Packing for Costa Rica is not too difficult. The most important thing is that it depends on where and when you are visiting and what activities you plan to do. There around 27 different micro-climates so don’t just throw your tank tops and flip flops in your bag, read our packing list for Costa Rica post to find out exactly what you need to bring!
This Costa Rica packing list will help cover you if you’re traveling to different places such as the beach, mountain and city. I will go over the essential items to bring, what to pack for rainy season and items to bring for different areas and activities so you’re completely prepared for your trip.
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Our Recommended Costa Rica Packing List: Essential Items
Costa Rica doesn’t have a strict dress code 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 a little more formal wear such as closed toed shoes, flats for women, long pants and a sweater.
If you’re visiting high elevation areas (Monteverde, San Jose/Central Valley), then long pants and a jacket is necessary.
For women, there is not dress code or guideline. You can perfectly wear tank tops and show your shoulders. It is not common for locals to wear leggings as daily wear though, they only wear them to the gym so you might get some looks if you’re wearing leggings sightseeing in the city.
Guys, I don’t recommend wearing board shorts in the city because it is more formal there. Jeans are better.
Our recommendations: We always recommend clothes that dry fast (like Nike Dri-fit clothes) and wick away moisture, especially if you’re visiting the beach or going down to the South Pacific/Caribbean/Osa Peninsula because those areas are much more humid. Additionally, most laundromats don’t normally use dryers, they hang dry clothes so you will want clothes that dry fast.
Flip flops work fine for most of the country except the city. If you’re doing any activities, hiking shoes, running shoes and hiking boots are necessary. Whenever we travel around Costa Rica, I normally bring one pair of flip flops, running/hiking shoes or closed toed hiking sandals depending on what we’re doing and a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Yeison usually brings a pair of flip flops, his Nike sneakers or closed toed hiking sandals and KEEN hiking shoes. If you’re going out at night, you can also slip in a pair of formal shoes.
Our recommendations: We love 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.
Also, if you’re hiking in the jungle, you don’t want to be walking in soggy socks and shoes which take forever to dry. We love our KEEN hiking sandals and you can read our in-depth guide to what are the best shoes for Costa Rica.
You need to bring mosquito repellent for Costa Rica. The coasts are the worst places for mosquitoes and there are unfortunately, a few serious diseases you can catch like dengue fever. There are also other little bugs that bite like gnats so repellent is a must. Mosquitoes are not found in elevations above around 1500 meters 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 and they don’t have a ton of options for natural products. We’ve been using Bullfrog Mosquito Coast and Sunscreen which is DEET free with SPF 30 and it really works for us. You can read about our favorite mosquito repellent products and more information in this Costa Rica mosquitoes post.
Sunscreen is also a must and bring at least SPF 30 or higher. Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator so even if you’re going to the cloud forest or visiting during rainy season, you will still need sunscreen. Also bring after sun gel if you can. They do this sell at supermarkets, the Bioland Aloe Vera is the best.
Our recommendations: Bring at least SPF 30 or higher and I have found the ones with zinc oxide are the best. If you are going to be going in the ocean, we encourage you to buy mineral sunscreen that is reef safe. We love Raw Elements which has been named the best sunscreen (and the safest for you and the ocean). Kiss My Face is my favorite for my face. You can read our recommendations for our favorite Costa Rica suncreen in this post. If you can, bring sunscreen since it’s expensive here with not many natural options. 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. These are tampons for women (some pulperias, or small grocery stores don’t have them), face wash (very expensive and not a lot of choices), a medical kit, detangler spray for hair, hand sanitizer, a packet of tissues and face wipes.
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 medications, you can find mostly all OTC at the pharmacy. Contact lens solution is sold only at pharmacies. We do recommend bringing allergy medicine like Claritin and Sudafed, as those are very expensive in Costa Rica. You can buy anti-nausea medicine at the pharmacy.
A rain jacket is an essential item if you’re visiting in rainy season (generally end of April 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, especially if you’re bringing cameras or don’t have a waterproof backpack.
You may also want to throw your rain jacket if you’re visiting Dominical, Uvita, Bijagua, Monteverde, Osa Peninsula during dry season. We’ve run into intense 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. We recommend a rain jacket 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) and a shell is fine. Look for a jacket with ventilation to let air flow through as it can get humid when hiking in the rain.
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 prefer at least 30 L waterproof backpacks since we bring our cameras with us. I have a few backpacks since we bring a lot of 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. In rainy season, you must bring a waterproof backpack, trust me. If you don’t have a waterproof backpack, you can get a rain cover or use waterproof spray.
Insulated Water Bottle
I never leave home without my insulated water bottle. With such high temperatures and humidity on the coasts, it’s the best feeling in the world to take a long sip of fresh cold water after laying on the beach all day. It also 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.
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 these Shandali we bought online which has lasted us a few years so far!
Sunglasses and Hat
Two more essential items for Costa Rica. I do however 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. A hat or visor is also essential.
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. 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.
Cameras and Technology
If you want to capture all those awesome adventures you’re doing in Costa Rica, an action cam is the best. GoPro is great since it’s waterproof and a household name, however we have fallen head over heels for our Sony Action Cam. It’s also waterproof and comes with a watch with a screen so you can see what you’re filming.
