Getting ready for your trip to Costa Rica and unsure about what to throw in your suitcase? We’ve got you covered! Packing for Costa Rica might seem a bit challenging at first. After all, this tropical paradise offers a range of climates. Don’t sweat it, though. We’ve put together the ultimate Costa Rica packing list that will have you prepared for every adventure.
Are you heading to Playa Flamingo? Check out our vacation rental! Items marked with a 🦩 are provided at our condo.
Clothing & Shoes
Region Overview – At the beach
Costa Rica is a very casual country in terms of dress. When visiting the beaches, it’s essential to dress comfortably and appropriately for the warm, tropical climate. Lightweight and breathable fabrics are ideal for staying cool under the sun. Swimwear is a must, as well as a cover-up or sarong for when you’re not in the water. Don’t forget to pack a good hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Sandals or flip-flops are perfect for strolling along the shore, and a light jacket or sweater may come in handy for cooler evenings. Rainbow and OluKai make the best leather flip-flops, and Reef sandals are light and more affordable. Be sure to break them in before the trip!
Region Overview – In the mountains
The mountain regions of Costa Rica offer a cooler and often more humid climate compared to the coastal areas. When exploring these higher elevations, be sure to dress in layers, as temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts made from moisture-wicking fabrics will help keep you comfortable and protected from insects. A lightweight, waterproof jacket is essential for unexpected rain showers, and sturdy, closed-toe shoes or hiking boots with good traction are a must for navigating uneven terrain.
Region Overview – In San Jose
When visiting San Jose, it’s good to dress in a way that balances comfort, style, and practicality. Casual attire is generally acceptable, but it’s a good idea to opt for slightly more polished clothing than you would wear at the beach. Light, breathable fabrics are still recommended due to the city’s warm climate. Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are essential for exploring the city on foot, and a light sweater or jacket may be useful for cooler evenings or air-conditioned environments. Even if you’re only visiting San Jose, don’t forget to pack an umbrella or rain jacket during the rainy season, as showers can occur unexpectedly.
Don’t bring a windbreaker. Don’t bring an overly insulated jacket for the snow. DO bring a lightweight rain jacket that can pack down. It rains in every part of the country, and the rain can be extremely heavy in the green season. Be prepared with the right jacket to keep you comfortable. We love our Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket. They have pit zips to help vent when it’s hot and can handle the most intense storms.
A rain jacket might not be necessary if you’re only travelling to the North Coast in the peak dry season. If that’s the case, maybe try the Patagonia Houdini Jacket for a lighter option if there’s no chance of rain.
Arguably the most important thing to get right for your trip. Depending on your desired activities, the wrong shoes can make or break your time in Costa Rica. They can also make or break your ankles! If your trip is 100% in the cloud forests of Monteverde, a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes takes priority over flip-flops. Only at the beach? Bring some breathable walking shoes and sandals.
You’ll be living in your swimwear when visiting the beach. Anything works, just don’t forget a few sets so you can alternate wet and dry pairs.
Our favorite sand-free travel towel
I can’t emphasize enough how important a good sunscreen is in Costa Rica. Don’t think that you can get a base tan on your first day. You’re bound to spot some people that did. Shoot for a reef-safe option to reduce the harmful chemicals that wash off into the water. If you’re flying with a carry-on only, make sure to get a few of the smaller bottles to get through TSA without any issues. You can buy sunscreen in many markets around the country, but it’s way more expensive than bringing your own.
Microfiber Towels 🦩
While it might seem like this should be optional, we consider it an essential item. A microfiber towel is so much better than traditional cotton. It dries fast, packs down, and it doesn’t bring the entire beach back with you. Toss it in your day bag before heading to Nauyaca Falls!
We recommend the Eccosophy Microfiber Towel. They come in a ton of sweet prints and seem to hold up well after months of abuse.
Similar to sunscreen, you can often find mosquito repellent at many local markets. You won’t have the selection that you do at home, and everyone has different preferences on DEET repellents vs natural options. Bring whatever works for you. Not only does repellent help against annoying bites, it also reduces the likelihood of coming into contact with a mosquito-transmissible disease like Chikungunya and Dengue.
We recommend Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent. It’s DEET-free and comes in a lotion or spray. DEET eats away at rubbers so we try not to use it unless we have to.
Insulated Water Bottle
Cold water is essential when it’s time to rehydrate, which you should be doing all the time. Unlike most countries in the region, the tap water in Costa Rica is actually safe to drink. We like to bring Liquid IV packs for the extra electrolyte boost, but a cold coconut on the beach works too.
Any insulated bottle works, but we love our hydro flask for a day at the beach or a day trip to La Leona Waterfall. Backcountry normally has this in stock. Check it out!.
The key word here is polarized. Polarized glasses are a must if you’ll be near the ocean to eliminate the glare from the blinding sun. At the very least, your glasses should have UVA and UVB protection. If you have expensive glasses, we bring a cheaper pair for adventures where you might dip in the water, like river rafting or stand-up paddling.
