Packing for a trip to visit Costa Rica requires careful consideration, as this beautiful country boasts diverse landscapes and varied weather patterns. Whether you’re planning to explore the lush rainforests, lounge on the beaches, or hike through the mountains, it’s essential to pack the right gear to make the most of your adventure.
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Understanding what to pack for Costa Rica can be especially challenging. The packing list for this type of trip is a bit more elaborate than your typical beach holiday.
Luckily for you, we are here to help! Over the last 8 years, we’ve explored many corners of Costa Rica in every possible season. We’ve been here in the peak of rainy season and in the heat of dry season and have now become experts at packing for every adventure here.
To help you pack efficiently and make the most of your time in Costa Rica, we’ve put together a comprehensive packing list that covers everything you’ll need for your trip. From lightweight clothing to outdoor gear and essential travel accessories, this guide will ensure that you’re well-prepared for any adventure that comes your way.
Before You Begin
Take some time to learn about Costa Rica’s climate before you start packing. Whether you’re going during the rainy or dry season will drastically change the sort of weather you can expect, depending on where you plan on going.
The seasons in Costa Rica vary greatly depending on whether you’re on the Caribbean Coast or Pacific Coast and climate can range dramatically within just 100 kms.
General Guidelines: What to Wear in Costa Rica
Keep it Casual
When it comes to clothes for Costa Rica, keep it simple. Fancy clothes are both impractical and uncommon in Costa Rica. Especially if you don’t want to stick out as a tourist.
Pack for comfort and functionality. Casual t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, loose pants and flowy dresses should make up the majority of what you pack for Costa Rica.
Don’t worry too much at trying to fit in with the locals. The truth is, you’ll be a “gringo” no matter what you do. But if do want to stick out a bit less, pack less and plan to buy a few items at local stores during your trip.
You’ll find lots fo basic tank tops, dresses and other vacation appropriate items. You’ll be more comfortable and help support the local economy.
Traveling Soon? Here is a list of our favourite travel providers and accessories to help get you ready for your upcoming trip!
Pack Lots of Beachwear
With lovely stretches of coastline on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time at the beach during your time in Costa Rica. So be sure to pack a handful of swimsuits, as you might be wearing them more often than regular clothes.
Don’t forget to pack a cover up or a sarong, as well as some UV protective long sleeves. The sun here is extreme, so you’ll be grateful if you have a shirt for sun protection for long beach days or outdoor activities.
Pack Things You Can Get Dirty In
Costa Rica is a rugged country packed with adventures. If you’re trekking through a National Park, exploring waterfalls, indulging in some Costa Rica hiking, or zooming through the trees on a zip line, your clothes should be the last thing on your mind.
We always recommend packing one or two active outfits, something you won’t mind getting dirty. Stay away from cotton and opt for fabrics like recycled polyester that are easier to wash and dry.
Pack For the Seasons
There are regional variations in Costa Rica’s weather patterns, so it might be a good idea to map out the spots you want to visit. The Caribbean Coast gets more rain than the rest of the country, with drier spells in September-October. The North Pacific coast’s dry season is December-April, and the South Pacific region’s dry season is much shorter, running through January-March.
If you’re in Costa Rica during the rainy season, pack a lightweight jacket and long pants for layering, as it can get unexpectedly chilly at night. Costa Rica’s rainy season can be very humid. Make sure you have clothes that are light and breathable. They’ll dry faster if you get caught in the rain, and they’ll be more comfortable in the humidity.
Dry season is the peak tourist season, so popular tourist hot spots can be quite lively. Consider packing an extra outfit or two for a night on the town.
No matter what time of the year you are visiting, the sun is extreme here, so a sun hat or sunglasses are definitely a must.
Pack for Your Itinerary
If you plan on visiting every beach in Costa Rica you can, you don’t want to only have clothes for hiking. If your itinerary is full of adventures, you don’t want to be stuck with nothing but sundresses. Pack for what you’ve planned to do.
If you can, pack some versatile items. Leggings or hiking shorts and tank tops can be worn on any day. Anything you can hand wash and hang dry overnight is perfect.
