The Complete Costa Rica Packing List: Only Bring Your Essential Items

Are you trying to figure out what to pack for Costa Rica? This is an incredibly common question that people need immediate help with when creating their Costa Rica packing list. More important than anything else, when packing to for Costa Rica, keep in mind that there are 27 micro-climates within the country. You cannot stuff flip-flops and shorts into a bag and think you’re prepared for everything. Instead, please pay close attention to the coaster Rica packing list that we’ve developed after spending the last 20+ years visiting and living in Costa Rica!

You will not find a more thorough guide!

What to Pack for Your Trip to Costa Rica

  • Original Passport – Only your original passport suffices. You cannot bring photocopies or color copies because they aren’t acceptable. Make sure your original passport is with you and that it isn’t expired. Make sure it’s not going to expire in the middle of your trip before heading to Costa Rica.
  • Original Valid Driver’s License – This is mainly necessary if you plan on renting a car or driving while visiting here. You cannot bring a photocopy, paper copy, or temporary license. It must be a valid license that will not expire in the middle of your trip to Costa Rica.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card – one option is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This is an excellent traveling credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. It also has a wide array of other travel benefits. It’s always best to bring to a long to have a backup. A visa card is a great choice because it’s widely accepted all around the world. In Costa Rica, the AMEX card isn’t widely accepted nor are Apple Pay/digital cards either.
  • Travel Insurance – you never know what can happen, so having travel insurance is always critical. The pandemic proved that. Some great resources include Visitors Coverage, World Nomads, and Safety Wing. You’re bound to find a great option on any of these sites.
  • Your Return Flight Ticket Back Home – either save it to your phone or print a copy. You may need to show it to immigration when asked.
  • Flight Reservations, Car Rentals, Hotels, and Tours – either save them to your phone or bring a printed copy along. It might be wise to do both.

Packing Guide for Costa Rica


When making your Costa Rica packing list, please remember to add these essential items: insulated water bottle, sunglasses, hiking shoes/trail running shoes, lightweight drive fast close, mosquito repellent, waterproof phone case, battery pack, a hat, closed-toed hiking sandals, a rain jacket, day pack, a camera, swimwear, and comfortable sandals.

Clothes

There isn’t a strict dress code for Costa Rica, and the majority of the country wears casual yet comfortable clothing, so it’s best to follow their lead. During the day while visiting the beach, daytime temperatures reach as high as 95°F and there is usually high humidity. The wardrobe for this weather includes T-shirts, flip-flops, tank tops, and shorts. If you’re visiting the city during the daytime, the temperature is typically 78°F. For this journey, we recommend wearing long pants, closed-toed shoes, a sweater, or a light jacket. When visiting higher elevation areas including San Jose, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Gerardo de Dota, Vara Blanca, Moteverde, Bajos del Toro, etc. it’s best to wear a jacket, long socks, a warm sweater, and long pants. These are necessary because the temperature gets cold at higher elevations.

They do not have a specific dress code for women either. Feel free to show your shoulders and where your favorite tank tops. The local women do not wear leggings as part of their daily outfit. Men, when you visit the city, do not wear board shorts or short shorts.

Recommendations: Moisture-wicking clothes that drive fast are definitely the best choices when visiting Costa Rica. It’s fine to wear normal clothing while visiting the city, but avoid swimsuits and beach clothes. While hiking, I’ve noticed that women prefer wearing hiking pants instead of other types of leggings. This is due to the mosquitoes and the intense humidity. I like to keep my closet filled with Eddie Bauer, North Face, Nike, pRana, REI, and Columbia gear. I have plenty of moisture-wicking and lightweight clothes that make it easy to get around on the North Pacific Coast.

Shoes

if you plan to participate in any activities, it’s necessary to bring along trail running shoes, hiking shoes, or sandals with straps. Something that’s going to keep your feet protected. On the beach, it’s necessary to have a nice pair of flip-flops. While traveling around Costa Rica, I like to have a pair of closed-toed hiking sandals, sneakers or hiking shoes, and one pair of flip-flops. This pretty much covers all of my needs.

My traveling companion often brings a pair of flip-flops and trail running shoes along for the trip. If long hikes are in the plans, it’s nice to have Salomon waterproof trail running shoes along for the journey as well.

Recommendations: closed-toed hiking sandals are definitely a favorite of mine. They are a great choice for many fun light outdoor activities and they are perfect for going from the land to the water. They never smell, dry quickly, and let your feet breathe, which makes them very comfortable instead of stuffy socks and shoes. For Costa Rica, I also like waterproof trail running shoes when I plan to go on more intense hikes. If you prefer not to buy closed-toed hiking sandals, you can get a pair of sneakers + water shoes, which make excellent choices for boating, tubing, snorkeling, zip lining, and rafting.

