If you’re headed to Costa Rica soon, buckle up- between its lush rainforests, seemingly endless waterfalls, and pristine beaches, Costa Rica is a total tropical paradise. But with such a dynamic range of activities (canyoneering! surfing! stalking monkeys through the rainforest!), it can be challenging to know exactly what you should pack.
But fear not- I’ve put together a comprehensive list of all the essentials you need to have the absolute best time in this magical country. So, without further adieu, here’s the ultimate Costa Rica packing list, allowing you to explore jungles, snorkel through vibrant coral reefs teeming with sea creatures, and live out your very best Pura Vida!
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Before we dive in, I want to note that I trust that you can figure out how many pairs of underwear you’ll need and your toothbrush and the like, so you won’t see anything of that nature below. This list instead focuses on the essentials you need to pack for Costa Rica- and why you need to bring these items along.
So with that caveat in mind, let’s get into it.
Clothing Must-Haves for Costa Rica
With its location near the equator and its tropical climate, you can expect that the weather will be hot (average monthly temperatures hover between 80-83° F or 27° C) and fairly humid.
So whether you’re moseying around adorable surf towns or hiking through a rainforest, trying to spot a new toucan friend, you need to pack clothes that you can be active in without dissolving into a puddle of sweat (and, ideally, look reasonably cute while doing so).
Plus, you’ll also want clothes that you can wear for a variety of activities that are easy to change in and out of, and that you can easily stow away in a backpack if needed. For example, on our recent trip to Costa Rica, we went on an awesome hike to Catarata del Toro, a stunning waterfall close to La Fortuna, or walked through the tropical rainforests of Manuel Antonio to relax on one of its secluded beaches.
Having activewear that you can whip off and quickly throw on a swimsuit (or even better, activewear that you can simply wear your swimsuit under) is key here. So make sure to bring along the following items:
As we’ve established, it’s generally going to be hot and a little sticky- plus you’re going to be hiking through a literal rainforest to a volcano or one of the many Gatorade-colored waterfalls in Costa Rica or whatever. And, given the country’s lushness, it’s probably no surprise that it can rain quite a bit here- in fact, some areas get up to 25 feet per year!
So bringing along breathable, quick-drying shorts that you can wear while hiking, cliff-jumping, or if you just get stuck in a rainstorm is an absolute must (and bonus- you’ll avoid the tragedy that is swamp-butt!). I’d recommend bringing along at least two pairs- for women, I have a couple of pairs like these and my husband, Justin, brings along something like these shorts (and bonus- they can easily double as swim trunks!).
Given that we each fly with a single carry-on bag during our travels (adiós, lost luggage!), having clothes that are multi-functional is super important. I love that I can wear tank tops pretty much anywhere- they’re breezy enough to wear on hikes, but cute enough to wear out to dinner or while exploring a town (and pssst… in case it isn’t clear, Costa Rica and its pura vida vibes are very laid back and casual).
I bring along a couple of different types, like this athletic crop top that’s perfect for more active explorations or this breathable tank top that provides a bit more coverage (you know, for those times when you just don’t feel like having your belly hanging out!).
Fun fact about hiking trails: given that they’re usually made out of dirt, when you mix in rain (like copious amounts of rain that you might find in a tropical country, like, say, Costa Rica), they’ll turn into- that’s right- mud!
Mix in some cheese-grater-like volcanic rocks and possible snakes (I mostly kid here, but there are plenty of signs along the trails telling you to watch our for our slither-y friends) and it starts looking like a REALLY good idea to bring hiking boots, especially if you plan on going on any kind of hike on unpaved trails. There’s even some places with fully paved hiking trails, like Costa Rica’s famous Mistico Hanging Bridges, that still require you to wear closed-toe shoes.
Beyond just protecting your feet against the mud and possible jungle creatures, hiking boots (like these for men and these for women) provide you better footing in slippery situations, like along a muddy trail or slick rocks around a waterfall, and provide your ankles with better support on the uneven, rocky terrain.
