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If your trip departure is just around the corner, your focus has likely shifted from what you’re going to do and see when in Costa Rica to what you’re going to need while you’re there. So begins the saga of vacation packing – the contemplation, the over-analyzing, the art of packing, the practicality of re-packing, and the dreaded reality of over-packing (if you’re not one to travel light). Let us make it easy for you…if you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, take a peek at our packing list. We regularly add items to it based on the ever-changing needs of travel, however for the most part you should find the below mix of common travel items and Costa Rica-specific recommendations useful when taking on the daunting task of vacation packing.
Clothing / Apparel
- Tank tops, t-shirts, shorts, sundresses, bathing suits and other comfortable beach-friendly wear
consider: quick-dry, dry-fit and/or similar clothes are ideal
consider: clothes that condense well and/or can be folded/squished into small areas are suitcase space-savers and great for packing into small backpacks/bags for organized tours and/or day trips
consider: bring a second bathing suit (you never know when you will lose one!) to avoid the need to purchase one in-country that may not fit well and may be overpriced
- At least one long-sleeve shirt, sweater, or sweatshirt for chilly evenings
tip: look into the elevation of the locations you plan to visit in Costa Rica – areas of higher elevation (such as Santa Elena/Monteverde) offer colder temperatures and require warmer clothing
- Water-resistant jacket or poncho (one or the other will do, travellers do not usually require both)
- tip: do not bring an umbrella (a jacket or poncho can be used when it rains during organized tours – umbrellas cannot be used during many activities)
- Additional garments including comfortable underwear, bras, socks, and pajamas
consider: ladies, depending on the activities you plan to participate in, you may want to invest in a good sports bra
- A hat
- Footwear including comfortable sandals (such as flip flops) for strolling in, one pair of strap-on sandals (such as TEVA shoes or KEEN shoes), and one pair of fully-enclosed hiking boots or running shoes (many organized tours, such as the Mistico Park Arenal Hanging Bridges and any combo tour that includes a visit to the Mistico Park Arenal Hanging Bridges require them)
Accessories and toiletries
- Sunscreen (sunscreen is widely available at grocery stores if you run out, although it will be more expensive than the price you will pay for it at home)
consider: a sport-based waterproof sunscreen with at least 30 spf
- Insect repellent (insect repellent is widely available at grocery stores if you run out, although it will be more expensive than the price you will pay for it at home)
- Daily hygiene products including deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and conditioner (most accommodations will provide soap, shampoo, and conditioner but it is a good idea to bring your own if you prefer particular products and/or if you know you will use more than the sample size you will be provided with)
- Shaving supplies
- Feminine products (in case of an emergency, feminine products are widely available at grocery stores)
consider: bring a strap for your sunglasses so you can hang them around your neck when not in use
- Reading glasses (if applicable) and/or contact lenses (and contact lens solution, if applicable)
- Band-aids and a small tube of anti-bacterial cream or ointment
tip: skip the full-blown first-aid kit as most hotels and tour operators are equipped with the supplies you may need in case of an accident – most towns offer pharmacies where additional supplies can be purchased if necessary
- Hair ties and bobby pins (for long-haired travellers)
- Toilet paper or small, individually-packed Kleenex tissues (unfortunately, not all bathrooms supply toilet paper – bringing your own roll is a good idea, or else smaller tissue packs are more compact and a less obvious way of ensuring you have paper with you when nature calls)
Identification and paperwork
consider: print a copy of your passport to bring with you in case you lose the original and/or any organized tours request it
- Driver’s license and/or proof of auto insurance (if you do not plan to purchase auto insurance in Costa Rica) for vehicle rentals
- Credit cards
tip: phone your credit card provider before you depart to have them remove any international spending bans that may be placed on your card
tip: phone your credit card provider before you depart to have them confirm whether they will charge you for charges made in another country and/or in other currencies
- Emergency contact information for an individual at home who is not travelling to Costa Rica with you
- Confirmations for any/all reservations (including driving directions to each site if you plan to rent a vehicle)
- Laptop or telephone with internet access (wi-fi internet is widespread throughout Costa Rica – having access to a device where you can tap into a hotel, tour operator, or park’s free wi-fi is a great way to stay connected to those at home while away, search for information on-line, or make last-minute trip reservations
tip: don’t forget the chargers/cables for any laptop and/or phone you opt to pack
- Camera with 2 memory cards
tip: be sure to unload your photos and videos on to your laptop, an external hard drive (if you opt not to bring a laptop with you to Costa Rica) and/or an on-line memory database (such as DropBox, iCloud or SkyDrive) daily to ensure you do not lose your trip memories if you happen to lose your camera and/or memory card
- Medication (prescribed and/or common over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen such as Tylenol, ibuprofin such as Advil, dimenhydrinate such as Gravol, loperamide such as Imodium, or diphenhydramine such as Benadryl depending on your specific needs) and/or vitamins
tip: bring prescriptions for any medication that cannot be purchased over-the-counter to avoid problems at the airport and/or in Costa Rica
tip: bring a list of any allergies you may have to foods, medications, and/or environmental factors (use Google Translate to create a list in Spanish too so you can easily identify your allergies to any hotel, tour operator, and/or transportation service operator staff)
consider: anti-nausea medication (diphenhydramine, aka. Gravol) for travellers prone to car or boat sickness as many of Costa Rica’s roads are mountainous and windy
- Clock or watch with an alarm (for organized tours and transfer services scheduled for the morning)
- Towel (not all organized tours supply these and hotels do not allow travellers to take their in-room towels for tour use)
consider: a quick-drying towel that is small in size – big enough to dry your body when and where needed but small enough to minimize the amount of space consumed in your suitcase
- Daypack or small backpack (apart from your full-size luggage, a smaller bag is great for packing smaller items in for day trips away from accommodations and/or organized tours)
- Plastic bags (these are always handy to have if you need to transport or pack wet clothes, bathing suits, and/or towels)
- Small snacks (for long transfer services and the late night munchies)
tip: make sure these comply with international border crossing regulations
- Feminine urinating device (this may sound silly, but sometimes nature calls in the most inopportune places!)