The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List
Let’s start with the basics. It’s unlikely that you’ll forget to pack your underwear, but it’s worth noting that no all underwear is suitable for Costa Rica. Leave behind your lacy garments and opt for items designed for hot, sweaty climates.
We prefer natural breathable fabrics, like organic cotton or hemp.
Remember to pack light! There is no need to bring a pair of underwear for every day of your trip. Bring 5-7 pairs and wash as you go. The weather in Costa Rica is extremely hot, so your underwear will undoubtedly dry overnight.
Swimwear & Watershoes
Be certain to pack at least a few swimsuits. You may want to pack some nicer swimsuits for pool days and beach days and maybe a slightly older pair that you don’t mind getting dirty that you can use for hot springs, mud pools, and waterfall pools.
You might also want to bring a pair of water shoes, and we don’t mean flip-flops. Hot springs, waterfalls, and rocky beaches can all pose dangers to bare feet. A pair of good, closed-toed water shoes can prevent a lot of accidents.
Tank tops are a staple in any tropical destination, and Costa Rica is no exception. With its warm, humid climate, tank tops are a comfortable and practical choice for exploring the country.
Opt for lightweight and breathable fabrics and consider packing a variety of colors and patterns to mix and match with your other travel outfits
T-shirts: Short & Long Sleeve
In addition to tank tops, T-shirts are another essential item to pack for your trip to Costa Rica. They are lightweight, comfortable, and easy to wear in the warm and humid climate.
Choose T-shirts made from breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics that will help keep you cool and dry during your adventures. Consider bringing a mix of short and long-sleeved T-shirts to accommodate changing weather conditions, especially if you plan to explore higher elevations or spend time in the rainforest where it can get cooler.
Neutral colors and simple designs are versatile and easy to mix and match with other travel gear. When we come to Costa Rica, we usually wear T-shirts and tank tops from our favourite sustainable brand, prAna.
If you plan on doing any kind of surfing, paddle boarding, or scuba diving, then don’t forget to add a rash guard to your Costa Rica packing list.
A rash guard is a type of athletic shirt that is made of quick-drying and lightweight fabric. It protects from the sun’s harmful UV rays and can also help prevent rashes and irritation caused by sand, saltwater, or surfboard wax. Look for a rash guard that fits comfortably and provides adequate coverage for your arms, chest, and back. Some rash guards may have built-in SPF protection, which can be helpful in reducing your sun exposure.
These long sleeve, fitted shirts can function as a wetsuit or layered over a normal swimsuit and do a great job at protecting you from the sun.
No Costa Rica packing list would be complete without a sarong for beach days. You can use a sarong as a cover-up over your swimsuit, as a skirt or dress, or even as a makeshift towel.
They are also easy to pack and take up very little space in your luggage. Sarongs come in a variety of colors and patterns and are abundant in souvenir shops here in Costa Rica. So if you don’t own one already, it’s one of a items you can buy locally when you arrive in Costa Rica.
I personally don’t travel anywhere without a few pairs of leggings! Not only are they good for cold nights, but they’re also great for travel days and are particularly useful if you plan to go on hikes, bike rides, or any other outdoor activity that requires a lot of movement.
Opt for leggings made from lightweight, moisture-wicking materials that will keep you cool and dry in the humid climate. My favourite brands now make them out of recycled water bottles!
Good hiking pants are flexible and durable. Our favourite pairs are stretchy and made from quick drying sustainable materials.
Look for lightweight, breathable hiking pants that will keep you cool and dry on the trails. Convertible pants are a great option, as they can be transformed into shorts when temperatures rise, giving you added versatility for changing weather conditions.
A couple pairs of comfortable, lightweight shorts are a MUST for a Costa Rica packing list. You’ll wear them everywhere from beach towns to hiking trails. Avoid jean shorts as they can be hard to wash and dry without a washing machine. Linen is a popular alternative that lends a bit of style to an otherwise wardrobe staple. If you don’t own a pair, you’ll have no problem finding them in souvenir shops in many tourist towns in Costa Rica.