If you’re taking hiking boots with you, be sure to also pack a few pairs of hiking socks as well (like these for men and these for women). After a very scarring experience (quite literally) of rubbing my ankles completely raw during a trip to Banff because I forgot to pack hiking socks, I never leave for an active trip without them!
I’m all about ensuring my boobs are good and supported, especially when I’m out climbing up a volcano, as one does (ah, Costa Rica things). So I take at least two, like this one and this one, that can provide the support I need while doing intense activities, like challenging hikes, but can be cute enough to wear it on its own, whether you’re doing sunrise yoga on the beach or just really working up a sweat on the trail
The Costa Rican sun is no joke, y’all- you’re going to want something to shade your face and wick sweat from your forehead. This hat is light and totally breathable- everything you want while you’re hiking through a literal jungle.
Listen- even if you’re not planning on doing any hardcore hikes, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be exploring some kind of trail during your time in Costa Rica, whether it’s in one of the country’s 30 stunning national parks or during an organized tour, from canyoneering to ziplining. And hiking sandals (like this pair that Justin has or this pair that I have) are perfect for these lowkey trails- they’re WAY more comfortable than flip flops and provide much better traction and support (which is definitely needed in a seemingly ever muddy environment, like Costa Rica).
They also have the benefit of not looking super technical (and actually, are pretty cute!), so you can easily wear them with a pair of shorts or a dress while you’re moseying around town.
And another huge bonus? They double as water shoes, perfect for exploring waterfalls, hiking through rivers, and generally exploring the beautiful- and wet- paradise that is Costa Rica.
Now, I know what you’re thinking- water shoes are kind of for dorks, right? Well, friends, let me tell you a story. Shortly before our trip to Costa Rica, Justin and I were visiting the beautiful island of Maui, when I stubbed my toe on a giant river rock while hiking barefoot in a waterfall and lost my big toenail.
This was not only, like, mega gross, but it basically ruined the latter half of our trip there- I couldn’t get into any kind of body of water, stroll on a beach, or really even walk for any significant period of time, due to the gaping wound on my foot. So don’t let that happen to you- Costa Rica is seriously too pretty for that nonsense- and wear some damn water shoes.
Sundress or button down shirt (or your choice of nice-ish garment):
While Costa Rica is definitely on the casual end of the spectrum, there’s plenty of opportunities to go out and enjoy the nightlife, particularly if you’re visiting one of the lively beach destinations, like Jaco or Tamarindo.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find any establishments in Costa Rica with an actual dress code, it can be nice to not look like a total schlub when you’re headed out for a night on the town. So bring along something you can throw on to at least look like a classy(ish) beach bum, like this sundress (which- bonus- can easily be used as a coverup over a swimsuit) or a lightweight button down shirt.
Raincoat and umbrella:
Did I mention that it can rain a LOT, especially during the rainy season (from May through November)? And given that most Costa Rican adventures center around outside activities, you don’t want to let a little precipitation stop you from enjoying your travels- so be sure to pack a rain jacket (like this one for men or this one for women). And bonus- it can double as a light jacket if it ever gets chilly at night or you’re eating someplace that’s blasting the AC.
And while you’re at it, bring along a travel umbrella. While a rain jacket will definitely be handier for more active experiences, like hiking or ziplining, an umbrella is helpful to have for more chill activities, like walking around town during a rainy day.
What to Pack for Costa Rica’s Beaches
Between exploring the waterfalls in Costa Rica, hitting up its beautiful beaches or hot springs, and cooling off in your accommodation’s pool, there’s a good chance you’re basically going to be living in your swimsuit for a healthy part of your trip. So I’d recommend bringing at least a couple of swimsuits with you so that one is always dry if you’re ready to have an adventure.
Costa Rica is all about outdoor activities, from hiking to kayaking and cliff-jumping- so pack at least one swimsuit that provides decent support and reasonable assurance that no body parts are accidentally going to flop out while you’re participating in said activities. For the ladies, I have this one-piece in two colors, which is great for when I’m looking for a bit more coverage and a two piece, like this one, which provides support while not looking too matronly.
For men, swim trunks (like this pair or this pair) are kind of awesome, because, in addition to, you know, swimming in them, you can easily wear them on a hike or while running around town. And given Costa Rica’s mega chill vibes, you and your studly swimsuit apparel will blend in basically anywhere here.
If you’re jumping in and out of pools, hot springs, and the ocean all day, you’ll want to bring along some kind of cover-up to throw on over your swimsuit. I’m all about kimonos, like this one (the monstera one would be kind of perfect for Costa Rica!)- you can quickly put it on over your swimsuit, plus they can even be worn over a dress or a tank top to dress it up a bit when it cools off in the evenings.
Fun fact: Costa Rica is less than 700 miles north of the equator, so the sun is pretty intense here, like, all the time. Bring along a straw hat, like this one, which will offer SPF 50+ protection for your face, back, and chest (plus there’s an interior band that you can adjust to fit your noggin juuuust right).
Rash guards are really the unsung heroes of beachwear- they protect your skin from sunburn and nefarious sea creatures (I’m looking at you, jellyfish), they usually offer a little bit of extra warmth in the water if you’re planning on snorkeling or doing some other activity that will have you in the ocean for extended periods of time (although the water in Costa Rica is generally a toasty 28° C/83° F!), and they kinda make you look like a totally rad surfer.
Speaking of surfing, did you know that Costa Rica has some of the world’s best waves? So, if you’re planning on taking any surfing lessons during your time here, a rashguard will also actually serve its intended purpose of preventing chafing from your skin rubbing against the rough surfboard. Check out this rashguard for women and this one for men.
Protect your eyeballs as much as you protect your skin, and pack shades with both UVA and UVB protection, like these for women or these for men.
Water Activities Essentials
Dry bags are my fave- they keep your electronics dry while you’re participating in water activities, like SUPing or even whale watching, plus they make an excellent makeshift beer cooler (why yes, I am speaking of experience).
Another reason to love dry bags? While Costa Rica is the safest Central American country, there’s still plenty of petty crime, like theft- so a dry bag is a handy tool if you want to play in the water and don’t want to leave your stuff unattended on the beach (the dry bag we’ve had for years can be worn just like a backpack!).
Plus, even if you’re looking for the best quality dry bags out there, they’re still quite affordable!
While most hotels and Airbnbs offer towels, they rarely provide the big, fluffy kind you want to lay out on for the beach. So be sure to bring along a beach towel to dry off after a day of catching waves or just to simply sunbathe.
Costa Rica has some awesome snorkeling directly off the coast, like at Manzanillo Beach on the Caribbean side or Biesanz Beach on the Pacific side. If you plan on snorkeling more than once in Costa Rica, I’d recommend bringing along your own mask and fins, so you’ll always have them on hand and not have to worry about trying to find (and haggle with) a rental place, regardless of where you are.
Justin and I each have this set that we bring along to anyplace with good snorkeling sites and absolutely love it- the dry-top valve prevents water from large waves from sneaking into the snorkel and the lower purge valve easily allows you to blow out any water that happens to leak in.
If you bring along a snorkeling set, don’t forget anti-fog spray as well. Because Costa Rica receives so much rain, which can churn up sediment in the water, most of the snorkeling spots are unfortunately not exactly known for their pristine visibility. So make your life a bit easier and ensure that you’re not also battling with condensation forming in your mask- simply use a couple spritzes of this product and enjoy Costa Rica’s amazing sea creatures.
What to pack for Costa Rica Hiking
So you’ve got your shoes all squared away for easy and tough hikes, but should you bring anything else to take on the trails?
Reusable water bottle:
Between the sun and the humidity, you’re definitely going to want to have a bunch of water on hand in Costa Rica, whether you’re hiking a tough trail or really, even just laying at a beach. And extra bonus- almost all of the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, unless you’re visiting someplace very rural or untouristed.
