Getting sick, or worse injured, while traveling is a source of great preoccupation for a lot of travelers both new and experienced. No one wants to need to search out medical care on their vacation, but it’s always good to know what your options are should the need arise. Costa Rica has some distinct advantages in the health/medical care field over many other developing countries. The standards of medical care here are quite high, in fact medical tourism is very popular in Costa Rica. Also it’s worth mentioning that there are pretty high safety standards for tourism activities here that reduce the risk of injury and accidents happening in the first place.
Still accidents do happen, be it slipping and falling while hiking or just simply coming down with a cold or flu. Should you need medical care while in the La Fortuna or Arenal Volcano area this post covers your options for Emergency Care, Consultations, Pharmacies, as well as natural/herbal medicine options. As always there is a map at the end of the post showing where to find the recommended locations.
Emergency Medical Care or Doctor Consultations
Urgent care means it’s also first on the list in the article and I’ll cut right to the chase. There are two primary clinics in La Fortuna for care in an emergency situation. Obviously in a true emergency 911 is your friend, but if you need urgent care that doesn’t require dispatching an ambulance to get you to a hospital you can go to one of these clinics. Just to add, the nearest hospital is in Ciudad Quesada about an hour away. This has 24 hour emergency services and for something extremely serious like a stroke or heart attack you would want to call 911 and be taken there; for other serious or less serious urgent issues the clinics in La Fortuna are equipped to help (and have ambulances to get you to the hospital if need be).
Throughout Costa Rica there is a national government funded health care system through Social Security (similar to the NHS in the UK or Canada’s health care system). You’ll often hear it referred to simply as the “Caja” or by its initials “CCSS” (Caja Costaricense de Seguro Social). They will not provide simple consultations if you feel a bit ill, but they are obligated to provide emergency services.
In La Fortuna there is a Clinic (it’s two steps down from a hospital, but has doctors, nurses, a laboratory, emergency care, and a pharmacy). In order to be attended to you will need to show your passport; they may or may not speak English (most personnel in Fortuna do not). The cost of the visit will vary depending on what treatment or medication you receive, but they told me a usual cost would be around $50-60. The emergency clinic is open from 7 AM to 10 PM Monday to Friday, Saturdays 7 AM to 9 PM, and Sundays 8 AM to 8 PM. It is located about 50 meters north of the Musmanni Bakery (which is one block east of the Park/Banco Nacional). For information on navigating by meters and compass points (there are no street addresses here) click here.
In addition to the public clinic there is also a private clinic. While more expensive, this is also probably the less complicated option. More of the staff there are likely to speak English and they’re open slightly longer. Like the other clinic the final cost will depend on what treatments and medications you receive, but they told me a base cost would be around $80 for a visit. They also provide dental care on site and there is a dentist’s office adjacent to the clinic as well should you need emergency dental care.
They’re open from Monday to Saturday from 8 AM to 12 AM (midnight) and Sundays from 8 AM to 7 PM. The Sanar Clinic is located pretty close to the Caja Clinic; it is 200 meters east of the park on the left hand side (across from Soda Ara).
If you’re just feeling a bit ill and need some medicine there are several pharmacies located around La Fortuna (at least 5 within three blocks of the center of town). For simplicity I usually recommend Fischel Pharmacy located about 30 meters east of the south side of the park (across from Super Christian #2 grocery store). Its got the largest selection and prices tend to be pretty much the same across the board, plus it’s really easy to find. The pharmacy has a doctor on-site at all times for some basic medical care options as well. They are open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM.
The doctor can provide basic consultations free of charge and the pharmacy is a good first stop if you’re unsure whether to visit a clinic or just take some pills. Costa Rica isn’t quite as unregulated in terms of handing out strong medications as some countries, but you can get some things over the counter here that would require a prescription in the US (birth control pills and some anti-biotics for example). They’ll also give for example injections of vitamin-B complexes and pain medications (helped me a lot when I got dry socket from a pulled wisdom tooth). Usually someone on site will speak a fair bit of English and they are usually quite helpful and honest; in my experience even recommending the cheaper options rather than trying to up-sell you on more expensive treatments.
Natural Medicine/Health Food Store (Macrobiotica)
I’m not really sure what to call these type of places in English. I always called them the “hippy store” when I was living in the US. In Costa Rica they’re called Macrobioticas, they focus more on natural remedies with herbs and vitamins. This is also a good place to look if you need specialty diet items like lactose or gluten free items. They have all kinds of supplements and vitamins ranging from prepared compounds and pills to just simple plastic bags of herbs, leaves, and roots. They also have a limited selection of pharmaceuticals as well; for example they have a pain pill similar to Advil but made with a (in the US) prescription strength anti-inflammatory as well as a B-Vitamin complex called Artribion that I take on occasion for back pain.
The Macrobiotica in La Fortuna is located directly across from the north side of the park and is called “El Angel Azul” (The Blue Angel). They’re open from Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM.