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What To Pack For Costa Rica (And What Not To Pack)

What To Pack For Costa Rica (And What Not To Pack)

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on October 1st, 2017.


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 Costa Rica 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 the process of Costa Rica packing easy for you… if you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, take a peek at our recomended Costa Rica 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 asking yourself the inevitable question: “What to pack for Costa Rica?.


what to pack for Costa Rica
Ladies, let’s face it. Some days we feel more bold and confident than others. I love to pack the “little black dress” equivalent of a dark, one-piece bathing suit along side a more fun two-piece. Swimwear should be comfortable and comforting, so it’s best to pack for our varying moods and confidence levels!

What to pack for Costa Rica: Clothing / Apparel

Tank tops, t-shirts, shorts, sundresses, bathing suits and other comfortable beach-friendly wear

  • Quick-dry, dry-fit and/or similar clothes are ideal
  • 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
  • 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

  • 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)

  • 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

  • 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/or any combo tour that includes a visit to the Mistico Park Arenal Hanging Bridges, require participants to wear fully closed shoes (the use of flip flops and open sandals of any kind are not permitted)
what to pack for Costa Rica
Comfortable footwear is incredibly important. Between the two of us, Ricky and I have two pairs of Keen sandals, a pair of Salomon shoes and a pair of North Face shoes. We can hardly note the difference between each brand, but we couldn’t imagine exploring the corners of Costa Rica without them. For more casual strolls, we both live in our flip flops. I own too many pairs of inexpensive Old Navy flops to count, and Ricky doesn’t go anywhere without his Chacos.

What to pack for Costa Rica: Accessories and toiletries

Sunscreen (sunscreen is widely available at grocery stores if you run out, although its cost in Costa Rica will be more expensive than what you would pay for it at home)

  • Choose a sport-based waterproof sunscreen with at least 30 spf (ideally 60 spf)

Insect repellent (insect repellent is widely available at grocery stores if you run out, although its cost in Costa Rica will be more expensive than what you would pay for it at home)

Daily hygiene products including deodorant, a 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 hotels provide
Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  Which Costa Rica Airport Is The Best To Fly To? Comparing The San Jose (SJO) And Liberia (LIR) Airports


Shaving supplies

Feminine products (in case of an emergency, feminine products are widely available at grocery stores)


  • Bring a strap for your sunglasses so you can hang them around your neck when they are 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

  • 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 popular towns offer pharmacies (and/or a medical clinic) where additional supplies can be purchased/obtained if necessary

Hair ties and bobby pins (for long-haired travellers)

Toilet paper or small, individually-packed Kleenex tissues

  • Unfortunately not all public bathrooms supply toilet paper or offer its use for free (especially pubic bathrooms in remote areas of the country and/or public bathrooms located at bus stations) so bringing your own roll is a good idea
  • Smaller tissue packs are a more compact and less obvious option for ensuring you have paper with you whenever nature calls

What to pack for Cota Rica: Identification and paperwork


Driver’s license and/or proof of auto insurance (if you do not plan to purchase auto insurance in Costa Rica) for car rentals

Credit cards

  • Phone your credit card provider before you depart to have them remove any international spending bans that may be placed on your card
  • 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
  • Don’t miss the other “Money and Spending Safety” tips we provide in our related blog post Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Travel Cleverly, Consciously, And With Common Sense. Here’s How.


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)

What to pack for Costa Rica: Electronics

Laptop or smartphone 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 signal is a great way to stay connected to individuals at home while away, to search for information online, or to make last-minute trip reservations/changes
  • Don’t forget the chargers/cables for any electronic device that you opt to pack
  • Don’t miss the other electronic device tips we provide in our related blog post Technology, Devices, And The Internet In Costa Rica

Digital camera with two memory cards

  • Be sure to upload your trip photos and videos onto your laptop, an external hard drive (if you opt not to bring a laptop with you to Costa Rica) and/or an online memory database (such as DropBox, iCloud or SkyDrive) daily to ensure you do not lose your trip memories if you happen to misplace your camera and/or memory card, or if your device is stolen.
Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  Spending Money In Costa Rica: What To Know About USD, Colones, Credit Cards, And More!
what to pack for Costa Rica
Costa Rica is the heart of the rainforest. The rain forest. Best prepare yourself for getting wet by packing items to help keep you dry. A poncho and a small waterproof container are great to keep on you at all times. We love our little yellow Pelican box; it is great for keeping hotel room keys, money, credit cards, and other small items dry while at the beach or getting caught in the rain!


What to pack for Costa Rica, maybe… (i.e., some travellers may find benefit in packing the following items)

Prescribed and/or common over-the-counter medications such acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofin (Advil), dimenhydrinate (Gravol), loperamide (Imodium), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and/or vitamins

  • Bring the actual paper prescription (or a doctor’s note) for any medication that cannot be purchased over-the-counter to avoid problems at the airport and/or in Costa Rica
  • 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 bringing an anti-nausea medication (such as Gravol) for any individuals in your travel group who are prone to car or boat sickness; many of Costa Rica’s roads are mountainous and windy

Clock or watch with an alarm

  • Ideal for trip itineraries with early morning tour or transfer service departures
  • Ideal for stays at hotels that do not offer wake-up call services

Towel (not all organized tours supply these and most hotels do not allow travellers to take their in-room towels off-property for tour use)