Consider packing both athletic shorts for outdoor activities and casual shorts for exploring towns and cities. Neutral colours like khaki or black are practical and easy to match with different tops and shoes, but don’t be afraid to pack a few pairs with fun patterns or bright colours to add some personality to your travel wardrobe.
I know, I know. Jeans in a hot, humid climate? You think I’m crazy! But hear me out!
If you want to fit in with the locals in Costa Rica, jeans are a must. Even though most would consider the climate too hot for jeans, they’re trendy in Costa Rica. Wearing jeans is the only way to “fit in” with the local style.
In all seriousness, we don’t recommend jeans for Costa Rica. The locals may find them stylish but they are not a practical item for your Costa Rica packing list.
Costa Rica is covered in tropical rainforests so it’s best to be prepared to get wet. Especially during the rainy season, don’t leave home without a light jacket or even better, a good rain jacket.
When choosing a rain jacket, look for one that is lightweight, waterproof, and breathable. This will ensure that you stay dry without getting too hot and sweaty. A light jacket with a hood will also provide extra protection from the rain, keeping your head and face dry.
Closed Toe Shoes
Next item you MUST pack for Costa Rica are closed-toe shoes. While closed toe shows are great for hiking, they may also be mandatory for safety reasons for some adventure sports, like zip lining, canyoning and horseback riding.
Sneakers, hiking shoes or trail runners are great options that are versatile and practical. Closed-toe sandals can also be useful as they double as water shoes for beach days or other water activities.
While it’s important to prioritize comfort, keep in mind that some activities may require more durable footwear, so consider bringing a more sturdy pair of shoes or boots if you plan to go on extended hikes or treks. Check out a list of our favourites for some great recommendations.
If you plan on being very active, you might even go a step further and bring a pair of good hiking shoes or boots with you. Choose boots that offer excellent traction, ankle support, and durability to navigate the country’s varied terrain.
We recommend boots that are waterproof or water-resistant to protect you from rain or water crossings. If you aren’t an avid hikes, make sure the boots fit well and are wear them in at home before you trip to avoid blisters.
Do not buy bulky hiking boots for your trip to Costa Rica. It’s unlikely that you will need them here! Our favourite hiking boots are lightweight and breathable perfect for Costa Rica’s hot and humid climate.
Pack a pair of flip flops or casual sandals for beach days or times when you don’t want to wear closed-toe shoes. Opt for high quality flip flops that won’t break after a few wears or pack sandals that have sturdy straps to prevent them from falling off in water or getting damaged during hiking.
Waterproof sandals, like Chacos, can also be used as hiking sandals or for activities like rafting, kayaking, white water rafting, or waterfall hikes. They are my personal favourite!
Even if you’re already wearing sunscreen, additional sun protection is important. Sunburn and heat exhaustion set in quickly and can be dangerous. If you’re in Costa Rica during the dry season, this is even more important.
Choose a hat made of lightweight and breathable materials like cotton, linen, or straw to keep you cool and comfortable in the heat of the day. Some sun hats come with a chin strap or adjustable drawstring, which can be helpful in windy conditions or during outdoor activities like hiking.
Remember that darker colors may absorb heat and make you feel warmer. Opt for lighter colors like beige or white to reflect the sun’s rays and keep you cooler. If you’re particularly sensitive to the sun, some also have panels to protect your neck.
Accessories and Toiletries
Reef Friendly Sunscreen
Good sunscreen is an essential item to pack for Costa Rica. Sunscreen in Costa Rica is expensive to buy, so it’s one item you definitely want to bring from home.
Given the fragile ecosystem in Costa Rica, consider buying reef-safe sunscreen that will be better for you and the ocean.
Regular sunscreen can harm coral and other Costa Rica marine life that is already threatened. In order to protect both your skin and the ocean, we recommend a brand like Raw Elements.
Non-Deet Bug Spray or Lotion
Bug spray is another absolutely necessary item for your Costa Rica packing list. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects are common in many parts of the country, and some may carry diseases like dengue fever.
