Please see why you should come and visit Costa Rica
I don’t personally have any accessibility issues, but I have people directly and indirectly in my life that do. So, while I’d love to say I care simply because I care about everybody and while I do try to, but I have limitations, like everyone does and I don’t always think about it.
But I have cared for about 30 years.
My sister has had 3 severely handicapped/special needs children.
(Aside: not yet done)
My wife and I have adopted in 2018 a child that has been in our home as a foster child since birth, he was 3 when we adopted him. He has some serious ‘delays’, ‘handicaps’ or whatever you want to call them including sensory friendly needs. We also have 3 other children with various ‘issues’, one of which has a sensory friendly need on top of her other problems. The oldest is 7 and we have been working for several years to adopt them as well. We’ve had all four basically since birth and hopefully someday, we will be able to get through all the paperwork, reverse discrimination, discrimination and other bureaucratic problems and they will become permanently our children.
One of our adult daughters (31 in 2019) has been working with children with ‘learning delays’, accessibility and sensory issues and many other ‘handicaps’ since she was a young teenager. She works in a school that specializes in helping children with all sorts of learning and other ‘delays’.
The result is, I live and hear about all sorts of issues that I have heard and experienced for the past about 30 years.
Does this make me an expert on all accessibility and sensory friendly issues? Of course not! My experience is directly limited to 7, and indirectly limited to about 30 adults and children.
Accessibility, help others, what is realistic?
When I first thought about trying to give information on accessibility and sensory friendly options in Costa Rica, my first response was despair. I thought: This is not Canada or the USA, this is a country that is not set up to ‘care’ about people with special needs, it struggles to care deeply about people with ‘normal’ development and ‘normal’ needs.
But as I thought and looked, I realized several things:
– Our units, especially the 2 bedroom units, at Prados are much more accessible than most places in Costa Rica, and because of the large rooms and large bathrooms, are better than many in Canada or the USA that I have seen.
– While beaches are inherently not all that convenient for people in wheelchairs unless they have a boat launch, there are several beaches that the sand starts at the same level as your vehicle can drive to, so they are, as far as beaches go, very accessible for wheelchairs\ – And beaches that are level with the parking are much more accessible for people with difficulty walking, going up and down stairs etc.., than beaches that you need to go down stairs or crawl over rocks or vegetation to get to.\ – While many beaches are ‘popular’ and therefore loud and noisy especially in the high season, many of these are quite peaceful beaches in the rainy/green season, and for every ‘popular’ beach – there are 5 or 6 others that almost no one goes to. So, assuming the sound of the wind and surf isn’t also a problem, the majority of the beaches are sensory friendly.\ – For the blind, there is a plethora of sounds and smells to experience.
But I need to be realistic, and not lead you into thinking it is better than it is. When you fly into the San Jose airport (SJO) you will encounter the choice of using an elevator, or using ramps.
Now the ramps might meet Costa Rica standards, but they do not, to my understanding, meet any Canadian or USA standards for wheelchair accessible ramps. The angle seems appropriate (I didn’t measure them though) but the length is very long – enough to drop about 10 or 11′, without a single break the whole way down. They are certainly several times longer than any standards I have heard about in Canada/USA allow for.
While I am making the claim that several beaches are ‘wheelchair accessible’ – that does not mean that there are ramps without sand that go out into the surf. You are not going to find any beaches that you can drive your wheelchair out into the surf. You will need assistance because you aren’t going to push a wheelchair through the dry sand, and if you get out into the water, you are going to get stuck very quickly in the sand.
Now, having said that, there is a middle zone, and depending on the wheels on your wheelchair, I have seen people in a wheelchair who were helped to the wet sand that is ‘easy/firm to walk on’, making their way along the beach without assistance. But you won’t want to do that alone. If you get too high (close to the dry sand) or too low (in the ‘too wet’ sand or worse the surf, you are going to get stuck or worse.
So when you read that beaches are wheelchair accessible, you are being told that getting to the beach is wheelchair accessible, not that the beach itself is.
But if you can go at high tide (so the water is closer to the shore), it means the wheelchair accessible beaches are a great option. If I ever find or I’m told about a beach that has a concrete path out into the surf, I’ll be sure to update this page.
If your issue is blindness, in San Jose there are sidewalk indicators in the concrete to help you along, but beware, the sides of the sidewalks in the cities often have deep ditches on either side, and crossing the road can be dangerous because often the grates has been removed from the rainwater sewers – leaving very dangerous holes that even sometimes catch sighted people who aren’t paying attention. So while the cities have aids for the blind on many streets, overall it is my impression that the cities are more dangerous than the more touristy areas.
And not everything in our Prados units can be called ‘Accessible’. There is a pool for the community, and while access to the pool area, the showers, the BBQ area and such is very accessible, there is no shallow end, so getting in and out of the pool would in no way be considered ‘accessible’.
If you need support bars for the toilets or in the showers, I have not seen any of those in Costa Rica.
So, while they are large and will help a lot of people and be more accessible than most places in Costa Rica, they are accessible from Costa Rica standards, not from Canadian/USA standards.
Now, Tico’s are friendly people, and if you need help – don’t be afraid to ask – you will be surprised at how willing people will help you get around or over obstacles.
There is an “Association of Costa Rica Special Taxis”. This has several dozen wheelchair friendly vans. You can of course opt for a normal taxi at a lower cost if you are able to stow your chair. Just like in Canada/USA, be sure to communicate how to properly stow your chair.
Be careful of online resources that try to grab your attention with the right keywords. When I did a search on “Wheelchair Accessible Costa Rica” I came up with several sites with good information. But two of them written by people that live their life in a wheelchair seemed to have incorrect information based on my personal experience in the country. They said things like “I had problems …” suggesting that they had been there … but then at the end they had a disclaimer saying that they had never been to the country and everything was based on what they read online … and then they said that they make money from all the links on their web page. I admit, if they hadn’t had the ‘I had” type statements and they said upfront on their page that they have never been to Costa Rica, I would have been much more sympathetic. But sadly, they seem to be using their handicap to mislead people and make money from the click bait. So … please be careful taking any advice. Also remember, I said up front that I don’t personally have accessibility problems, my knowledge come second hand from those around me. Much of my advice comes from that experience, and then, as I travelled, thinking about what it would mean. So I too, while I’ve been to the country many times, don’t hold expertise on the topic.
If you have been and have ANY advice that I could use to improve my information, please let me know. I really do want to make it as accurate, up to date, and useful as possible.
My goal is to help those with accessibility problems get the best experience from their travels, and I happen to think that Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to visit for everyone. So I want everyone to get as much of the experience as they can.