What to Pack for Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has varying climates within the country. Some areas (such as Guanacaste) are drier than others while some such as Osa Peninsula are wetter. The higher in elevation the colder it will be. When you pack for Costa Rica, make sure you know what the climate is in the area you will be traveling to. The time of year is also important. Costa Rica has two seasons: the wet or green season (May- November) and the dry season (December – April). The dry season is also the high season (read $$$) while you will get better deals during the wet season. I have been to Costa Rica twice during September which is one of the rainiest months. I highly recommend it if you don’t mind an afternoon rainshower to get the best prices, experience less tourism, and see more animals. Read on to find out what I recommend what to pack for Costa Rica no matter when you go.

What kind of Shoes to Pack for Costa Rica

You will need shoes to wear to the beach or around town, when walking through water is necessary, and hiking up trails. I generally bring three pairs of shoes with me: flip flops, water shoes, and water resistant hiking shoes. Do not bring high heals or fancy shoes when you pack for Costa Rica. Unless you are staying in San Jose (which I don’t recommend) you will not need them. Here are the shoes I own: Reef Women’s Sandals, KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal, and KEEN Women’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe. If you are going during the dry season and will not be exposed to wet conditions swap out the Whisper Sandals for KEEN Rose hiking sandals. I’ve had mine for at least 8 years and they still look great. I wear them for hiking and walking around town. I bought the grey b/c they go with everything.

As far as socks go, you DO NOT want cotton socks. You want breathable Merino wool socks or similar. Check out Sierra Trading post for smartwool socks or get them here Smartwool Women’s Light Mini Socks.

What Types of Clothes to Pack for Costa Rica

Pants

When visiting Central America, moisture wicking and quick dry clothes are a must especially during the rainy season. Another added plus is they are light weight. Depending on where you’re going, there may be weight limits on your bags. Heavy cotton and jeans will add unneeded weight to your bags. I have three pairs of RBX Active Women’s Cargo Capri Pant , one pair of Patagonia Happy Hike Pants, and one pair of prAna Women’s Halle Pants
My most comfortable pants for flying (I wore these on a 18 hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya) are Prana Women’s Mantra Pant. These are also good for lounging around after a long day’s hiking.
Comfortable pants for air travel

Dresses/Skirts

For evening cocktails and dinner, bring one comfortable dress. I love Prana dresses. They have a built in bra and are cute and flattering on any body shape. I own three styles: the Cantine Dress, the Pristine Dress, and the Foundation Dress.
Pack a dress when going to Costa Rica
Taken in New Orleans

Underwear

Let’s talk underwear. Save your lacey panties for nighttime. When doing day hikes, I swear by Exofficio Underwear. They are very comfortable and are quick dry. When traveling for 2 1/2 weeks in South America last year, I ended up washing them in my bathroom sink. They were dry by the next morning. My favorite style is the Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini. Quick dry bras are a must especially during the rainy season. You can also opt to just wear a bikini top instead. I have ExOfficio Give-N-Go Cross Over Bra. Bustier ladies might want to try ExOfficio Bras for Women| Bra | Modern Travel Racerback Wireless Bra.

Shirts

For shirts I recommend at least 4 short sleeve and 1-2 long sleeve shirts to protect against mosquitos. As I’ve been traveling I’ve had to get away from wearing fashionable clothes and focus on function. Columbia makes a great long sleeve shirt with ventilation. I have a Columbia Women’s Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve Shirt. If you’re looking for a cheap quick dry shirt I have bought several colors in the Eastern Mountain Sports Women’s Techwick Essence Crew Short-Sleeve Shirt. They do not dry as quickly as name brands but are affordable.

