our area, we ask visitors to unplug any electrical devices and avoid showers and exposed areas such as the community soccer field. We suggest that everyone finds a nice comfortable place indoors to ride out the storm. For those that find themselves outdoors during a storm, we advise them to take precautions such as staying clear of tall trees. We have not heard of anyone in our region getting struck by lightning but have seen and heard strikes close to town. If everyone takes the necessary steps to stay safe, lightning should not ruin anyone's trip to our town.
Heat and Sun
The heat and humidity of the Tropics can and will most likely make you sweat more than you are used to. It is extremely important to maintain a high fluid intake and to protect yourself from direct sun. If you do not replace fluids lost as a result of sweating then you may experience bad headaches, cramps or much worse. The tropical sun can severely burn you, a warning to those looking to get a great tan while in the Tropics. Take heed. Drink tons of water, use sunscreen, and do not take in too much direct sun during the hottest part of the day. The power of the tropical sun cannot be overemphasized. Don’t spoil your trip by trying to get a nice tan. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat while in the sun is also a great idea.
If you take the precautions mentioned in the previous sections, you can look forward to a generally healthy trip. Should something go wrong, however, you can get good medical advice and treatment in the greater San José area, about 2 1/2 hours by car from the Ranch. The closest health clinic to Mastatal is approximately 45 minutes by car and 1 hour by bus. The closest hospital is found in Puriscal, about 1 1/2 hours by car and 2 hours by bus from Mastatal. Public hospitals in Costa Rica sometimes provide free basic medical services to foreigners though we strongly recommend that you purchase traveler's insurance or an international health insurance plan prior to traveling in Costa Rica in the case that you need advanced medical care while in the country. In addition to public clinics and hospitals, private hospitals are also available. Costa Rica has one of the best medical systems in Latin America.
If you would like the option to use the services of a private hospital, please travel with a major credit card as some of the private hospitals require an imprint of one before admitting you. Here's some contact information for some of the more well-known private hospitals in and around San Jose:
- San Jose San Jose, Costa Rica
- Emergencies: (506) 2208-1144
- Telephone: (506) 2208-1000
- Fax: (506) 2208-1001
- email: email@example.com
- website: http://www.hospitalcima.com/
- This is the closest hospital to the Ranch and oftentimes where we bring people who need hospital care.
Hospital Clinica Biblica
- Emergencies: (506) 2522-1030
- Telephone: (506) 2522-1000
- Fax: (506) 2258-7184
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- website: http://www.clinicabiblica.com/
Hospital La Catolica
- Telephone: (506) 2246-3000
- Fax: (506) 2283-6171
- Address: San Antonio de Guadalupe al costado sur de los Tribunales de Justicia
- email: email@example.com
- website: http://www.hospitallacatolica.com/eng/indexeng.html
The system of public hospitals in Costa Rica falls under control of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS or Caja). While many of these hospitals may not look real pretty from the outside and may seen crowded and disorganized inside, they are generally considered quite good. Many of these hospitals provide first rate service at very low cost. Hospital Mexico has performed heart transplants that the private hospitals cannot or do not perform. They are also a first rate trauma center and cardiac center. Here's a bit more information on three of the public hospitals.
Hospital San Juan de Dios
- San José, Costa Rica
- Telephone: (506) 2257-6282
- website: http://www.hsjd.sa.cr/
- This is a 680 bed hospital. The surgical theaters, cardiac care unit and the intensive care unit are well equipped. This is also the only hospital in Costa Rica with an adult burn unit.
- Uruca, San José, Costa Rica
- Telephone: (506) 2232-6122
- Address: Barrio La Uruca in front of the Autopista to the Airport
- This hospital has 633 beds. It has many well trained physicians, however it is crowded and there are
- equipment shortages. This hospital could be utilized in the cases of a life threatening emergency.
Hospital Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia
- San José, Costa Rica
- This is a 622 bed hospital. The surgical theaters, cardiac care unit and the intensive care unit are well equipped. This hospital could be utilized in the case of a life-threatening emergency.
We can provide you with more medical information upon your arrival to the Ranch.
We strongly recommend buying travel's insurance. Make sure that your insurance covers all of your potential medical expenses including evacuation costs in the case that you have to be flown back to the US. Check with your insurance agent to get information about the coverage that he/she offers. There are many options out there. Do your research and get excellent coverage.