Justin and I both have these giant Nalgene bottles that we’d fill up at our hotel every morning and it’s one of my favorite items I bring along while traveling- it’s better for the planet than single-use plastic bottles and better for my wallet.
Headlamps can be an absolute safety essential, like when you’re setting out for a sunrise hike, allowing you to clearly see every step you’re taking in the dark.
Beyond just hiking, though, they can really come in handy in a lot of instances- for example, when you’re trying to find your way back after watching sunset at the beach or walking along a dark and potholed road at night (true story- Justin broke his kneecap in Cuba from falling in a pothole in the road he couldn’t see in the dark… I would not recommend that experience). We have these rechargeable ones that are lightweight, cheap, and hopefully prevent broken kneecaps!
One of the main reasons people go to Costa Rica is to see sloths, monkeys, and all their furry friends- but, before you go, it’s hard to truly appreciate how challenging it can be to spot wildlife that’s a fair distance away in the incredibly dense tree coverage.
While a pair of binoculars won’t give you X-ray vision, it can definitely help you see cute animals that are farther away. In fact, I kept using our heavy zoom lens for our camera as makeshift binoculars during our trip to Costa Rica. So don’t make the same mistake and include an actual pair of binoculars on your Costa Rica packing list.
Tip: Bring your binoculars along for pretty much any activity in Costa Rica, regardless if it’s specifically oriented around spotting wildlife. Even though we went on some rainforest hikes that were marketed as being awesome places to spot creatures, we actually spotted the most animals during our La Fortuna chocolate tour and at the Ecotermales Hot Springs.
So between your water bottle, binoculars, cell phone, sun screen, and other items you need to take with you, whether on hikes or just walking around town, you’re going to have a lot of random odds and ends to just shove in your pockets. Instead, bring along this awesome packable daypack, which folds down into an itty bitty pouch you can just toss in your luggage, but expands into a handy 20L backpack that can comfortably carry all of your essentials for the day.
What to pack to stay healthy for Costa Rica
If you couldn’t already tell, Justin and I have had a few accidents during our travels (broken kneecap in Cuba, anyone?), so take it from me when I say that traveler’s insurance is a must-have. That’s especially true in Costa Rica, where you’ll be jumping off cliffs, white water rafting, surfing, and a whole slew of other fun activities where you’ll be consensually hurdling your body at rocks and bodies of water.
We’ve always purchased health insurance through World Nomads for all of our international trips due to their excellent customer service and broad-range coverage (they even cover a lot of adventure sports, like scuba diving, that a lot of other companies don’t). Just make sure to read your policy to understand what is and isn’t covered and so that you know how to use your policy in the event you ever need to!
First aid kit:
While there’s seemingly a pharmacia around every corner in Costa Rica, I had a hard time finding basic items, like bug spray, during our visit. And what with all the aforementioned adrenaline-inducing activities, it’s a really good idea to have the basics on hand in case you injure yourself. This first aid kit is small and easy to toss in your daypack, but absolutely stuffed with helpful items you’ll be happy to have on hand in an emergency.
So we’ve already established that the sun in Costa Rica can be pretty intense, so I’m hoping that bringing along sunscreen is a no-brainer. What might not be as obvious, though, is that the vast majority of sunscreen contains a chemical called zinc oxide, which is linked to the bleaching and mutations of coral reefs and essentially, accelerates our society’s inevitable downfall to climate change.
So let’s all be awesome friends to Nemo and his rad coral reef home and purchase reef-safe sunscreen instead, like this one. It’s one of my favorite brands of reef-safe sunscreen, because it’s not nearly as hard to rub in as most reef-safe sunscreens and it basically smells like vacation in a bottle!
Given the whole “it’s a wet rainforest” thing, it’s probably no surprise that parts of Costa Rica have some serious gnarly bugs. To prevent your body from being covered in bites, bring along bug spray to protect you from those dastardly mosquitoes.
