What do I need to pack for Costa Rica? As one of the most common questions we receive, this Costa Rica packing list post will help you immensely. The most important thing to know about packing for Costa Rica is that there around 27 micro-climates in the country so don’t just throw your shorts and flip flops in your bag, read our packing list for Costa Rica to find out exactly what you need to bring!
*You can also get our free packing checklist at the bottom of this post!*
**Please check our Costa Rica COVID-19 Travel post for latest travel information*
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The Essential Things to Bring to Costa Rica
These are the essential items for your Costa Rica packing list: clothes that dry fast, sandals, swimwear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater, hiking shoes/trail running shoes or closed toed hiking sandals, sunglasses, a hat, battery pack, medical kit, waterproof phone case, camera, day pack, rain jacket and an insulated water bottle.
I’ll go more into details below for each one.
Costa Rica doesn’t have a strict dress code so comfortable and casual is best for pretty much the entire country. At the beach, your wardrobe will consist mostly of shorts, tank tops and flip flops. In the city, we recommend closed toed shoes, long pants and a light jacket or sweater. If you’re visiting high elevation areas (Monteverde, Bajos del Toro, Vara Blanca, Poas, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Gerardo de Dota, San Jose/Central Valley), then long pants and a jacket is necessary.
For women, there is no real dress code. You can perfectly wear tank tops and show your shoulders. It is not common for local women to wear leggings as daily wear though, so you might get some odd looks in the city. Guys, I don’t recommend wearing board shorts in the city. Jeans, khakis or long pants are better.
Our recommendations: For Costa Rica, clothes that dry fast (like Nike Dri-fit clothes) and wick away moisture are the best, especially if you’re visiting the beach or rainforest. Additionally, most laundromats don’t normally use dryers so you will want clothes that dry fast. In the city, normal city wear is fine (no beach clothes or just swim suits).
Flip flops are a must especially if you’re going to the beach. If you’re doing any activities, hiking shoes/sandals (with straps), sneakers, trail running shoes or hiking shoes are necessary. Whenever we travel around Costa Rica, I normally bring one pair of flip flops and one pair of sneakers/hiking shoes or closed toed hiking sandals depending on what we’re doing.
Yeison usually brings a pair of flip flops and his trail running shoes or closed toed hiking sandals. If we’re doing long hikes, he wears waterproof Salomon trail running shoes. I usually bring a pair of flip flops and my KEEN hiking sandals. For hikes, I also have a pair of Salomon hiking shoes.
Our recommendations: We love closed toed hiking sandals. They are amazing for all sorts of outdoor activities and you can go from land to water easily. They dry fast, don’t smell, your feet can breathe and are much more comfortable than stuffy shoes and socks. Waterproof trail running shoes are also amazing for Costa Rica.
You have to bring mosquito repellent for Costa Rica as they are present all year round. The coasts are the worst places for mosquitoes and there are a few serious diseases you can catch like dengue fever. There are also other annoying little bugs that bite like gnats. Mosquitoes are not found in elevations above 1500 meters (4900 feet) but they are everywhere else.
Our recommendations: You can find mosquito repellent in the supermarkets but we recommend bringing your own as it is very expensive here. Additionally, they don’t have a ton of natural options. We use Avon skin so soft which is DEET free with SPF 28 and it really works for us. Repel is another excellent brand that we use a lot. You can read about our favorite mosquito repellent products in this Costa Rica mosquitoes post.
Sunscreen is also a must and bring at least SPF 30. If you burn easily, SPF 50-70 is best. Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator so the sun is strong! Additionally, after sun care is very important in case you do burn.
Our recommendations: If you are going to be going in the ocean, we encourage you to buy reef safe mineral sunscreen. We personally love Raw Elements, SunBum and Kiss My Face. If you can, bring sunscreen. If you forgot it, you can get sunscreen at any supermarket or pharmacy but it is a bit more expensive. Don’t forget chapstick with SPF!
Toiletries and Medications
You can find all toiletries in Costa Rica like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, mouth wash, toothpaste and floss. There are a few items that I do recommend to bring though. These are tampons for women (not always readily offered at convenience stores/mini markets), face wash (very expensive), hair detangler spray, wet wipes, a packet of tissues and face wipes. If you wear contact lenses, make sure to bring a couple extra lenses.