If you’re a photographer, bring a wide angle for landscape shots and a telephoto lens for birds and wildlife. A tripod is a must for wildlife.
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. It is very difficult to find Class 10 SD cards outside the city. Also bring a surge protector hotels don’t have that many sockets. Costa Rica’s power is 110 Volts, the same as US.
Flashlights or Head Lamps
I always bring a flashlight with me when we travel around Costa Rica. Unfortunately it can be common for the electricity to go out, especially during rainy season. It is also helpful if you’re walking at night since many streets are not brightly lit and there aren’t sidewalks so you want to be safe.
Anti Theft Travel Belt
I don’t find this necessary but some of my friends have brought one down for extra security. It will be handy if you’re traveling solo and spending a lot of time in San Jose. One of my friends uses this one.
And because the electricity may go out, I always have a fully charged battery pack with me. Super useful when we were staying in rural areas like the Osa Peninsula or when we are camping!
Waterproof Phone Case
Even if you’re visiting in dry season, these phone cases are super useful for certain activities. You can wear it around your neck and use it during water activities like tubing, ziplining or horseback riding. And because they’re waterproof, they’re great for taking pictures at the beach.
This is also really nice alternative if you don’t have a waterproof camera and don’t want to spend $400 on a GoPro. We love our Aqua Quest waterproof phone cases, we’ve gotten some great photos while white water tubing with it!
Accessories and Extras
Here are some other items that will be useful.
- Adapter – Costa Rica uses the same voltage as US and Canada.
- Ziplock bags to protect your electronics.
- Laundry bag.
- 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 organizer. This is super helpful especially for longer trips or if you’re not a very organized person like me. I have the PACK gear backpack organizer which we love. Read our review on the PACK here.
- Costa Rica waterproof map – though not absolutely necessary to have a physical map (Waze is the best GPS app), it is a good idea just in case you don’t plan to get a sim card or if you don’t have data on your phone.
Packing List for Rainy Season in Costa Rica
Generally around end of April – beginning of December. It is usually around 20-32 Celsius (68 F to 90 F) and this is the time of thunderstorms, rainstorms and very windy days (coincides with hurricane season in the Atlantic).
Remember, the Caribbean side can rain all year long, November and June are the rainiest months in Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo but it tends to rain more on this coast.
It is very important you come prepared since the weather can be fairly unpredictable. It can go from a hot sunny morning to a 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
- Long pants and long sleeve shirt
- Travel hair dryer – Hostels, cheap/budget don’t have hair dryers in the room. So ladies, if you’re visiting a cold area (Monteverde, Central Valley, etc.), a travel hair dryer is a useful thing to bring.
If you are doing activities, bring the appropriate clothing such as:
- Hiking clothing.
- Hiking shoes. Waterproof preferable. There are waterproof sprays for shoes if you don’t want to buy a brand new pair of waterproof hiking shoes.
We have a complete Costa Rica rainy season packing list with more information.
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 80’s and 90’s. If you are staying around Lake Arenal or Nuevo Arenal, it is cooler since you’re higher in elevation but down near La Fortuna town, it gets hot. In dry season, you can wear shorts, tshirts and flip flops.
Hiking: If you’re hiking the national park, running shoes or hiking shoes will be fine. In rainy season, I recommend a pair of waterproof hiking shoes or hiking sandals.
We prefer to wear hiking pants and I have a pair of Omni-Shield Columbia pants that are water repellent and dry super fast. My favorite pants for rainy season hikes! But you can also wear shorts in rainy and dry season.
Ziplining: Closed toed shoes is a must. No flip flops!
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 in elevation so it is a lot colder up there. Dry season temperatures are around mid 80’s and at night, it gets down to the 60’s. Rainy season is much colder, around 60’s. You need to bring a jacket and long pants for Monteverde, even in dry season.
Expect to run into spring showers even during the hottest months of March and April. Waterproof equipment and clothing is a must for rainy months of September, October and November. Beginning of December can still be pretty rainy as well.
Hiking the cloud forest reserves: Bring a rain jacket and wear closed toed hiking shoes. If you go early in the morning in dry season, you may not need a rain jacket. But always be prepared for rain! Some of the reserves have rain boots for rent.
Osa Peninsula (Corcovado National Park) and South Pacific (Uvita, Dominical)
This area is very humid. Hiking shoes are a must for the national park (no need for big boots as it is not steep, you aren’t climbing rocks or scrambling). 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 so be aware of that. Some high end hotels have boots for rent or you can buy boots in Puerto Jimenez.
If you are visiting in rainy season, I recommend rain boots for hiking any of the stations and waterproof equipment. If you are bringing camera equipment, you need to be very careful with your equipment since this area is SO humid and the moisture will get into your cameras and lenses. 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, 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!
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
This area is extremely hot and dry and follows the typical tropical season pattern. You must bring tons of at least SPF 30 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 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 as well so fast drying clothes is recommended.
A battery pack is highly recommended as Puerto Viejo can get very stormy and the power can go out frequently. You will be fine with hiking sandals or sneakers since there aren’t intense hikes on the Caribbean side like the Pacific.
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