Bug Repellent Clothing

Depending on where you are going it might be worth investing in some bug repellent clothing when you pack for Costa Rica. Many of the Exofficio brands are bug and UV protected clothing. I bought some Gramicci shirts similar to this one Gramicci Women’s No-Squito Shirt. I bought mine through Sierra Trading Post https://www.sierra.com/. They are now part of Marshalls, HomeGoods etc. so I’m not sure if they are offering as good of deals as they have in the past. They sell overstock items and clothes that are slightly irregular. I also have pair of skorts that are quick dry. I paired them with a Techwick shirt and keen Whisper Sandals (see picture below). These skorts are Columbia brand which they don’t make anymore but I found a similar one on Amazon Cityoung Women’s Golf Pleated Flat Skort with Pockets
What to Pack for Costa Rica: Quick dry clothes
Taken in the Galapagos Islands

Sunscreen

Costa Rica is closer to the equator. Make sure you bring sunscreen with you as it will be more expensive if you buy it there. If you plan on going snorkeling make sure you buy reef safe sunscreen. It is a little harder to apply (kinda white in color) but you will be doing your part in protecting this fragile environment from harsh chemicals.
Reef safe sunscreen

Bug Repellent

Depending on where you’re going and the time of year you may not need bug repellent. I bring bug repellent everywhere I go. If there is one mosquito in a 5 mile radius it will find me! When we went to the Osa Peninsula in 2017, the guide told everyone on our tour that they didn’t need repellent. He clearly was not referring to the mosquito magnet that is myself. As a general rule I try to stay away from harsh chemicals. There are 3 kinds of repellents that I use depending on the severity of the situation. First, I opt for REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, then I go up to Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent If that doesn’t work I go for the big daddy Ben’s 100% DEET Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent . As a general rule I’d say mosquito borne diseases such as Malaria are pretty rare in Costa Rica but better safe than sorry. You can also find bug repellent clothes including hats, pants, and shirts.

Travel Guides

You should really consider a guide book when you pack for Costa Rica. Most of my travels are wildlife focused. Even if you are looking to get away to just relax, it’s always fun to try and identify the local birds. Sometimes I take my guides with me to the pool. You’d be surprised how many species of birds you can identify in a small area. The great part about Costa Rica is the diversity and beauty of the birds. For a first timer I recommend:

Quick bird guide to Costa Rica

There is a going joke in my family about these laminated field guides but I love them. They are small and can fit in your backpack easily and are light weight. I never leave on a trip without them!

If you are an avid birder you may want to try The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide . Costa Rica has A LOT of insects. If you’re not squeemish I recommend getting Costa Rica Arachnids & Insects Wildlife Guide (Laminated Foldout Pocket Field Guide). This is a great overall guide to all common wildlife in Costa Rica Costa Rica Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Animals. There are so many beautiful flowers in Central America, buy this guide if you’re interested in finding out what they are called Costa Rica Tropical Flowers Identification Guide (Laminated Foldout Pocket Field Guide) . I like to tick off things I’ve seen in my guide books and try to spot as much as possible (yes a little nerdy I know).

What kind of Camera Equipment to Pack for Costa Rica

I will fully admit – I am an amateur photographer. I recently bought a Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera. My last camera was a point and shoot Canon Powershot. I thought it was a great camera until I took a trip to Africa and wanted to blow up my pictures onto a canvas frame. Not quite the crisp pictures that I saw on my computer.

After that trip I decided to upgrade so I could blow up my pictures and have them framed. I bought a bundel similar to this one (although this one is better as it has a 500 mm lens included).

 Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera package

I do not claim to be a expert by any means but found this camera to be amateur friendly and easy to use. Don’t get me wrong- I did watch YouTube videos and bought this book which I read while lounging by the pool at my hotel in Manuel Antonio. You will not be an expert overnight and I am still not happy with 75% of the pictures I take but when I get a good one, it’s a huge reward.

 Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera book

I have also seen Iphones take amazing photos as well! Make sure you do your research before buying a camera as it is a big investment. Whatever you choose make sure you have extra memory cards and rechargeable batteries with you (or enough memory on your phone) when you pack for Costa Rica.

What Kind of Outerwear Should I Pack for Costa Rica?

Jackets

As far as jackets go, when I went to the Osa Peninsula in September 2017, I brought a lightweight rain jacket. I had it on for 5 minutes before I realized even though it was raining (and we were hiking in Corcovado National Park) it was way too hot to wear one. Did I end up getting wet? Yes, but I’d rather be wet than hot and dry AND if you buy quick dry clothes you will not be wet for long after it stops raining. If you plan on visiting Monteverde or any other area in the mountains, you might want to consider a rain jacket. You should also bring a light weight sweatsweat shirt with you for these areas as well.