Mosquito Repellent

When visiting Costa Rica, it’s a must to bring mosquito repellent with you at all times, because these bugs are present all year round. The coasts are unfortunately the places where mosquitoes are at their worst. They are responsible for spreading several serious diseases that anyone can catch, including dengue fever. Lots of other little bugs are annoying and found in Costa Rica and leave bug bites including gnats. In the highest elevations of 4900 feet or more, mosquitoes are rarely found, so that’s something.

Here’s one that I recommend in a travel size:  Amazon.com.

Recommendations: We recommend bringing your own mosquito repellent with you while visiting here, even though it is available to purchase and supermarkets. It’s a lot more expensive here than it is in other places. Moreover, there aren’t lots of non-DEET or natural options available. Two good choices that I wholeheartedly recommend include Avon Skin So Soft, which is free of DEET and protects against sunburns. OFF! 20% Picardin is also a great choice.

Sunscreen

Costa Rica is incredibly close to the equator, so the sun is very strong here. You must bring sunscreen along and it must be at least SPF 30. If you’re the kind of person to get sunburned easily, you definitely must remember to pack sunscreen that is SPF 50-70 and remember to reapply it. After-sun care is also important if you burn, so keep that in mind.

Recommendations: Do you plan on going to the ocean while visiting Costa Rica? If you answered yes, then you should seriously consider buying reef-safe mineral sunscreen. Some companies that I love include Bare Republic, Sun Bum, and Raw Elements. Always remember to bring sunscreen along in case you cannot find it easily. Plus, it’s usually more expensive in the pharmacies and supermarkets in Costa Rica, and the options are limited. They also sell Chapstick with SPF, which is a good choice to consider. Also, think about buying sunscreen with titanium dioxide/zinc oxide if you’re surfing and where a rash guard with SPF. My preferred surfing sunscreen is called Headhunter.

Sunscreen is SUPER pricey in Costa Rica.  Definitely bring your own!  Here’s a travel size one to pack:  Amazon.com.

Toiletries and Medications

The supermarkets sell all of the necessary toiletries including mouthwash, toothpaste, a toothbrush, lotions, conditioners, shampoos, and more. Nevertheless, I do recommend bringing certain toiletries along with you before traveling to Costa Rica. Women should consider bringing a long-haired detangler, tampons, and face wash. It’s always good to pack things like Band-Aids, triple antibiotic ointment, wet wipes, face wipes, and tissues. In Costa Rica, it’s becoming easier to find menstruation cups, which is a great choice for travel. If you have to wear contact lenses, it’s always best to bring along extra lenses, lens solution, and cases just in case you need them. The pharmacies and some supermarkets will sell the solution, so it is available if you ever run out.

Are you taking any medication? Make a list of your medication and bring it with you at all times. Include the active ingredients on your list, and even better, write down the Spanish name if you know it.

Pharmacies

The pharmacies located in Costa Rica provide more than simple prescription medications. They sell all kinds of things including cold medicine, over-the-counter drugs, toothpaste, supplements, vitamins, shampoo, and lotion, amongst other things.

If you’re looking for over-the-counter medications like stuff for muscle pain, diarrhea, flu, cold, and sinus, you can even pick them up at the supermarket. Many other types of medications must be purchased at the pharmacy, so if you have specific needs for certain medications that you must take every day, you should stock up and bring them with you before visiting the country.

Example: anti-nausea medication must be purchased at a pharmacy because it isn’t available at the supermarket. Personally, I tend to take along non-drowsy Dramamine when I leave for a trip. In this particular case, I know that the Dramamine brand isn’t available in Costa Rica and they only sell motion sickness medication at the pharmacy, which you can get without a prescription. Plus, the pharmacist might unintentionally make a mistake and give you the type of anti-nausea medication that might make you sleepy. I also have allergies and I tend to bring Claritin along and so should you since it’s nearly impossible to find nine-drowsy allergy medicine here. I also recommend bringing cough drops along since they aren’t readily available to purchase over the counter here.

Rain Jacket

Are you visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season? A rain jacket is an absolute must if you’re visiting anywhere between May and early December. Besides bringing in a rain jacket, it has to be a waterproof one as well because you’re going to need it. If you really don’t want to wear a rain jacket, then I highly recommend bringing a good quality poncho along. Avoid the crappy ones that they sell at the dollar store and buy a good one.