  • Bring 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 and/or tour daypack

Daypack or small backpack

  • Apart from your full-size luggage, a smaller bag is great for carrying smaller items in for day trips away from accommodations and/or for participation in organized tours

Plastic bags

  • Keep a few handy if you need to transport or pack wet clothes, bathing suits, and/or towels
  • Keep a few handy in case of sudden onset of rain

Small snacks (for long transfer services and the late night munchies)

  • Make sure your snack choices comply with international border-crossing regulations

Feminine urinating device (ladies, sometimes nature calls in the most inopportune places!)

what to pack for Costa Rica
Clearly the most unique and arguably the most controversial item on our list: the female urinating device. We support having one with you (ladies) throughout your trip. There’s nothing worse than nature calling when you’re in the middle of hiking through the forest or kayaking in the ocean, and unlike our male counterparts, it’s a challenge for us to remedy the problem easily. The silicon device is easy to pack, use, and clean, and it’s great for piece of mind knowing that you’re covered in that tricky situation we’ve all been in at least once before. Obviously the device must be used discretely (it’s not something you can pull out in the middle of a group tour), but it’s a nifty thing to have on you if and when you are presented with an opportunity to use it. We recommend carrying an empty water bottle with you to collect and more appropriately dispose of the contents too.


  • 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


  • 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 need be)
what to pack for Costa Rica
A sample of my classic book collection. I treasure books greatly, but hardly ever read while travelling. I’m too busy doing and seeing everything in real life than exploring fictional wonderlands.



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. Alternatively, if you would prefer to have a Costa Rica guide resource available to you throughout your trip, consider joining our DIY Costa Rica community–doing so will give you access to all of our Costa Rica travel guide website’s private content which you can carry with you on your personal device throughout your trip, avoiding the need to lug around a heavy or bulky book.

Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  The Most Popular Questions We Receive About Costa Rica Travel (And Our Responses To Each!)

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.


Let’s state the obvious: you’ll likely be sporting a t-shirt and shorts for the majority of your trip (and realistically, probably the same t-shirt and shorts over multiple days throughout your trip) so you may only end up “dressing 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. While bling may be your thing, 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, most 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, and we second this choice. For more on these topics, don’t miss the information we provide in the “Money and Spending Safety” section of our related blog post Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Travel Cleverly, Consciously, And With Common Sense. Here’s How., as well as the general spending tips we offer in our related blog post Spending Money In Costa Rica: What To Know About USD, Colones, Credit Cards, And More!

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 organized tour guides throughout), the MacGyver antics will likely be kept to a minimum.

what to pack for Costa Rica
Unless you plan to hike Costa Rica’s uncharted rainforest, do you really see yourself using a compass during you vacation? All orienting arrows point to no.


When deciding what to pack for Costa Rica, don’t forget to leave some empty space in your suitcase for souvenirs that you buy in Costa Rica and wish to bring home (don’t miss our related blog post What To Buy In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Souvenirs Shopping List And Buying Tips for souvenir suggestions, photos, and recommendations). Better yet, when travelling to Costa Rica, consider filling that empty suitcase space with school supplies or futbol (a.k.a., soccer) shoes that you can donate to a local Costa Rican school or organization during your trip (feel free to read our related blog posts Our Costa Rica Soccer Shoes Donation Program and True Inspiration At Its Finest: Treat Others While Treating Yourself! for donation inspiration). We bet you’ll be surprised to learn how rewarding a vacation can be when you pack a little philanthropy into it. 😉

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Been to Costa Rica before? What did you pack for your Costa Rica vacation?

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11 thoughts on “What To Pack For Costa Rica (And What Not To Pack)”

  • Going to Costa Rica In 3 weeks, it will be the first time for me and my bf ^_^. I can’t wait to try the food and experience the culture. We’ll be taking a complete tour from Liberia in a circle to Liberia. Good advice from this website.

  • So cool advices in this blog! I am going on a vacation and I have to pack my stuff but I don’t know what to take with me and what to leave at home. Thank you for sharing these packing ideas!

  • WOW great advices. Umbrella is the most useless thing. During organized trips it is impossible to look around you with umbrella. I don`t use one, too. Thank you for sharing your amazing tips. They are soooo useful. Best regards!

  • We are leaving in 2 weeks with our 16, 14, and 9 year old Boys. How do you recommend we travel with their passports and documentation as this is our first family trip out of the US? Thanks for the great list!

    • Liz s. –

      Congrats on the upcoming *first* family international trip! 🙂

      Travel documents (such as passports) are precious, and travellers sometimes ask us whether it is better to carry the documents with them at all times, or leave them in the hotel room. This is a tough call, since risk is inherent anywhere and everywhere! We usually say to trust your gut. In most cases, we recommend leaving the original documents in your hotel room (many offer in-room safes) to avoid losing or causing damage to the documents while you participate in tours and activities. This being said, we highly recommend keeping a copy (or two!) of any/all important travel documents throughout your trip (you can even email copies to yourself, if you wish to have an electronic copy too), and ensuring those copies are kept in a different place (i.e., in a different piece of luggage, or on you, such as in a purse/bag) at all times. For more information about safe (and smart) travel, please see our related blog post: Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Travel Consciously, Cleverly, And With Common Sense. Here’s How. and pay special attention to the section on “Identification And Possession Safety”.

      Pura vida!

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