San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Medical tourism industry expands across isthmus

Central America has long been the backyard playground for travelers looking to sip a piña colada on the beach, take in ancient ruins or watch an active volcano at red-hot work.

Now, visitors can enjoy those same treats while healing.

Central America’s blossoming medical tourism industry offers a plethora of options, facilities and get-well travel packages for those looking to escape the high prices of North American hospitals and enjoy the isthmus’s lush and vibrant scenery.

Offering everything from bone replacement surgeries and cosmetic repairs and enhancements to dental work and routine physical checkups, the region’s hospitals are successfully courting more foreigners every day, with competitive prices, friendly service and a relaxed environment. And the isthmus’s proximity to North America makes it a most convenient option for U.S. citizens looking for affordable health care abroad.

With three Joint Commission International-accredited hospitals in the San José area and many more first-class labs and clinics, Costa Rica’s medical tourism industry is the most advanced in the region.

Clínica Bíblica Hospital (www.hcbinter offers an endless list of medical options and facilities with the latest equipment, and employs a host of English-speaking doctors and nurses.

Currently offering a full knee replacement package for a mere $12,900, Clínica Bíblica is a competitive location for any orthopedic operation.

The Costa Rican hospital also offers plastic and cosmetic procedures from face-lifts to implants, tummy tucks and hair replacement, and boasts specialists in dermatology, dentistry, bariatrics and other fields. And with free estimates and a variety of patient plans for all ages, the hospital’s checkups can be beneficial to the entire family.

Making an extra effort to tend to visiting foreign patients, the clinic offers a guide to lodging and recovery facilities around the country for every budget, and which include free transfers between the hotel, the hospital and the airport with meet-and-greet service.

Another popular choice for foreigners in Costa Rica is La Católica Hospital (, also in the capital. Boasting its own hotel, La Católica offers the gamut, from cosmetic surgery to orthopedics and bariatric operations.

The hospital also offers surgery packages for visitors that include operation costs and fees, hotel stays and sightseeing tours around San José and to Arenal Volcano in north-central Costa Rica, where recovering patients can relax in the hot springs and watch for nature’s fireworks.

The hospital’s hotel is a relaxing, five-star, colonial-style inn offering nutritionist-created meals that cater to each patient’s needs.

In San José’s upscale Escazú suburb, CIMA Hospital ( has been offering world-class medical treatment to foreigners since 2000. Preliminary prices listed on the hospital’s website include $1,350 for a face-lift or breast enlargement, $1,000 for liposuction and $250 for a colonoscopy, not including physicians’ fees. Earlier this year, CIMA broke ground on a second facility in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, within easy reach of Costa Rica’s celebrated northern Pacific beaches.

Outside of Costa Rica, Medical Tourism Guatemala group (www.medicaltourism arranges medical holidays in that country at the north end of the isthmus. Founded in 2007, the organization has been featured in various magazines and selected by the United Nations for a case study on services in foreign countries.

From gastric to plastic procedures, stem-cell transplants, wellness programs and more, visitors can get affordable treatment and recover while enjoying Guatemala’s various natural wonders and colonial cities.

Based out of Florida, Premier MedEscape ( can provide information and arrange medical trips to El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala, as well as other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. From cosmetic and eye surgeries to weight loss procedures, dental work and cardiovascular operations, the company offers competitive travel and healing packages starting at about $3,000.

Down south in Panama, Punta Pacífica Hospital (, the first Latin American hospital to be managed by Johns Hopkins Medicine International, covers a wide range of medical specialties. And a new medical tourism bill aims to make Panama a hub for North and South Americans seeking affordable, quality health care (see story on Page S9).

In Nicaragua, Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas (www.metropolitanomedical in Managua has stolen the limelight as one of the nation’s top spots for traveling medical care-seekers. Services at Vivian Pellas include gynecological, cosmetic, orthopedic, bariatric and other general surgeries, and the hospital offers travel packages that include city tours and full recovery massages.

Medical tourists also can plan a get-well visit to Honduras, where ancient Maya ruins and the beautiful sandy beaches of the Bay Islands beckon. For information on some Catracho-style healing, visit www.angels

Central America offers a great alternative to high-cost North American health care, and, in most cases, the scenery is better. Book your ticket and your surgery, checkup, cleaning or enhancement today.

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