Moreover, when the dry season is underway, you should even have a lightweight rain jacket during this time of the year if you plan on going up in the mountains are visiting the rainforest because it rains in those locations all year round. The places I’m talking about include Osa Peninsula, Monteverde, Uvita, Bijagua, and Dominical. The Caribbean doesn’t have the same typical rain pattern, so it can rain at any time during the year.

Recommendations: I didn’t always live in Costa Rica, and when I was living in the States I fell in love with The North Face Venture Jackets, which make excellent rain jackets. The Marmot Precip jacket is also an excellent option. I highly recommend picking up a rain jacket with zipper ventilation pockets that is lightweight and allow air to flow through.

There’s also an easy to pack jacket that has great ratings on Amazon.

Day Bag

I don’t know about you, but I like going on tours, sightseeing trips, and day trips. You’re going to need a backpack when you go on these excursions. And not some flimsy gym bag with drawstrings. If you don’t plan on going hiking, you can fill your 20-25 L backpack with the essentials including a change of clothes, camera, hand towel, water, and snacks.

Recommendations: I own a bunch of different backpacks that serve their own purposes. My favorites are the 20 L Osprey, the 40 L REI, my 30 L Aqua Quest, and the 25 L REI. I also own a waterproof backpack because it’s an absolute must during the rainy season. Aqua Quest waterproof backpacks are my preferred choice for hiking and my favorite boating backpacks are from IDRYBAGS. If you don’t own a waterproof backpack, get waterproof sprayer use a rain cover as an alternative.

The best backpack for photographers is the Shimodo Explorer V2. It’s designed to carry videography and photography equipment. Content creators must keep their gear protected at all times, so it’s critical to have a good backpack. They even make a women’s version of the backpack for camera equipment called the Shimoda Action x30.

A child carrier is an absolute must if you plan on traveling with babies or infants. Many of the hiking trails, reserves, and national parks aren’t suitable for baby carriages and strollers.

Insulated Water Bottle

I always have an insulated water bottle with me whenever I leave home. You never know when you’re going to want a refreshing sip of cold water in the middle of a heat wave. Moreover, having your own water bottle on hand helps minimize your carbon footprint by using fewer plastic water bottles. Plus, you’ll save money by buying less bottled water. Most places in Costa Rica are perfect for drinking tap water or filtered water if you prefer.

I love my 40-ounce Hydro Flask water bottle and I never leave home without it. The best part is it can keep the water cold for up to 24 hours. You should also get the boot for your water bottle for hikes and adventuring because it protects it while getting banged around.

I personally use this Civago product in 32 oz size and it doesn’t leak.

Micro Fiber Towel

I have a second favorite item that I never leave the house without and it’s a micro fiber towel. This is such an important item because it gets really hot and I get really sweaty and I need to wipe off the sweat. I also use it to cool myself down or protect stuff by wrapping it in it if it starts to rain. You can get a hand towel, body towel, or any other size micro fiber towel in between.

Surfers seem to really like the microfiber surf poncho. It’s convenient, and comfortable, and you could change out of your swimsuit underneath.

Sunglasses and a Hat

If you’re bringing sunglasses along – what you absolutely should – then you should bring two pairs along just in case you lose one. Bring a cheap pair to the beach because of it gets lost in the ocean it isn’t a big deal. Bring a visor or hat to keep your head and eyes protected from the sun.

Sarong and Swimwear

I’m a huge fan of the sarong because it’s incredibly useful to cover yourself up on the beach, use it as a blanket, or use it as a towel. In fact, when I’m sitting outside at night, I often cover up my legs with it to protect it from mosquitoes. They’re relatively easy to come by in Costa Rica and typically cost between $10-$20 USD.

Cameras and Technology

You obviously want to capture your adventure while visiting Costa Rica, so bringing along an action cam like a GoPro is the best choice. The Insta360X is also a great action camera to try.

Photographers should always bring along a 300 mm telephoto lens while roaming around Costa Rica to capture all the birds and wildlife. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a sturdy tripod on hand for wildlife photography as well. The Manfrotto is always a great choice.

Recommendations: it’s critical to bring along the perfect accessories for your action camera while you’re out on the prowl. You can attach it to your surfboard, helmet, or anything else.

Remember to bring along lots of SD cards because they aren’t easy to find in Costa Rica. You can get the classic ST card or mini ST card, depending on your needs and your particular camera or electronic device. You should also bring along a universal power adapter because they are kind of difficult to find in Costa Rica, although the US and Costa Rica both use 110 V.

Being travel bloggers, we use the Sony ZV1 exclusively on this website and find it to be compact, yet take amazing photos and videos.