Sunglasses & Hat

I do recommend a good pair of polarized sunglasses. I got a great deal on some Costas at Sierra Trading Post. It’s always good to have a hat. I like hats with bug repellent built in. Outdoor Research makes great products and they fold up and fit in your suitcase. Try this one on Amazon:

Hat for Costa Rica
Bug repellent hat

Swim Wear

You should bring 2 pairs of swim suits with you and a cover up. For cheap swim suits I get mine at Target. I also have a nice one I got at Prana. For a cover up, I use the Exofficio Convertible Skirt which doubles as a skirt for going out or a cover up for the beach.

What kind of Medications to Pack for Costa Rica

Over the Counter Meds

Keep in mind when you are thinking about what to pack for Costa Rica, over the counter medications are generally more expensive when purchased outside the U.S. Some must-have over the counter meds that I include are: Benadryl, tylenol, cold/flu meds, Goody’s Extra Strength Headache Powder (for that killer hangover), heartburn meds, and Emergen-C (when you are starting to get sick).

Prescription Meds

As far as prescription medications, I always bring ciprofloxacin with me for traveler’s diarrhea. Your doctor can call it in for you. I’ve never had to use it but it’s one of those things you want to have if you do! Generally speaking Costa Rica is pretty safe (Mexico is a whole different story). I’ve drank the water in Costa Rica and never had any issues. Due to my food allergies I also bring an epipen with me as well. Put all necessary prescription medications on your carry on. Do not check these. It is a good idea to have a doctor’s note for your epipen as it contains a needle and could possibly be construed as a weapon (although I’ve never had an issue). As an aside, I did not get any special vaccines for Costa Rica. Make sure you are up to date on your regular ones (flu, tetanus, etc.) and check the CDC website for their recommendations.

What kind of Bags Should I Pack for Costa Rica?

Checked Bag

When I first went to Costa Rica on my honeymoon over 10 years ago I brought the biggest suitcase I could find along with a slightly smaller one and a check on bag. It was completely embarassing. I wore maybe half the clothes I packed. At one point we had to get on this tiny boat to go to Tortuguero and the suitcases were so heavy we barely made it to the resort as we were bottoming out due to low tide. Never again! I now limit myself to 35 lbs for my checked bag.

Packing Cubes

Since then I have purchased packing cubes. This limits the amount of items you can bring and really makes you think about what to pack for Costa Rica (more on this later).

What to Pack for Costa Rica: Packing cubes

Carry on Bag

For my carry on bag, I put a day’s worth of clothes and all the medications (both over the counter and prescription), my field guides, camera, and a book to read. I also pack hand sanitizer and chlorox wipes or similar to wipe down the tray table and around the seat on the plane. If you’re going to get sick it’s probably going to be on a plane! My carry on is a Northface Bag. My husband’s carry on is the day pack we take hiking with us. It’s an Osprey Hiking Backpack.

Money & Credit Cards

Tipping. Costa Ricans take American dollars. Plan on bringing enough money for tips. For that matter plan on tipping! My general rule is 15-20% at restaurants and bars. I always tip my drivers $5-10 depending on how long the trip is. Guides should be tipped – usually $10 per person. I give $1-2 to the bellmen and $1 per day to the maid. Before I go I figure how much I will need in tips and have different envelopes marked with tips in each one. Keep in mind that they will not take torn or old dollar bills. Newer crisp bills are better to bring and are widely accepted. I request these at the bank before I leave.

Using Credit Cards. Last time we went to Costa Rica, I used my credit card quite freely. I got home and saw all these foreign transaction fees on my account. Typically credit cards charge 3% for these fees. That was an expensive lesson to learn. I now have a travel rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

How much money should I have on hand? Costa Rica is a relatively safe country. I have never been robbed. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere with no access to an ATM. This happened to us. We left for our honeymoon, forgot to bring the dollar dance money we had collected and had $100 that my friend’s father had given us at the reception. That had to last us for 4 days! Keep in mind local vendors generally do not take credit cards. Research where you’re going and what kind of stores/banks will be there. Figure out how much you need and add 20% to that.

