I get a lot of questions from people on how or what are the indispensable items I should put their packing list for a trip to Costa Rica. After traveling to Costa Rica for over 20 years you should have a lot of confidence with this Costa Rica travel packing guide.
To begin to know what to pack, it’s important to know where you plan on going within Costa Rica. Despite being tiny, there is an incredible amount of diversity in climates (and pretty much everything else) in this country!
Costa Rica is usually divided into five main (and very different) climates. Here they are at a glance:
There is a reason why the capital of San Jose is situated in this part of the country. Due to its location and altitude you have ideal weather with moderate temperature during the day and slightly cooler at night. You can really notice the wet and dry seasons in this area as from November through April, it will be very dry and from May to October you will have your fair share of rain, especially during the months of September and October.
The mountains are usually a bit on the cooler side, with daytime highs rarely exceeding 75°F, and more commonly hovering around 70°F. It’s cooler if it’s raining. At night, temperatures can get a bit chilly, and mornings are often crisp at around the 50°F mark.
All of these numbers vary by elevation. In San Jose, it’s a bit colder on average than in Arenal. The mountains can be very wet. Most areas get up to 100 inches of rain per year.
The weather on the coast varies. Some areas are pretty wet, others are fairly arid. Generally, the temperatures are pretty warm, although rarely scorching.
Depending on where you are, you can probably expect daytime temps of around 80-90°F on average, with things cooling down to around 70°F at night.
The closer you are to the beach, the more you’ll feel the cool and comfortable sea breeze. The further you are from the beach, the muggier you’ll feel.
Similar to the coast, only replace the sand with mud, bugs, incredible wildlife and adventure! Lightweight long sleeved shirts, pants, and bug spray are a must.
To the east of the mountains, the Caribbean coast is as one would expect… tropical. Whenever you go its going to be hot, but you will get cooled off by the off and on again showers that can happen at any time of the day and year. The rains are short and can be intense but afterwards there lots of sun.
Hurricanes do occasionally affect the climate of the Caribbean coast between May and November. Even though Costa Rica is never really hit directly by hurricanes, but when there is one nearby, it can bring storms to this area.
A Two Week Packing Guide for Costa Rica
I generally say that a good goal for say a 2 week trip to Costa Rica (or anything less) is to only take luggage that you can take with you on the plane. Another words a carry-on and a backpack.
Why? Any mix-ups with checked bags can be become a real issue if it takes a few days to sort out and your hotel reservations or your trip planning takes you outside of San Jose or Liberia where you’ll be landing.
Therefore, you’ll notice that the recommendations here are going to be based on weight as well as likelihood of actual use.
For example, if you are going to just the mountains, then you can probably leave the board shorts at home. Or if you are just going to the coastal areas of say Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo, I think its safe to say you don’t need to take a sweater.
All that said here are my General Thoughts on Packing for Costa Rica so pick and choose what you think will work out best for the type of travel you will be doing.
Note: I have created some links to Amazon for you too take a look at whats out there and what the current prices are on them. I didn’t give any specific recommendations on brands unless I am a HUGE fan of a particular item as you may have your own preference on that.
Backpack and Suitcase
Don’t underestimate the value of quality suitcase and backpack when traveling around Costa Rica. If either of these break or tear its going to be almost impossible to find a decent replacement.
If you can get away with it try to bring just what you can carry on with you on the plane and try to avoid checking luggage because if there are any delays with flights, sometimes you are able catch another flight but your checked luggage probably won’t be able to be transferred in time.
A good quality backpack and suitcase tends to wear better the more you use them and is something you can use again and again.
It would also be a good idea to get one with some features that reduce the risk of theft, like steel reinforced straps or locks on the zippers.
Packing in General For Costa Rica
The key to always having something appropriate to wear in Costa Rica is to pack light, athletic wear layers.
I strongly recommend that you hand-carry your camera, important documents, medicine and other irreplaceable items on the plane if you are checking any luggage.
Once you are in at your first hotel, it is a good idea to separate your gear – packing to what you will need for the next section of your trip in one bag, and the rest in another.
You can divide your packing into coastal, highland and jungle portions.
PRO TIP: If you are taking a domestic flight, they currently have baggage limitations of 25 pounds per person including carry-on.
Clothes Packing For Costa Rica
If you can bring clothes that are moisture wicking, quick drying, and have features for durability like RipStop.