Flashlights or Headlamps

Bringing a small pocket flashlight with you wherever you go is always a good idea when traveling through Costa Rica. The electricity goes out often on rainy days so the flashlight will come in very handy. It’s a helpful tool to have while walking the streets at night because streetlights are very dim and they are in short supply. Also, you’ll have to walk in the road because there really aren’t sidewalks, so the flashlight will come in handy in this regard as well.

Anti-Theft Travel Bag

I absolutely love my anti-theft travel bag and I use it all the time while traveling throughout the US, Europe, and Costa Rica. I once had my pockets picked in Spain, but they didn’t get much because of this anti-theft bag. It’s very useful, handy for everyday use, it’s spacious, and lightweight so it’s easy to travel with.

My preferred brand is Sherpani because they have RFID protection, a chain lock system, an exterior lock system, it’s water resistant, and it’s available in more than one style.

An RFID wallet is also highly recommended because you never know who’s lurking around the corner with a credit card reader.

Battery Pack

Remember, the electricity goes out often during heavy rain storms during the Costa Rica rainy season. Keeping a fully charged battery pack, extra charging cables, and a wall charger with you is incredibly useful. This is especially true in the rural areas or when you happen to be taking a long drive.

The USB C Travel Power Strip is a great choice for anyone working while traveling to Costa Rica or any other country for that matter.

Waterproof Phone Case/Pouch

It’s always incredibly useful to have a waterproof phone case on hand. Keep it with you while tubing, canoeing, or while participating in other water-related activities. Simply wear it around your neck and you’ll hardly notice it’s even there.

Consider alternative cameras that are waterproof if you don’t feel like spending 500 bucks to buy a GoPro. Only use them for light water activities and avoid scuba diving or other underwater options.

Accessories and Extras

Here’s a quick list of useful items to bring along on your journey:

  • Ziploc bags for electronics
  • Laundry bag
  • First aid kit (small)
  • Dryer sheets to mix in with dirty laundry to keep them smelling fresh
  • Sleeping pills – magnesium, melatonin, etc.
  • Hair ties
  • Shopping bags (reusable)
  • Earplugs
  • Car cell phone holder
  • Spanish dictionary or guide
  • Maps
  • Binoculars – perfect for sightseeing or wildlife viewing
  • Master Lock (used to keep car keys in a safe place)

Things to Avoid Packing While Visiting Costa Rica

  • Designer clothes
  • Expensive jewelry
  • High heel shoes
  • Expensive purses
  • Rain boots
  • All of your credit cards (only bring the ones you intend to use)

Luggage Recommendations

Carry On

Personally, my favorite carry-on bag is the Beis The Carry On Roller Bag. I absolutely love this bag and all of the pockets and great features that make it easy to keep all of my stuff in its proper place and well organized. This is a great bag to take while traveling internationally and I only want to bring along a carry-on. It has a hard-shell carry-on, plus it has an expansion zipper, which makes it really easy to shop without worrying about having a tough time getting to my credit cards. They have a pet carry-on bag, cosmetic case, and hanging cosmetic cases well which are all great choices.

The Columbia Carry On Roller Bag is also a really popular choice that many people seem to love. It’s durable, easy to clean, and it has a soft shell. It has two wheels and you can stuff so many clothes into this carry-on bag even though it looks small. It holds so much!

Check In Luggage

The Amazon Basics 24 Inch and Amazon Basics 28 Inch both make excellent bags, even though they are as basic as the name suggests. They get the job done and I’ve used these bags for a few years without any complaints.

Just note that this type of luggage is very common, so you should put lots of orange and blue colors on them to help differentiate between other passengers. The tags and stickers will make them easy to recognize.

Packing cubes is another great option if you need them to stay organized.

Rainy Season Packing List

The rainy season in Costa Rica typically begins in the early part of the month of May. It will either and at the latter half of November or the early part of December. During this time of the year, Costa Rica will experience very windy days, lots of rainstorms, and plenty of thunderstorms as well. September and October are the rainiest months of the year in this country. Even though it’s still summertime in October and the Caribbean and all along the coast, it’s still critical to bring a light rain jacket with you because you never know when a thunderstorm will spring up out of nowhere!

You should always pay close attention to Costa Rica weather before visiting this country. This is especially true because you want to be prepared during the rainy season, which is often quite unpredictable. The weather can go from hot and sunny in the morning to filled with enormous thunderstorms that spring up out of nowhere in a matter of minutes.