Electronics

I prefer to be off the grid as much as possible when I’m on vacation. If you cannot do this, bring a tablet or laptop with you on your carry on. I bring a small portable speaker and hook it up to my IPOD and like to enjoy music over some cocktails and beer at night. Keep in mind, WiFi will not be accessible throughout the country so don’t plan on streaming music and logging into social media 100% of the time (that is the joy of getting away isn’t it?).

How much should I pack for Costa Rica?

Don’t do what I did on my first trip to CR and pack 100 lbs of clothes for 2 weeks! Pack one outfit maximum for each day for 7 days. Then plan on recycling your clothes either by hand washing them in sink or paying for laundry service or wearing them more than once. There is a whole art and various blogs on how to pack for a trip! Plan on an additional going out dress or skirt. If you follow my recommendations and buy light weight quick dry clothes, your bag shouldn’t weigh more than 35 lbs max. Keep in mind if you are doing local travel through Sansa Airlines or similar, there are weight restrictions (usually 30 lbs). For a 7 day trip you should have:

  • 3 pairs of pants
  • 2-3 pairs of shorts/skorts
  • 4 short sleeve shirts
  • 1-2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 athleisure wear outfit (optional)
  • 1 dress and/or 1 skirt
  • 1-2 sets of lounging clothes (leggings, sweatpants, t-shirt, tank top)
  • 2 bathing suits and a cover up
  • Underwear (one for each day for a week, then wash if staying longer)
  • 3-4 bras
  • Rain coat (if needed)
  • Lightweight sweatshirt (bug repellent)
  • Merino wool socks (4 pairs)
  • Flip flops, water shoes, hiking shoes
  • Prescriptions and over the counter meds
  • Wildlife guides and reading material
  • Camera equipment and supplies (recommend waterproof bag)
  • Binoculars (optional)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Travel size toiletries (soap, shampoo, razor, deodorant, toothbrush, contact lenses, etc.)
  • Passport and travel documents
  • Laundry bag
  • Headlamp

What Not to Pack for Costa Rica

Micro Fiber Towel. Like yourself, I did my research on what to bring for my first trip to Central America. I kept reading about these micro fiber towels so of course I bought one. I have NEVER used it. I still take it with me thinking one of these days its going to come in handy. Nope. Not once have I ever used it. Save your money. Anywhere you go there will be towels.

Jeans and cotton clothes. Do not bring jeans. First they weight a lot and second when they get wet, they do not dry easily. The same goes for cotton. You want synthetic blend clothing that is moisture wicking and quick dry.

Too many clothes! So many people overpack. I went to Colorado with a friend for a 3 day weekend and she packed 5 coats. Start with what you think you need then take away 1/3 to 1/2 of that. Do not say well what if I want to wear this…. Plan on a specific outfit for each day and stick to it. Bring one nice outfit or dress, not three b/c you’re not sure which one you will want to wear. And stick to 3 pairs of shoes maximum.

Too many bags. This ties into not bringing too many clothes. DO NOT bring what you cannot carry yourself (assuming you are able bodied). You should have 1 carry on and 1 suitcase. I like to keep my weight limit to around 35 lbs. Buy a luggage scale. I bought mine at TJ Max (they have a travel section).

Too much crap from the pharmacy. You do not need to account for anything and everything that might happen. The list below is an actual list I had when I went to Africa. Many items you can purchase if you really need them. Most items are available from your hotel/resort and a reputable guide should have first aid kit items in case you get hurt. This alone added 5 lbs to my bag!

  • Electrolyte powder
  • Diarrhea kit
  • First aid kit
  • Antibiotics (Cipro)
  • Benadryl
  • Purell hand sanitizer
  • Bacitracin/Neosporin
  • Tweezers
  • Visine /eye drops
  • Earplugs
  • Ziploc bags
  • Cortisone cream (for itches & bites)
  • Band aids & moleskin
  • Vitamins/probiotics
  • Motion sickness tablets
  • Heartburn remedy
  • Advil & Tylenol
  • Cold/flu tablets
  • EmergenC
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Probiotics
  • Charcoal tablets

Power Adapter

If you are coming from the U.S. you do not need a power adapter.

Maybe I missed something or you disagree with my suggestions on what to pack for Costa Rica? What is your must have item you bring? Please feel free to add any comments you have at the bottom!


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