If you’re taking any medicines, write down a list of them and keep it with you at all times. Try to include the active ingredients in each medicine or find the Spanish name.
For basic medicines, you can find mostly all OTC at the pharmacies in Costa Rica. We do recommend bringing allergy medicine like Claritin and Sudafed sinus medication as those are very expensive in Costa Rica. You can buy anti-nausea medicine at the pharmacy but I like to bring my own anti-drowsy Dramamine.
Supermarkets do have a small over the counter section with cold and flu, diarrhea and muscle pain medicines.
A rain jacket is an essential item if you’re visiting during Costa Rica’s rainy season (May to beginning of December). And you want to get a waterproof one, trust me! A poncho can work too but get a good quality one, not those dollar store ones that you throw away after one use.
You may also want to bring your rain jacket if you’re visiting Monteverde, Poas, Vara Blanca, Bajos del Toro, Dominical, Uvita, Bijagua, Monteverde or Osa Peninsula during dry season. It can still rain in those areas during dry season. Also remember the Caribbean follows a different weather pattern and it can rain all year long on that coast. A rain jacket is a must for the Caribbean (Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo), especially if you’re visiting in June or November, the rainiest months.
Our recommendations: We love our The North Face Venture Jackets (I’m from Washington state so I have lots of experience with rain jackets). Additionally, look for a jacket with ventilation to let air flow through as it is humid.
For day trips, sight seeing and tours, bring a day backpack. If you’re not planning on doing long hikes, you can get away with a 20-25 L backpack to hold all the essentials: snacks, water, towel, change of clothes, camera, etc.
Our recommendations: We recommend at least 30 L waterproof backpack if you have camera gear. I have a 20 L Osprey, a 25 L REI, a 30 L Aqua Quest and Yeison has a 40 L REI. I don’t recommend those sling drawstring gym bags since they’re flimsy. In rainy season, you must bring a waterproof backpack. I love my Aqua Quest waterproof backpacks for hiking and our IDRYBAGS for boating days/hikes in rainy season. If you don’t have a waterproof backpack, you can get a rain cover or use waterproof spray.
For photographers, Yeison has a Shimodo Explore V2 which is the best backpack he’s ever had for when we’re filming in the field.
Insulated Water Bottle
I never leave home without my insulated water bottle. It’s the best feeling in the world to take a long sip of fresh cold water when it’s 90 F out. Additionally, bringing your own water bottle helps to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles and you’ll save money on buying water. You can drink tap water in most places in Costa Rica or bring a water filter if you have a sensitive stomach.
We both have 40 ounce Hydro Flasks and it keeps our water nice and cold for up to 24 hours. I also recommend to get the boot for your water bottle because it will get banged around as you take it on hikes and adventures.
Micro Fiber Towel
Our second favorite item we never leave without. A micro fiber towel is awesome for wiping sweat off, using as a fan to cool off or to wrap your stuff in if it starts raining. We have several, a couple from REI and a couple of Shandali we bought online.
If you’re a surfer, I am in love with my microfiber surf poncho. So comfortable and convenient for changing out of your swimsuit after a surf session.
Sunglasses and Hat
As for the sunglasses, I recommend bringing 2 pairs of sunglasses. One cheap pair so that you won’t cry if it gets lost in the ocean (which has happened to us and our friends many times) and one nicer pair for lounging and sightseeing. A hat or visor is also essential.
Sarong, Changing Towel
Ladies, do not forget your sarong if you’re visiting the beach! You can also buy them in souvenir shops here for around $10-20 USD. I love mine! It’s so useful as a towel, beach cover up or even as a blanket for those long cold bus rides. Sometimes I use them to cover my legs at night to protect against mosquitoes when I’m sitting outside.
If you plan to visit the beach, don’t forget your swimwear! We recommend at least two pairs. For guys, the swim trunks without the mesh is best and ladies, bring all the bikinis you want!
Cameras and Technology
If you want to capture all those awesome adventures, an action cam is the best. GoPro and Sony Action Cam are two excellent ones. We have both and love them! GoPro is exceptionally great now and that is what we use for our adventures.
If you’re a photographer, bring a wide angle for landscape shots and a telephoto lens (at least 300 mm) for birds and wildlife. A tripod is a must for wildlife photographers!
