What to Pack for Costa Rica: The Essential List

Planning a trip to Costa Rica but can’t decide what to bring? There are 12 different climatic zones in the Central American country, so knowing what to bring and what to leave behind can be tricky. Located in the tropics, Costa Rica’s climates vary from hot and humid to cold and frosty, so it is usually necessary to keep the varying weather in mind when packing, especially if you plan on travelling around the country. With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide covering what to pack for Costa Rica: the essential list.

What to Pack for Costa Rica: The Essential List

Costa Rica’s dry season runs from December to April and the rainy season runs from May to November. The temperature will usually depend on the elevation and other geographical factors, for instance, temperatures in coastal regions are slightly higher while temperatures in mountain ranges are colder. Overall, Costa Rica has a mild climate. So, what you should pack depends on when and where you plan to go.

what to pack for costa rica

What toiletries to pack for Costa Rica

Reef safe suncream

Costa Rica is located close to the equator, so the sun’s rays are strong. So, no matter when you visit, you need to pack sun protection. To protect the oceans and marine life, you really ought to consider buying reef safe suncream. This means looking for non-nano mineral sunscreen. You should also opt for a high SFP 30-50 and bring some after-sun lotion too, especially if you are prone to burning.

Mosquito repellent

As Costa Rica is a tropical climate, you’ll encounter mosquitoes all year round. However, they are more prevalent during the rainy season. Therefore, you should pack some sort of mosquito repellant, especially if you plan on visiting the coastal regions. Mosquito repellent with 20-30% DEET (diethyltoluamide) active ingredient should be strong enough to keep most of the mozzies at bay.

Miscellaneous items

Microfiber towel

Microfiber towels pack up really small and are quick drying. Because they aren’t bulky, they take up very little room in day bags so are perfect for hiking. They are also perfect for wiping away the sweat from the humidity, for using after swimming and make ideal picnic blankets. They also double as throws when the air con gets a bit too cold on long haul bus journeys.

Small backpack or day bag

When you are biking, trekking and walking the trails you’ll want to be as hands-free as possible and keep all your valuables safe and secure. A small, comfortable, waterproof backpack or day bag is ideal. You just need something that will fit your microfiber towel, a bottle of water, suncream, your phone and camera, wallet/purse and, of course, snacks. For short day hikes and tours, a 20-litre backpack should be big enough.

what to pack for costa rica

Plug adaptors and power converters

Costa Rica operates on a 120V supply voltage and 60Hz, the same as the USA. There are two types of plugs in Costa Rica. Type A has two flat prongs, while Type B has two flat prongs and a rounded ground pin. Type A and B plugs are mostly used in the USA, Canada, Central America, China and Japan. Depending on where your appliances are from, you may need travel plug adaptors. If your electrical items are not dual voltage, you’ll also need a travel power converter.

What shoes to pack for Costa Rica

Flip-flops and sandals are ideal for wearing to the beach and around the pool. Another great option is slip-on mesh water shoes. These are great for boat rides and if you want to explore tidal pools, climb on the rocks and go swimming in waterfalls.

For jungle treks and exploration, you need sturdy but comfortable walking shoes. Sneakers will do at a push, but trail runners are better. However, waterproof hiking boots are the best option as they offer the best grip and will keep your feet dry.

You’ll need a pair of comfortable walking shoes for when you are exploring the cities. Closed-toe shoes are best. A pair of comfortable sneakers is ideal. Avoid heels as the pavements are often uneven and difficult to manage in stilettos.

If you plan on going out at night to clubs, bars and restaurants, loafers for men and flat sandals or pumps will do for women. Pack a pair of heels if you have space in your luggage, but you’ll probably get more wear out of flat shoes.

what to pack for costa rica

What clothing to pack for Costa Rica

Beachwear

Shorts, t-shirts and sundresses are ideal for the beach. When it comes to bathing suits one-pieces and bikinis are fine, board shorts and trunks too. Whatever you feel most comfortable wearing. Thongs are also quite popular.

If you plan on doing lots of water sports and snorkelling, pack a UV rash vest. These protect your skin from sun exposure and reduce chafing caused by surfboards and bodyboards. A long sleeve one is best.

Daywear

The dress code in Costa Rica is laidback and casual, so leave the ball gown at home. To plan what to pack, work around the season and the humidity. Pack breathable, light clothing made from quick-drying material. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sundresses and loose-fitting trousers are all ideal. You’ll need a light sweater or jacket too. If you are travelling to high elevation areas, pack a pair of long pants, a long-sleeved top and a light jacket too. In the rainy season, pack a very light, breathable rain jacket. Costa Rica is a great place for an adventure, so pack comfortable clothes that you can move around in and that don’t chafe.

Nighttime dress code

Even at nighttime, the dress code is still casual. Of course, you can get dressed up if you like. For fancy restaurants and bars, a pair of slacks and a shirt is fine for men. For women, sandals and a sundress or a nice top and jeans are perfect.  When heading to the clubs, just smarten up a bit. Don’t wear athletic clothes or sports shoes or flip flops. Wear shoes you can dance in.

what to pack for costa rica

Costa Rica reading material

Get a feel for the country with a good book set in Costa Rica or one that covers the history and culture. For non-fiction fans, pack Monkeys Are Made of ChocolateExotic and Unseen Costa Rica by Jack Ewing. Fiction lovers should pick up a copy of A Beach House to Die For by K.C. Ames.

Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

View stories