What are the essentials to pack for Costa Rica?
If your trip is just around the corner, you’ve likely shifted your focus from what you’re going to do and see in Costa Rica to what you’re going to need throughout your travel. And so, the journey of packing for Costa Rica begins: The contemplation, the over-analyzing, the packing and re-packing attempts, and the stress of over-packing if you’re not one to travel light. You might be wondering what to pack for Costa Rica, and if so, we’ve got answers for you.
One large piece of luggage that will fit all of your Costa Rica trip items.
Unless you plan to spend more than two weeks in Costa Rica, you should be able to get by using one piece of luggage, not multiple pieces of luggage, carry-on items, and personal items (like purses).
Opt for a large pack instead of a suitcase, if possible. The greatest investments in travel gear we ever made were our 75-liter backpacking packs that have steel frames, supportive hip belts, and adjustable straps. We can each carry, comfortably, about 50 pounds of weight around with these packs, which are far easier to walk with than having a bulky, boxy suitcase in tow.
A day pack or small backpack
Use this to carry small items like your wallet, phone, hotel or car keys, money, snacks, bottles of water, and a small towel and set of dry clothes (if needed) during participation in day tours or walks around town centers.
Clothing / Apparel
Tank tops, t-shirts, shorts, sundresses, bathing suits and other comfortable beach-friendly wear
Bring at least 1 set of clothes (i.e., a t-shirt and shorts, a tank top and skirt, a dress, etc.) for each day you plan to be in Costa Rica. It’s hot and humid here, and you’ll sweat through your clothes daily, especially if you’re active. Unless you plan to frequent laundromats, ignore recommendations that tell you to pack light when it comes to clothing. I sometimes change my tops and bottoms two or three times a day to remain comfortable, so if luggage space and weight permit, go ahead and throw in extra clothes.
Quick-dry or fast-drying clothes are ideal.
Clothes that condense well or can be folded/squished into small areas help save luggage space. They’re also great for packing into small backpacks or bags you’ll use during organized day tours.
Bring a second bathing suit just in case you lose your primary one. The selection of bathing suits you’ll find in most souvenir shops in Costa Rica isn’t great, so avoid the hassle of trying to find a suit in-country that you like and that fits well. In a pinch, ask around for the best boutiques or surf shops in town; they usually have higher-quality apparel.
At least one long-sleeve shirt, sweater, or sweatshirt for chilly evenings
Destinations that sit at high elevations, such as Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, San Gerardo de Rivas, and other mountainous areas, provide below-average temperatures and require the use of warm clothing. This is also true for attractions that sit at high elevations, such as the Poas Volcano, the Irazu Volcano, and Cerro Chirripo, so remember to dress warm if you plan to visit these attractions during your trip.
A water-resistant jacket or poncho, or both
Don’t bring an umbrella to Costa Rica. A jacket or poncho is much easier to use when it rains during organized day tours. Umbrellas cannot be used during participation in many activities, such as ziplining, for example. If you only plan to explore town centers, relying on an umbrella is fine.
Additional garments including comfortable underwear, bras, socks, and pajamas
Ladies, depending on the activities you plan to participate in, you may want to invest in a good sports bra.
Avoid the headache and even fever from insolations, wear a hat on tours and long walks
Two or three different kinds of footwear depending on the types of activities you plan to participate in during your trip
Bring a pair of comfortable sandals (such as flip flops) if you’ll be visiting a beach or exploring town centers.
Bring a pair of hiking shoes, running shoes, or strap-on sandals for light hikes or participation in adventure tours like ziplining.
Bring a pair of water shoes with a thick sole if you prefer to use these in the ocean or plan to participate in adventure tours that may leave you wet, like white-water rafting.
Bring a pair of fully-enclosed hiking boots or running shoes for more rugged hikes or participation in tours that require this type of footwear. Some attractions prohibit the use of flip flops, strap-on sandals, or any kind of footwear that exposes part of your feet.
Accessories and toiletries
A sport-based, ideally waterproof, sunscreen (at least 60 SPF)
Sunscreen is widely available for purchase at Costa Rican grocery stores if you run out during your trip. It will cost you more than if you bring an ample supply from home, however.
Like sunscreen, insect repellent is widely available for purchase at Costa Rican grocery stores, but at a higher cost than you’ll likely pay for it at home.
Daily hygiene products including deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste
Most accommodations will provide generic or homemade soap, shampoo, and conditioner so it isn’t necessary to bring these items. Bring your own only if you prefer to use certain brands or if you want more product than what small hotel bottles typically provide.
Prescription medication (if applicable)
If possible, travel with a doctor’s note and a prescription list. These items make it easier to get through airport security and customs/immigration.
Other toiletries, if applicable, including make-up, hair ties/bobby pins (for long-haired travelers), shaving supplies, contraceptives, and feminine products
In case of an emergency, contraceptives and feminine products are widely available for purchase at Costa Rican pharmacies and grocery stores.
Sunglasses, reading glasses (if applicable), and/or contact lenses (and contact lens solution, if applicable)
Bring a strap so you can hang your sunglasses or eyeglasses around your neck when they’re not in use. A strap is a must-have item if you plan to wear glasses while you participate in some adventure tours, such as white-water rafting or ziplining.
Antibacterial gel/cream/ointment, band-aids, and a bottle of aloe vera to treat sunburn
Skip the full-blown first-aid kit; most hotels and tour operators have basic supplies on hand to deal with minor medical issues.
Most towns have at least one pharmacy and medical clinic where additional supplies can be obtained if necessary.
A roll of toilet paper or small Kleenex tissue packages
Unfortunately, not all public bathrooms in Costa Rica supply free toilet paper. Especially at pubic bathrooms in remote areas of the country or at bus stations, you may find that the bathroom has run out of toilet paper completely, or that staff charge guests for toilet paper use. Traveling with your own roll (or discrete tissue packs) is a smart, cost-saving idea.
A camera and its memory card, battery, and charging cable (if applicable)
A laptop, tablet, or smartphone that’s equipped to access Wi-Fi internet, plus applicable charging cables
Having access to a device where you can tap into a hotel, tour operator, or park’s free Wi-Fi signal is a great way to stay connected to loved ones at home, to search for information online, or to make last-minute trip reservations/changes.
Identification and paperwork
Print a hard copy of your passport to bring with you to Costa Rica in case the original is stolen or lost. Some tour operators, mainly outfitters that run day tours to attractions near the borders at Nicaragua and Panama, will ask you to bring your passport with you during the tour. If you’d prefer not to participate in day tours with your original passport in hand, a copy of your passport will usually suffice.
Your driver’s license, if you plan to rent a car in Costa Rica
If you plan to decline part CDW insurance in Costa Rica, you may also need to bring proof of auto insurance from your home insurance provider.
Before you leave home, phone your credit card provider and ask them to remove any international spending bans that may be placed on your card. Also, have them confirm whether they will charge you for purchases made in a foreign country or purchases processed in currencies other than your home currency, such as Costa Rican colones. It’s best to know in advance what extra spending fees might be headed your way.