Top 10 Tips for Acclimating to the Costa Rican Tropics in 2014

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Many travelers underestimate the effects of acclimating to the tropics--especially during the North American winter. Casa de las Cascadas, in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, presents tips for how to best acclimate--and make one's vacation more enjoyable.

As the winter settles across the northern hemisphere people start dreaming more and more of the warmer climes. In the tropics there is no winter—just two seasons: the monsoon season and the dry season—which is why Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, has become such a ‘hot spot’ for travelers seeking to warm their bones.

Nevertheless, while the dream of coming down in the middle of winter for a warm, tropical vacation to a gorgeous vacation rental such as Casa de las Cascadas is idyllic, the extremes changes from one climate to another can have adverse affects on travelers. The changes in altitude, temperature and humidity have undeniable physiological effects on the human body, and it takes literally 10-14 days to acclimate to the new conditions. Given that most travelers visit for less time, this means their entire trip will be spent acclimating to the new conditions. Therefore, in order to have a more enjoyable vacation, it is important to do everything possible to facilitate this acclimatization.

Here are some tips for acclimating to the tropics of Costa Rica:

1.    Prepare to sweat. The difference in temperature and humidity is the first thing travelers feel. Even during the North American winter, temperatures in Manuel Antonio tend to average around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be an extreme change for many travelers. More heat means more sweating—a reality of the tropics.

2.    Get used to the humidity. In Manuel Antonio, set in the beautiful rainforest, the humidity averages around 85% year-round. Travelers often describe a ‘sticky’ feeling on their skin when they step off the plane—which can be uncomfortable sensation at first, but also a necessary physiological response to adapt to the new climate.

3.    Beware of air conditioning. Air conditioned spaces are often radically cooler than the outdoors, and the cold air is also more arid. Many travelers seek refuge from the heat and humidity in highly-air-conditioned places, such as their hotel or vacation rental home. However--while this alleviates the immediate symptoms, it also confuses the body, and hinders the acclimatization process.

4.    Wear appropriate clothing. The temperature variance in Costa Rica between night and day is not as extreme as it is in North America. Don’t overdress; the culture in Manuel Antonio is casual, in any case. Use fabrics such as light cotton, linen or synthetic fabrics designed for hot climates. Remember that dark colors absorb heat more than light colors—and therefore are ‘hotter’.

5.    Drink lots of water. The heat and humidity causes travelers to sweat more—particularly at the beginning, when the body is going through its most radical acclimatization. Experts recommend drinking at least 2 liters of water per day—or more, depending on one’s activity level. Dehydration can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and irritability.

6.    Replenish your electrolytes. Electrolytes (namely--sodium, calcium & potassium) are necessary for the proper function of every cell in the body. As the human body sweats, electrolytes are lost. This is especially true as one is acclimating to the tropics, when electrolytes tend to be sweated out more quickly. Replacing electrolytes is simple—through eating small amounts of food throughout the day. A banana is a great source of potassium!

7.    Increment your sun exposure. The sun in the tropics is strong! It’s not uncommon for travelers to get a full-body sunburn during their first days at the beach. Not only is this extremely uncomfortable, but also reduces the body’s ability to acclimate properly. Sunburn creates excessive perspiration, which means a greater intake of water (and electrolytes) is necessary. To avoid this, it is recommended to use sunscreen and avoid the direct sunlight during the middle of the day (ie 11am to 2 pm). Also, incrementing one’s exposure a little each day (ie 15 min the first day, 30 min the next, etc.) will help avoid sunburn.

8.    Moderate alcohol intake. Alcohol dehydrates the body, which means that more water must be consumed to remain properly hydrated. Alternating alcoholic drinks with water is a good way to avoid this.

9.    Eat light. Many foods--such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats---cause the body’s temperature to rise. Try to avoid large lunches—particularly with foods such as beef, pastas, potatoes and bread, which not only raise the body’s temperature, but also create fatigue. Focus on lighter, cooler foods—like ceviche, salads, or gazpacho.

10.    Adjust to the tropical day. Costa Rica is only 9 degrees north of the equator, and thus the day’s length only varies by 35 minutes throughout the year. This means that the sun always comes up early—between 5am and 5:35 am—and also always sets early—between 5:25 and 6:00 pm. Get used to waking up early—as the Costa Ricans do—to take advantage of the day! Carpe diem tropicae!

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Kent Thompson
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