We love our Maui Jim glasses. The lenses can’t be beaten, and their warranty and replacement policies are the best in the business. Something with more coverage like these are my preference, but they have tons of different frames.
Even if you’re not a hat person, bring some extra head coverage with you to Costa Rica. The sun is very strong near the equator and we always bring a hat for sun protection.
Our go-to is this floating hat by Melin. They are waterproof, easily washable, and don’t fade or lose shape after a few weeks of abuse in Central America.
The Ultimate Travel Backpack
So… I’m a travel bag nerd. I love backpacks, duffel bags, and anything travel bag related. While most people won’t need a bag to lug around camera gear, the F-Stop Tilopa has always been my tried and true pick. It’s been with me around the world multiple times and it’s still as strong as the day I bought it.
I didn’t think it could be replaced until I tried the Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack. This thing was designed as the ultimate all-around travel backpack, and it’s my new favorite. I’m honestly impressed with the entire Peak Design product line. I just ordered a few other pieces of gear and I’ll share my feedback soon. Check out my full review of the Peak Design Travel Backpack.
The best travel backpack for digital nomads
Insulated Can Cooler 🦩
My favorite part of getting to Costa Rica isn’t the moment I depart from the plane and feel the wonderfully humid air on my skin. It isn’t taking the wrong road at 10pm and getting lost on a road called the Monkey Trail. My favorite part is cracking a can of Imperial and having that first sip of Costa Rica’s national beer.
We recommend the Yeti Can Coolers. They keep our beer frosty cold until the last sip and always make it in our travel bag.
A Bluetooth Speaker 🦩
We bring a Bluetooth speaker EVERYWHERE. The JBL Clip Speaker is a true game-changer for beach days in Costa Rica! With its powerful sound, compact size, and a handy clip for attaching to your bag or bike, it’s perfect for on-the-go tunes. Plus, its waterproof feature means it can handle those unexpected tropical showers or accidental splashes by the sea. Essential for our Pura Vida playlist!
I’m sure one reason you’re going to Costa Rica is to see some wildlife, right? While binoculars aren’t always in our bag, they do make it easier to see animals like sloths, monkeys, birds, etc. This may be mandatory if you stay at Tulemar Resort in Manuel Antonio. They have an on-site sloth sanctuary and we consider the property to be the best lodging in all of Costa Rica.
If you enjoy documenting your adventures, a GoPro camera is the most versatile option for all action activities in Costa Rica. Snorkeling, diving, hiking, zip lining, waterfall repelling… a GoPro can capture it all. Check out their product line here.
It’s great to have a little extra light when walking back to your condo or vehicle after a dinner out. Most roads near the beaches are dirt and often contain potholes or rocks. It’s not fun twisting an ankle halfway through your trip. Your phone light works too but a headlamp is helpful to stay hands-free for the more adventurous traveler. Check out the Petzl Tikka Headlamp.
Power outages are a regular occurrence in Costa Rica. Normally it’s back on fairly quickly, but it’s nice to have the assurance of some extra juice for your mobile device. It’s also useful if you’re using a navigation app on an extended drive and your car doesn’t have a USB charge port.
We recommend the Anker magnetic charger if you have an iPhone. You won’t need to mess around with a cable and it doubles the battery of your phone.
Travel Size First Aid Kit
Blisters, bites, scrapes, and cuts happen on occasion and it’s nice to be able to clean and bandage them properly. Most travel first aid kits also have minor pain medicine and take up almost no space in your bag. We always travel with this simple kit.
Waterproof Phone Case
Most modern phones have some degree of waterproofing, but there are also great lanyard-style bags like this that keep your phone close and protected from the elements. We used them when rafting or exploring waterfalls to get some photos along the way and the phone back safe and sound.
Cold brews all day long
Toiletries and Bath Amenities
You can find regular shampoo, conditioner, etc in many markets throughout the country. If you opt to bring your own products, try finding travel-sized versions or buy some refillable bottles to reuse next time.
Even if you’ve lathered up in mosquito repellent, you’re bound to get a few bites along the way. Some hydrocortisone creme goes a long way to help relieve the itch.
Makeup remover is often hard to find in most Costa Rican markets but only bring what you’ll need. Just like spray tans, makeup doesn’t do well in this tropical climate.
While likely available at many markets, it’s best to bring your own products in case the smaller markets don’t have a decent selection.
Costa Rica is generally a safe place but like anywhere, there is crime of opportunity. Don’t leave valuables in your parked car. Don’t wear a lanyard with your cash and credit cards visible. Don’t wear flashy jewelry.
High heels are completely unnecessary unless you’re spending the entire trip going to nicer restaurants in San Jose. Most beach towns are full of dirt roads and a high heels are a recipe for a sprained ankle.