Extra items that *some* travellers find useful
- Flashlight (flashlights are provided by tour operators for most night tours, however depending on the accommodations you plan to stay at, if they are not well lit you may prefer to have a flashlight if you plan to leave/return to your room after dark)
- Binoculars (most tour guides will have a set with them, however if you are an avid birdwatcher and are travelling to Costa Rica to spot the rare Quetzal, you may prefer to have your own set)
- Bike chain/lock (if you plan to rent a bike often throughout your trip and/or you plan to take your bike to locations where it will be left unattended for a period of time such as on the beach while you swim/sunbathe and/or on the sidewalk while you shop, remember to bring a bike chain/lock with you from home to ensure its security)
- Extra batteries (these are available for purchase at grocery stores, however you may prefer to have some with you – especially if your camera runs out of batteries mid-way through an incredible experience!)
- Aloe Vera gel (in case of sunburn, aloe vera gel is both soothing and healing – to save the suitcase space, aloe vera gel can be purchased at grocery stores if needed)
…AND THE UNNECESSARY
- Guidebooks: These can get heavy, fast. Research your trip enough beforehand to avoid the need to bring guidebooks with you during your trip. Organized tour guides will provide you with enough information to keep your attention, and if something peaks your interest while abroad, take a photo or make a note of it so you can look the item up in your book (or online) once you return to your accommodation or home.
- Journals or books you don’t plan to use: If you’re a reader and a writer, by all means bring your journal and a handful of novels. However, if you are not one to detail the day’s events in a journal each night or use your spare time to get a few chapters in, chances are you could find a better use for your suitcase space than for hundreds of untouched pages.
- Jewelry: I’d love to state the obvious – that you’ll likely be sporting a t-shirt and shorts for the majority of your trip (probably the same t-shirt and shorts over multiple days throughout your trip) – but the truth is you may want to ‘dress up’ for a night or two. Jewelry may be part of your get-up, and if it is, keep it to a sentiment-free minimum. The last thing you want to worry about during your relaxing time away is whether the precious gems that were passed down to you from generation to generation have been stolen or lost. I have yet to find myself in this situation, but you never know what could happen and a fancy night out – no matter how good the food or service may be – is not worth the risk.
- Travellers cheques: Unless you plan to spend the majority of your time at an all-inclusive resort, the majority of accommodations in Costa Rica (as well as tour operator offices, restaurants, and shops) do not cash travellers cheques. Banks will, so if your preference is to use travellers cheques plan to visit local banks regularly to cash them in throughout your trip. Alternatively, most travellers rely on cash and credit cards for their vacation spending – we second this choice.
- Anything that Jean Claude Van Damme would carry with him: Unless you’re up for roughing it Bear Grylls style, you’re probably not going to need the duct tape, match set, and swiss army knife that routinely end up on most packing lists. If you’re planning to take unguided treks and hikes into the wilderness, these items could certainly come in handy. However, for the majority of travellers who plan to explore the country within its most ventured limits (and with the assistance of an organized tour guide), the MacGyver antics will likely be kept to a minimum.
Don’t forget to leave extra space in your suitcase for souvenirs and items that you wish to purchase in Costa Rica and bring home as souvenirs. Better yet, consider filling the empty space with school supplies or children’s futbol shoes that you can donate to a local Costa Rican school or organization during your trip (feel free to read our related post True Inspiration At Its Finest: Treat Others While Treating Yourself! and see Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated’s Travellers For… Donation Project site for trip inspiration!). You’d be surprised to learn how rewarding your vacation can be when you pack a little philanthropy into it. 😉
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What did you (or will you) pack for your Costa Rican adventure?