Our recommendations: Make sure to bring the correct accessories for your action camera to attach it to helmets, surf boards, etc. Most tour companies will have the part that attaches to the helmet but you need to bring the other part. Bring plenty of SD cards as it is very difficult to find Class 10 SD cards. Also bring a surge protector since some hotels don’t have that many sockets. Costa Rica’s power is 110 Volts, the same as US. Bring a universal power adapter if you need to as they’re not super common to find here.
Flashlights or Head Lamps
I always bring a flashlight with me when we travel around Costa Rica. This is because it can be common for the electricity to go out during really rainy days. It is also helpful if you’re walking at night since many streets either do not have any street lights or not brightly lit and there aren’t really sidewalks.
Anti Theft Travel Belt
I don’t find an anti theft travel belt absolutely necessary in Costa Rica but some of my friends have brought one down for extra security. It will be handy if you’re traveling solo though. One of my friends uses this one.
And because the electricity may go out (especially in rainy season), I always have a fully charged battery pack with me. Super useful when we stay in rural areas or on a long drive!
Waterproof Phone Case
These waterproof phone cases are super useful. You can wear it around your neck and use it during light water activities like tubing, canyoning, etc.
This is also really nice alternative if you don’t have a waterproof camera and don’t want to spend $400 USD on a GoPro. But remember, these are not recommended to take scuba diving or anything like that, just light water activities.
Accessories and Extras
Here are some other items that will be useful.
- Small first aid kit.
- Ziplock bags to protect your electronics.
- Laundry bag.
- Reusable cloth grocery bags.
- Lots of hair ties!
- Sleeping pills
- Ear plugs, especially if you’re staying in a hostel or cheap hotel downtown. Also, if your hotel is by the side of the road, you may hear the very loud trailer trucks engine braking all night long.
- Car cell phone holder if you are renting a car (the one that sticks on the window).
- Car power inverter to charge your phone while you drive. Planning to rent a car? Get our Costa Rica car rental discount and extra freebies here!
- Spanish dictionary or guide. Download our survival Spanish pocket guide. Though English is widely spoken since Costa Rica is a touristic country, it is still helpful to know some phrases and words in Spanish.
- Packing organizers/cubes.
- Costa Rica waterproof map – though not absolutely necessary to have a physical map, it is a good idea if you don’t plan to get a sim card or rent a GPS. And it’s a nice souvenir.
- Master Lock – this is especially useful if you are surfing. This way you can lock the car key and have a safe place for it, especially if you have an electronic car key.
Essential items you cannot forget
- Original passport. No photocopies, no color copies, original passport that is not expired
- Original valid driver’s license (if you are renting a car). No temporary licenses, no photocopies, no paper copies
- Credit cards you plan to use (don’t forget to tell your credit card company you are traveling overseas)
- Travel insurance
- Your return flight ticket out of Costa Rica (printed or saved on your phone)
- Hotels, tours, car rentals and flight reservations (printed or saved on your phone)
Things NOT to pack for Costa Rica
- Expensive jewelry.
- High heels, stilettos. Costa Ricans sidewalks and roads commonly have pot holes and cracks. Even if you’re going for a bachelorette party or plan to party it up, choose cute flats or sandals instead.
- Expensive purses. Better to have a more low key travel purse or day bag. I personally love my Sherpani purses and bags. I have two and they come with anti-theft locks and the RFID protection. They also convert from purses to backpacks which is super useful! I bring mine whenever we travel and I especially loved it in Europe.
- Rainboots. They take up a ton of room and they’re really not necessary. If you do need rain boots, you can buy a cheap pair at the hardware store instead of packing them.
- Every single credit and debit card you have. Just bring the ones you’re using.
Rainy Season Packing List
Generally around beginning of May – end of November. This is the time of thunderstorms, rainstorms and very windy days. Rainiest months are September and October for most of the country. October is the summer month for the Caribbean coast but still bring a light rainjacket!
It is very important you come prepared in rainy season since Costa Rica weather can be fairly unpredictable. It can go from a hot sunny morning to a crazy thunderstorm in a matter of minutes.
The same packing list for Costa Rica in dry season but if you’re coming in rainy season, add these to your list:
- Rain jacket/poncho.
- Waterproof backpack or rain cover/waterproof spray. This is a must!
