The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

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The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

Hola 👋

Getting ready for your trip to Costa Rica and not sure what to bring? 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 and unpredictable weather. We’ve put together our ultimate Costa Rica packing list that will have you prepared for every adventure. We’ll start with a free 30-day trial to Audible to find a good podcast or audiobook for the flight. Some of my best self-reflection time happens at 30,000 feet. Let’s go!

Clothing & Shoes

Region – 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 lightweight and more affordable. Be sure to break them in before the trip!

Region – 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 – 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 a slightly more polished look 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.

Rain Jacket

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. There’s also the Marmot Precip Eco Jacket which is a good balance of quality and cost.

A rain jacket might not be necessary if you’re only traveling to the North Coast in the peak dry season. If that’s the case, maybe try something like this Patagonia Houdini Jacket for a lighter option if there’s no chance of rain.

Shoes

Arguably the most important thing to get right for your planning an active 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. If you’ll be river rafting, zip lining, or riding ATVs, be sure to check with the tour provider on their shoe requirements.

My picks are these Salomon Goretex Hiking Shoes for the jungle, and Olukai sandals for the beach. The sandals are quick dry leather and have grippy soles if you choose to wear them on a short hike.

Suspension bridges in Monteverde

Swimwear

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.

Essential Gear

Are you heading to Playa Flamingo? Check out our vacation rental! Items marked with a 🦩 are provided at our condo.

Sunscreen (Reef-friendly)

We can’t emphasize enough how important a good sunscreen is in Costa Rica. Don’t think you can get a base tan on your first day. You’re bound to spot some people that did. You’ll know when you see them because they are bright red and nearly in tears. 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.

We recommend SPF 50 Sunbum or Hawaiian Tropic Everyday Active Spray. Reapply, reapply, reapply all day when you’re in the sun.

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 out for the day.

We recommend the Eccosophy Microfiber Towel. It comes in a bunch of sweet prints and they seem to hold up well after months of abuse.

Our favorite sand-free travel towel

Mosquito Repellent

Similar to sunscreen, you can often find mosquito repellent at many local markets. You won’t have the selection you do at home, and everyone has different preferences on DEET repellents vs natural alternatives. 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.

Concentrated DEET eats away at rubbers so we try not to use it unless we have to. We recommend Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent. It’s our favorite DEET-free repellant and comes in a lotion or spray.

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 just as well.

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.

Sunglasses

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.

I live in my Maui Jim glasses. The lenses can’t be beaten, and their warranty and replacement policies are the best in the business. Polarized sunglasses don’t have to break the bank. Check out these fun polarized frames by Blenders.

Waterproof Hat

Even if you’re not a hat person, either bring some extra head coverage with you to Costa Rica, or buy it when you get there. 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.

Daypack

You’re bound to go on day trips or adventure tours. Make sure you have a quality bag like this Osprey 15L Daypack. It’s water resistant for quick rain showers and has enough room for the essentials.

Quality Travel Bag

I’m a travel bag nerd. I love backpacks, duffel bags, and anything related to travel bags. While most people won’t be lugging around delicate camera gear, the Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack is the pack to go with if you are. 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. Check out my full review of the Peak Design Travel Backpack if you’re bringing a photo setup.

I know most travelers will want more than a backpack. So what’s the move? Wheeled suitcases don’t really hold up well in Costa Rica. Most nice hotels will have staff help carry your luggage, but that’s not the case everywhere. Dirt roads, potholes, and stone paths are a norm, so duffle bags works well in this environment. Anna and I both use this North Face Base Camp Duffel, and it’s the perfect travel bag. It’s so durable and holds up in the elements. Buy it, and you’ll have it for decades.

Our durable and weatherproof duffle bags

The best travel backpack for digital nomads

Battery Pack

Power outages are a regular occurrence in Costa Rica. Normally the power is back on fairly quickly, but it’s nice to have the assurance of some extra juice for your mobile device. It’s also really useful if you’re using a navigation app on an extended drive and your car doesn’t have a USB charge port. Don’t miss our full guide to renting a car

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.

Optional Gear

International Data Plan or eSIM

For better or worse, the days of paper maps are long gone for most. We’re now reliant on our navigation apps to get around and you’ll need an international data plan or eSIM. We recommend Airalo eSIM as the easiest option. It’s affordable compared to data roaming fees, but be aware it only works if your phone is unlocked by the carrier. Take a look at their Costa Rica plan options here.

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 feeling the sand between my toes, cracking a can of Imperial, and having that first sip of Costa Rica’s national beer before jumping in the ocean.

We recommend bringing a Yeti Can Cooler if you like cold drinks at the beach. They keep our beer frosty cold until the last sip and always make it in our travel bag.

Cold brews all day long

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 decent sound to size ratio 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!

A Paper Guide Book

Maybe as millennials we don’t get this one. I actually have a genuine love for analog things, and I still prefer a digital map. For those who don’t, check out Fodord’s Guide to Costa Rica. We pride ourselves on our genuine feedback, but you can’t go wrong with this book.

Binoculars

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.

Waterproof Camera

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.

Waterproof Phone Case

Try a waterproof phone case if a GoPro isn’t your thing. 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 use them when rafting or exploring waterfalls to get some photos along the way.

Headlamp

Maybe these are obsolete with everyone’s phone lights, but I still bring one on most trips. 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. Check out the Petzl Tikka Headlamp.

Travel Swim Fins

We’re in the water all day when visiting the coast. We always bring our mask, snorkel, and some small travel fins if we aren’t going on a tour that provides them. These are the fins we bring.

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 often travel with this simple kit.

Toiletries and Bath Amenities

Bath products 🦩

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. Trying to go eco-friendly? Check out these bamboo toothbrush heads

Anti-itch cream

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

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.

Feminine products

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.

Travel Essentials

Eye Mask

Some people can sleep on flights. Not me. I do everything I can to get some quality ZZZ’s. The Manta Mask is my go-to eye mask for a night flight.

Relaxation Supplement

One thing we can all agree about is that travel is stressful. Adrenaplex Adrenal Support is like magic when taken before a flight. The annoyances of the flight just bounce off. We take this before every travel day and are cool as a cucumber.

Don’t Bring

Flashy jewelry

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

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.

Thanks for your support 🤙

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Jason K.
5 months ago

Heyyyy Cody & Anna. Just wanted to say hi – nice website.

This is the guy you dove with in Samara on Dec 4th.

Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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