Most popular bug sprays on the market tend to have a high DEET concentration, which can be harmful to the environment, toxic to aquatic life, and harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.
We recommend looking for bug sprays that use picaridin instead of DEET. Picaridin is a synthetic compound that is effective in repelling mosquitoes and ticks, but it is generally considered to be less toxic than DEET and has a lower environmental impact.
If you’re sensitive to traditional bug spray, you can also try an all-natural variety or give insect-repellent bracelets a try. Bracelets might not be as effective as a spray, but if your skin can’t tolerate the chemicals or essential oils, they are a decent backup. There are reusable bracelets that you can fill with essential oil pellets.
While many hotels in Costa Rica offer toiletries, it’s a good idea to bring your own shampoo and conditioner to avoid any wasteful single-use plastic bottles and maintain your hair care routine during your trip.
We personally prefer to travel with solid shampoo and conditioner bars, which can help reduce plastic waste. They last long and eliminate the risk of spils all over your suitcase!
When choosing your shampoo and conditioner, consider the climate and your hair type. Costa Rica’s climate can be humid, so you may want to opt for a lightweight formula that won’t weigh your hair down.
Other Personal Toiletries
Remember to pack any other toiletries you might need, including toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, soap, makeup, contact lenses and solution, shaving cream, etc.
Keep in mind Costa Rica’s ecosystem is rich but delicate, so try to use as many eco-friendly, sustainable toiletries as you can. Limit plastic as much as possible, and especially single-use plastic. If you can, opt for products with zero-waste packaging. Check the ingredient lists to find natural, cruelty-free products.
Micro Fibre Towel
Microfibre towels are the best choice for travelers. They’re thin, durable, and dry quickly, making them the perfect towel to use both at the beach and after the shower.
They are made from a special type of fabric that is highly absorbent and quick-drying, which means you can use them for a range of activities, from drying off after a swim to wiping away sweat during a hike. Since they are compact and easy to pack, microfiber towels are a great space-saving solution, especially if you’re traveling with limited luggage space.
You can find sustainable, recycled options online from small sellers. Some fantastic options on Etsy, such as this one, cost about the same as any other beach towel.
If you prefer a more traditional towel option, a Turkish cotton towel is a great choice. These towels are made from high-quality cotton, which makes them soft, absorbent, and durable. They are also lightweight and versatile. We use ours as a towel, a beach throw, a blanket, and even as a scarf on those chilly flights!
Flashlight or Headlamp
Power outages are still common throughout Costa Rica. So we always recommend packing a travel-size flashlight. Or even better, invest in a headlamp. They’re usually smaller and allow you to have both hands free to carry on with activities in the dark.
If you plan on taking any wildlife night tours, consider a flashlight with red-light light setting or ultra-violet setting (to see scorpions). They make night tours really fun!
First Aid Kit
Having a small first aid kit with the basics in it is a must in Costa Rica. You’ll want over-the-counter meds for pain, allergies, and stomach sickness. Include a small aloe vera (we guarantee you will get burned at least once during your time in Costa Rica), antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, gauze, and bandages. Pack tweezers and scissors, but remember – you can not bring these in your carry on luggage.
We recommend a pre-assembled kit designed to fit into hiking backpacks. They’re very compact and lightweight-you’ll barely notice it.
Don’t forget a handy pair of shades to protect your eyes from the bright Costa Rican sun.
When choosing sunglasses for your trip, consider getting a pair with polarized lenses. Polarized lenses are designed to reduce glare from reflective surfaces like water, sand, and pavement. They also provide better clarity and contrast, making it easier to see details in your surroundings. Look for sunglasses with UV protection to ensure that your eyes are protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
Bringing a reusable water bottle on your trip to Costa Rica is an excellent way to stay hydrated while also reducing waste. Many hotels and restaurants in Costa Rica offer water refill stations, so you can easily refill your water bottle with clean filtered water throughout the day.
Look for a durable, BPA-free water bottle that can withstand the rigors of travel and can be easily carried in your backpack or daypack. An insulated water bottle will be even better, as it will help your cold water stay that way longer. Our favourite brands are Hydro Flask and LARQ. A camelback sack can also be useful if you plan on doing a lot of hiking.