- Long pants and long sleeve shirt
- Travel hair dryer – Hostels, cheap/budget hotels, some Airbnbs don’t have hair dryers in the room. If you’re visiting a colder area, a travel hair dryer is useful.
- Hiking clothing.
- Hiking shoes. Waterproof preferable. There are waterproof sprays for shoes available too.
We have a complete Costa Rica rainy season packing list with more information.
OK so by now, you might be wondering what specific items to bring for your destinations. Read the section below to find out!
Packing List for Costa Rica: Different Destinations and Activities
Arenal and La Fortuna
This area gets pretty hot during dry season with temperatures in the high 80s F (29 C). If you are staying around Lake Arenal or Nuevo Arenal, it is cooler. In La Fortuna, it gets hot and you can wear shorts, t shirts and flip flops.
Hiking: Running shoes or hiking shoes will be fine for most hikes in Costa Rica (exception is Cerro Chirripo). In rainy season, I recommend a pair of waterproof hiking shoes or hiking sandals.
We prefer to wear hiking pants as it’s better protection against mosquitoes and I have a pair of Omni-Shield Columbia pants that are water repellent and dry super fast. These are my favorite pants for rainy season hikes.
Ziplining: No flip flops or loose shoes.
Other activities such as horseback riding, canyoning and white water rafting require closed toed shoes. Closed toed hiking sandals work amazing or water shoes for rafting.
Monteverde sits around 1500 meters (4900 feet) in elevation so it is a lot colder up there. Dry season temperatures are around high 70s F (25 C) and at night, it gets down to the 50s and 60s F(14 C).
You need to bring a jacket and long pants for Monteverde.
Expect to run into spring showers even during the dry season months of March and April.
Waterproof equipment and clothing is a must for rainy season in Monteverde. Beginning of December can still be pretty rainy.
Hiking the cloud forest reserves: Bring a rain jacket and wear closed toed hiking shoes. Some of the reserves have rain boots for rent.
Osa Peninsula (Corcovado National Park, Puerto Jimenez, Drake Bay) and South Pacific (Uvita, Dominical, Ojochal)
This area is very humid. Closed toed hiking shoes are a must for the national park. Trails are well laid out in Corcovado National Park but if you’re doing the walk from Leona to Sirena station, you will have to cross some rivers and walk on the beach. Some hotels have boots for rent or you can buy boots in Puerto Jimenez.
If you are visiting in rainy season, I recommend good waterproof hiking shoes. If you are bringing camera equipment, you need waterproof gear since this area is SO humid and rains hard. Bring 100% waterproof backpacks and ziploc bags.
Must bring items: A micro-fiber towel, a hat, a flashlight, good pair of hiking shoes, lots of mosquito repellent, battery pack, insulated water bottle, quick dry clothes (like Nike dri-fit), waterproof backpack and an open attitude. You will run into lots of bugs and be hot and sweaty!
The same goes for Sarapiqui. This area is super humid!
Jaco and Manuel Antonio
Both of these places are hot and fairly humid so bring all your beach clothes, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, a hat and swimsuit.
Guanacaste (Coco, Tamarindo, Conchal, Samara) and Nicoya Peninsula
The Guanacaste province is extremely hot and dry and has a longer dry season. Temperatures are consistently in the low 90s F (33 C) throughout the year. You must bring tons of SPF 50 sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, hat and after sun gel. Protect yourself from the sun! An insulated water bottle will be super useful so you can always have cold water.
In dry season, the Nicoya Peninsula, particularly Santa Teresa is extremely dusty. If you plan to rent an ATV, make sure to bring something to cover your face like Buff Headwear because the dust is incredibly bad there.
The Tenorio Volcano National Park where Rio Celeste is rains often so bring a rain jacket, even in dry season. When we visited in April, it poured almost all 3 days we were there.
A waterproof backpack is highly recommended (especially for photographers) and hiking sandals or waterproof hiking shoes is also recommended. The national park has rain boots for rent.
Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo
Since this area can rain almost all year long, be prepared for rain. The dry season month is October but believe me, bring your rain jacket still. It’s pretty humid on the Caribbean side so fast drying clothes is necessary. If you plan to hike in the national park, you can rent boots as it can get muddy.
Free Costa Rica Packing CheckList
Want to save this post for later? Click here to get our FREE packing checklist with an abridged version of the notes below so you can print it out and refer back to it while you’re preparing for your trip!