Any time your body is exposed to new microflora, like, say, when you travel to a new country and try the food there, there’s a decent chance you may get an upset stomach. And while nothing says “vacation” quite like some good ol’-fashioned diarrhea, it’s best to have an anti-diarrheals, like Immodium, on hand, just in case.
If you’re going to go on any snorkeling or whale-watching tours, having some dramamine at the ready to combat any motion sickness is key. It’s a lot easier to enjoy the majesty of the ocean when you don’t actively feel like you’re going to puke your guts out.
With all the surfing, cliff-jumping, and ziplining you’ll be doing, a GoPro is kind of a must on any Costa Rica packing list. It can take killer photos and videos both above and below the water; has plenty of really handy features, like image stabilization; and can easily slip into the pocket of your jeans. Pure wizardry!
We also have this GoPro accessories kit– we use some of the accessories much more frequently than others (like the car mount or floating handle grip), but given there’s a ton of tools that will definitely come in handy for a variety of activities you may do in in Costa Rica (like a head mount for ziplining or chest strap for hiking), it’s definitely an awesome value.
Between the two of us, we have a ton of electronics (laptops, a tablet, cell phones, cameras, a drone, a GoPro… I could go on), so it’s always like a very lame game of Tetris at night trying to figure out what needs charging with what charger.
We have an international charger, like this one, that will work in a variety of different plugs (while Costa Rica has the same kind of electrical plugs like our home country, the United States, it comes in handy when we’ve traveled to Europe or Asia), as well as providing FOUR different USB ports to plug in our menagerie of electronics.
Under our normal cell phone plan with T-mobile, we get limited data in other countries, including Costa Rica, which is usually enough to do basic functions, like look up directions on Google Maps or check the hours when a restaurant is open. For anything more data-intensive, though, we used a SIM card we purchased at the airport in Costa Rica (we paid $20 for 2 GB at the airport) and inserted in our mobile router.
I LOVE this mobile router– we use it to get wifi when we live and work from our travel trailer in the United States and can also use it as a mobile hotspot with a SIM card from the various countries we travel to. Another benefit- it provides internet connectivity to ALL of our wifi devices simultaneously. So if you’re a frequent traveler who needs connectivity while you’re on the go, a mobile router is definitely the way and the light!
We rely on our cell phones to get pretty much everywhere when we’re traveling abroad (thanks, Google Maps). So to keep them (and our aforementioned gaggle of other electronics) charged up, we take our beloved power bank with us no matter where we go, from backpacking trips in the Cascade mountains to exploring the jungles of Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. It’s awesome- unlike a lot of other battery packs, it’s super flat, lightweight, and packable and has an incredible battery life!
So if you haven’t gathered it yet, Costa Rica is a photographer’s dream- dramatic volcanoes, playful wildlife, and some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Most cell phones these days have awesome cameras, but if you’re interested in stepping up your photography (especially with respect to the wildlife, which tend to either be far away, far overhead in the trees or both), it may be worth investing in a better digital camera.
We use this Sony camera, a wide-angle lens for landscape shots, and a zoom lens for wildlife shots. These are definitely on the pricier side for camera gear (we do run a travel blog, after all!), but I’d recommend our camera setup to anyone who is interested in getting higher quality photos.
And regardless of whether you get a fancier camera, I’d recommend bringing along a tripod, which allows you to get tons of photos you otherwise wouldn’t (think long exposure waterfall shots or photos of everyone in your group at once).
Our photography completely changed after we got our Peak Design travel tripod and I’m honestly kicking myself we didn’t buy it sooner (we basically have no photos together from the first several years that we traveled together). It packs down to the size of a large water bottle, it’s super lightweight, can support the weight of professional cameras, and has a ton of helpful features (like a cellphone mount that’s tucked away into the center column).
For a more affordable option, these lightweight cell-phone tripods do an awesome job as well.
With all of the above items, you’ll be all set to have an amazing time- is there anything you’d add to this Costa Rica packing list? If so, let us know in the comments below!
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