Traveling and having fun in Costa Rica can put a lot wear and tear on your stuff, so it’s a good idea to bring high quality (cheap is expensive in the end), tough clothes.
There’s nothing worse than destroying some pants when on vaction and then being short a pair with not alot of options get some new ones.
- 1 pairs of comfortable light weight walking shoes and/or hiking boots
- 1 pair of sandals (e.g.Tevas) or all terrain wet shoes (e.g. Keen) (flip flops not recommended for rafting or hiking!)
- 2 pairs of lightweight convertible pants
- Maybe a pair of jeans but generally they are heavy and slow drying
- 6 pairs of underwear (better safe then sorry)
- 2 long sleeve button up shirt ( for a good dinner and/or date!)
- 2 pairs hiking shorts
- 2 base layer athletic t-shirts
- 2 Mid layer jackets
- Warm sweater or sweatshirt (San José, Arenal, Monteverde and Highlands can get cold at night and misty during the day!)
- 2 cotton long sleeve shirt (to protect you from sun)
- 1 swim suit
- Wide brim hat or baseball cap for sun protection
- 3 pairs of quick drying socks
- Outer Shell and Windbreaker.
- Water Filter
- Bandana to help keep the sweat off
- Medium size quick drying towel
Personal Items & Other Stuff
- Passport (bring a photocopy and/or keep one in the cloud)
- Backpack – Don’t underestimate this one. ( I like the Datusara)
- Polarized Sunglasses – Especially if you are going fishing!
- Camera You’re not going to want to forget this one. There are mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, jungles, the ocean, wildlife, you name it.
- Good flashlight – essential
- If you are allergic to mosquito bites and plan to spend time at the beach or in the jungle bring some anti-allergic cream with you.
- Paperback book or Kindle
- Money belt or neck pouch
- Binoculars: Very important and a good quality pair make the difference when your looking at birds and animals. I would recommend either the 10x40mm or 8x35mm)
- Insect repellent
- Personal First Aid Kit (band aids, aspirin, personal medication, calamine lotion)
- Toiletry Kit (toothbrush, deodarent, Feminine Products)
- Watch – maybe optional in today’s day and age
- A few meters of cord ( useful for clothesline and spare shoelaces)
- Spanish – English dictionary – Either use a App or go old school and take a book
You can get pretty much everything you need in a Costa Rica Pharmacy. You’ll probably be surprised at just how much you can get without a prescription (and cheap too!). However, there are a couple of small items that are worth bringing from home.
- Tylenol/Advil/drug of choice for headaches and pain
- Something for motion sickness (there are more then a few winding mountain roads, and Costa Ricans love fast driving)
- Something to help you sleep
- Any special meds that you require
Clothing And Other Essentials for Tortuguero and Corcovado
Lightweight long sleeved shirts, pants, and bug spray are a must.
You will need to limit what you can take with you if you are going to either Tortuguero or Corcovado. The reason is that to get to either one of these places, you will need to take a local airline either Sansa or Natureair.
Since these planes are commuter flights they limit the amount of luggage that can be taken on them to currently 20lbs. You can often leave the non essential items at the hotel
If the weight limit is an issue for you, there is the option of going to both of these places overland, however its time consuming and you will need to spend a few of those precious vacation days just to get there.
Lightweight long sleeved shirts, pants, and bug spray are a must.
Access to Money
Most people find that ATM withdrawals here are significantly easier and cheaper than other things like traveler’s checks (if you even know what those are these days!).
If you really want access to money on the cheap here, use a card that has not international fees and withdraw from the ATMs here.
Credit cards, of course, can be used at most major stores, and work fairly well in Costa Rica. There are always concerns about scams with credits cards though, so a lot of travelers only use them when they have to. ATM’s are definitely the way to go in a country where cash is king.
Leave at Home
- Lots of Cash – Bring just a small amount to get you through the first day or two and for small things you may buy. I would say about $200 and I’ve never been close to short, but everyone is different so adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that its easy to withdraw money from ATMs as you need it.
- General toiletries. Apart from tampons, you can get everything else fairly easily at a pharmacy, super market or small general store.
- Expensive Jewelry – Its can only be a cause for concern about losing it or having it stolen. Just leave it at home
Regardless of how long you’re actually planning on staying here, bring enough clothes for just five days to one week. There are lots of full-service laundromats in Costa Rica.
Often, you can drop off your clothes and pick them up an hour or two later for a couple of bucks or ask your hotel and they will probably be able to help you out.