It’s always possible a trip might take longer than you expected. Even worse, there’s always the possibility of getting lost. You don’t want to potentially wind up stranded with a dead phone, so a portable charger is a great idea. Small ones that can provide over a full charge for your cell phone can be found for less than $20.
There is a huge range of camera gear you can pack for Costa Rica. Consider bringing a camera that fits your needs and budget. For most people, a smartphone camera will do just fine. A GoPro is a great option to capture adventurous activities. A DSLR camera or a mirrorless variety can give you more advanced features and better quality images. Remember to bring extra batteries and memory cards – these are not easy to buy in Costa Rica.
If you plan on doing any wildlife photography, consider bringing a telephoto. A wide-angle lens is also great for capturing sweeping landscapes and vistas.
We also recommend bringing a camera bag or backpack (see our favourites HERE) to keep your gear safe, especially when hiking or hanging out at the beach.
Costa Rica has taken big strides towards sustainability, and this includes reducing single-use plastics. Pack a couple reusable totes for when you go grocery and souvenir shopping. They can also double duty as beach totes.
Car Power Inverter
If you plan on renting a car for your adventures, you might want to have one of these inverters just in case the rental doesn’t have a USB port. If you forget or don’t already have one, you can just pick one up at a local shop.
Final Costa Rica Packing Tips
Pack Using Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are our ultimate travel hack and one of our top Costa Rica travel tips. These small, foldable clothes containers help keep your suitcase organized throughout your trip, saving you both time and stress.
If you don’t own packing cubes yet, it’s worth investing in a set for your trip. Choose an eco-friendly options made from recycled materials.
Remember a Mesh Bag for Laundry
Having a separate laundry bag will allow you to separate your dirty clothes from your clean ones. It will help you stay organized and never mix up your dirty and clean clothes again, saving you from rewashing things or wearing dirty clothes.
Bring a Day Pack For Day Hikes
Nature lovers from all over flock to Costa Rica to explore its natural wonders from towering volcanoes to arid grasslands to lush rainforests. Exploring on foot is the best way to discover Costa Rica’s nature, so make sure to bring a durable and compressible day bag if you plan on hiking. Ensure it has room for a water bottle, snacks, a camera, and sunscreen.
Don’t Forget a Dry Bag
Dry bags are most often used for boat travel and water sports to protect electronics and other valuable gear. That includes your cell phone, if it’s not already waterproof.
When choosing a dry bag, consider the size that you’ll need based on the items you plan to bring. Look for a bag with a secure closure and durable materials that can withstand wear and tear. Some dry bags come with a strap that can be worn as a backpack or over the shoulder, so they are easier to carry while keeping your hands free.
Buy Travel Insurance
Don’t leave your home without buying travel insurance! After my serious accident in Costa Rica back in 2016, we never travel anywhere without travel insurance!
When choosing travel insurance, look for policies that cover medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings. Some policies also offer coverage for adventure activities, which can be useful if you plan on hiking, zip-lining, or other outdoor activities in Costa Rica. Make sure to read the policy details carefully and understand what is and isn’t covered. Some policies may have exclusions or limitations, so it’s important to know what you’re getting before you purchase.
If you are from the US, we recommend Allianz Travel Insurance, a world leader in travel protection and our trusted Travel Insurance partner for the last 5 years. Allianz offers Single Trip and Annual Travel Insurance Policies that include medical coverage, trip cancellation, rental car insurance and more! (Benefits vary by state and by plan, so read your policy carefully!)
Not a US resident? Consider Safety Wing, a budget friendly travel insurance provider with travel insurance plans for Digital Nomads and travelers from all around the world.
Packing for a big trip can often be overwhelming, but preparing ahead of time can greatly reduce your stress. While this Costa Rica packing list includes our best recommendations, make sure to customize it to fit you and your style or needs.
Remember, when in doubt, follow the golden rule of packing – bring half the stuff and twice the money!