Use the same packing list for the dry season in Costa Rica to get started, but please add these rainy season items to your list to be fully prepared. They include the following options:

  • Rain poncho, rain jacket
  • Waterproof spray, waterproof backpack, or rain cover – an absolute must!
  • Sweaters, jackets
  • Long sleeve shirts, long pants
  • Hiking shoes, hiking clothes – preferably waterproof
  • Socks

At this stage of the game, you may be wondering about the specific items to bring to different destinations in Costa Rica. The next section will tell you everything you need to know in this regard!

Costa Rica Packing List for Different Activities and Destinations

Arenal and La Fortuna

During the dry season in this area, the weather gets really hot and humid. The temperatures are usually in the high 80°F. If you plan on staying in the vicinity of Nuevo Arenal or Lake Arenal, the weather in this region is actually cooler. It gets really hot in La Fortuna, so be prepared to wear sandals, T-shirts, and shorts.

There’s lots of hiking to enjoy in Costa Rica, so bring your hiking shoes and running shoes with you during the dry season. If you’re visiting during the rainy season, consider buying waterproof hiking shoes or hiking sandals.

Do not wear loose shoes or flip-flops while zip-lining.

Other activities to enjoy include white-water rafting, canyoning, or horseback riding which requires clothes-toed shoes. Water shoes are great for rafting as well as hiking sandals (closed-toed).

Monteverde

This region is roughly 1500 m or 4900 feet in elevation. It can get very cold that high up. The temperatures in the dry season are usually in the high 70s F. At night, the temperatures will drop into the 50s and 60s F.

It’s critical that you bring a warm sweater or jacket along with you as well as long pants while visiting Monteverde. Even during the dry season months of March and April, you could expect spring showers, so be prepared.

During the rainy season, you must have waterproof clothing and equipment. And if you plan on hiking the cloud forest reserves, where closed-toed hiking shoes and bring a rain jacket along. You can even rent rain boots at some of the reserves.

Osa Peninsula (Corcovado National Park, Puerto Jimenez, Drake Bay) and Costa Ballena (Uvita, Dominical, Ojochal)

The Osa Peninsula and Costa Ballena have lots of humidity all year-round. When visiting the national parks, you must have closed-toed hiking shoes. In Corcovado National Park, the trails are well laid out and easy to follow. If you plan on traveling from Leona to Sirena station, you’ll have to travel through some rivers and also walk on the beach. Some hotels have boots that they’ll allow you to rent, or you can pick up a pair in Puerto Jimenez.

For those visiting during the rainy season, it’s best to take completely waterproof hiking shoes. Bring waterproof year if you’re bringing camera equipment because it rains hard and it’s really humid. Zip lock bags and 100% waterproof backpacks are a must as well.

Other must bring items: battery pack, mosquito repellent, hiking shoes, a flashlight, I had, micro-fiber towel, quick dry workout clothes, waterproof backpack, and insulated water bottle, and a great attitude.

It’s also very humid in Sarapiqui as well in case you were wondering.

Jaco and Manuel Antonio

The weather in Manuel Antonio and Jaco are very similar. It’s really hot and humid here so bring mosquito repellent, sunglasses, swimsuit and hat, sunscreen, and beach clothes.

Guanacaste (Coco, Tamarindo, Conchal, Samara) and Nicoya Peninsula

The dry season is longer and it’s extremely hot in Guanacaste province. The temperatures are consistently in the low 90°F all year long. Bring lots of SPF 50 sunscreen, son jail, a hat, sunglasses, and mosquito repellent with you. Keep yourself safe and protected from the sun. It’s also useful to have an insulated water bottle if you love cold water.

The Nicoya Peninsula dry season, more specifically in Santa Teresa, is very dusty. Do you plan on renting an ATV? You should have Buff Headwear with you or something else to cover your face because the dust is really thick and really bad there.

Rio Celeste

Tenorio Volcano National Park is the area where it rains most often in Rio Celeste, so it’s highly recommended that you bring a rain jacket with you. This is even true if it’s considered the dry season. I visited the area last April and it rained hard for three days while I was visiting.

I also recommend bringing a waterproof backpack – this is especially true if you’re a photographer carrying expensive equipment. Bring waterproof hiking shoes or rent rain boots while walking through the national Park.

Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo

It rains almost all year long across the Caribbean coast, so you must be prepared for it. Even though October is part of the dry season, it’s still necessary to bring a rain jacket along because it’s really humid as well. Fast drying clothes are an absolute must. Rent boots when possible because it gets muddy when hiking in the national park.

I also highly recommend bringing a battery pack along with you in Puerto Viejo. The power goes out a lot and it gets very stormy. Don’t worry about rainy footwear because normal hiking sandals, flip-flops, or sneakers are sufficient enough.

 

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Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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