Costa Rica: It’s a Jungle out There

Like me, you’ve probably heard how Costa Rica is a must-see, even worthy of being on your bucket list. That’s one reason why I went, without doing much research on my part, only to find out, this location was not a good match. I’m going to skip all the gushing reasons to visit Costa Rica, like the biodiversity, the beaches and the beautiful undeveloped land, and instead, explain what makes this place a deal breaker.

The following are the main reasons I will never go back to Costa Rica.


One morning, I woke up to the sound of marching feet. I thought it was the shadow of a dream, but I got up to explore, and sure enough, in front of the front door were rows of marching leaf cutter ants. How could I have heard that?!  Most likely, I was dreaming, but what a sight they were, holding their leaf fragments up high and proud, doing their duty to feed their families, well really, they are feeding their fungus farm. Eww.

In Costa Rica, nature is all over you. You can’t open a drawer, cabinet or lift up a blanket without finding some weird insect. Outdoors is even worse. Don’t lean on an Acacia tree, since, most likely, it contains a bullet ant nest. They will attack you by throwing themselves at you, teeth first and with such speed and venom, that you feel like you’ve been hit by a bullet. The Paraponera clavate, as its technically called, has a sting that is currently the highest on Schmidt’s sting pain index, at 4.0+. And when one stings, they all sting. The pain will last for days, cause temporary paralysis and, generally, you will want to die. Welcome to Costa Rica!

Protection is key. This means protective clothing, bug spray containing Deet and don’t go out at night. I also recommend bringing a mosquito net for sleeping under, since Costa Rica offers you a choice of four wonderful mosquito-borne diseases:

  1. Dengue
  2. Zika
  3. Malaria
  4. Chikungunya

You’ve been warned!

Bad Roads

I found out what U2 was singing about in their song “Where the Streets have no Name”.  It must be Costa Rica. To get anywhere, you enter the name of the building or house into your GPS and miraculously, it finds it. There are no street names, no house numbers, only building names, town names and highway numbers.

On the other hand, they do name pot holes. This makes sense because of the quantity of pot holes. Some roads are more pot hole than road, and in order to be named, I believe the pot hole must have swallowed at least 10 vehicles first. After that, it gets a warning cone and eventually a name. A vehicle with high ground clearance is a must if you want to get around safely. Most smaller roads are dirt, and it rains a lot, and when you have watery dirt, you have mud, which is very sticky. And no, your phone won’t have reception when you get stuck in no-man’s land. You will be on your own, until someone comes by with a bigger car than yours and pulls you out.

Some famous pot holes:

  • Crater Salto Grande
  • Crate Caño Negro
  • Crate El Colonie

One such pot hole ruined our trip. We hit it with such force that I threw my back out so severely, that I could not drive anywhere without pain. Finally, after our car could not physically pass on the dirt road to our last Airbnb, we gave up and decided to leave. I really needed to see a doctor for x-rays and physical therapy anyway. If I could advise the Costa Rican Travel Bureau: please, fix the roads!

Wood Burning Cooking Stoves

A common practice is to use wood burning ovens. The thick smoke would sometimes blanket the air and waft into our apartment. If you have any respiratory issues, this isn’t good. Obviously, if you stay in a resort, you will probably not experience this, but we were living with the locals, so like clockwork, at around 4:30 pm, the cooking would begin.

Early Sunsets and Unsafe Streets After Dark

After sitting at a computer all day, I like to take an evening walk. The problem in Costa Rica is the sun sets early, between 5 and 6 pm year-round. Once the sun sets, things get hairy-scary. The biggest problem is by far the mosquitos, but a close second is the sketchiness of people about. These issues essentially trapped me indoors on workdays.

Outdoor-only Activities

Activities in Costa Rica are all outdoorsy, like hiking, biking, zip-lining, scuba and snorkeling. You get the idea. I love the outdoors, but in a tropical climate with strong sun and bugs, it was not agreeable to me. There was very little I could find to do. If I did find something fun, like the Beach Chocolate Factory tour for example, then the roads prevented us from getting there. We tried the beach, but it was covered in wood particles from beach fires. The sand is black, so the water is muddy looking and with all the wood floating in it, it was a mess. We did manage a tour to see sloths, but I was sweating from head to toe, since I had to wear clothes that covered all my skin. This trip was an epic-fail.

While my experience is my own, I give fair warning. Not everyone is suited to this place, but I do know many people say they enjoy it. If mosquitos ignore you, you have tough skin and don’t mind sweating, welcome to beautiful Costa Rica.

Sometimes, a place challenges you, and you learn something about yourself. Costa Rica was that place for me.

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