Costa Rica is one of the more tourism-focused locales of Central America, and it’s an easy spot to travel for anyone, from backpackers to families. Whether you’re a beach lover or a rugged eco-traveler, there are some important things to know when packing for Costa Rica. Located at 10 degrees latitude, the sun shines brighter and the rain falls harder here. Many gringos arrive expecting Margaritaville – and leave with bug bites, blisters and a nasty sunburn. By packing a few simple items, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Clothes. Costa Rica doesn’t have a strict dress code and comfortable casual is best for pretty much the entire country. At the beach, your wardrobe will consist mostly of shorts, tank tops and flip flops. In the city, wear closed toed shoes, long pants and a light jacket or sweater. If you’re visiting high elevation areas (Monteverde, Bajos del Toro, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Gerardo, San Jose/Central Valley), then long pants and a jacket is necessary.
Shoes. Flip flops work fine for most of the country except the city. If you’re doing any activities, hiking shoes/sandals (with straps), sneakers or hiking boots are necessary. Geerally, bring one pair of flip flops and one pair of sneakers/hiking shoes or closed toed hiking sandals depending on what you're planning to do in the country.
Mosquito repellent. You need to bring mosquito repellent for Costa Rica as they are present all year round. The coasts are the worst places for mosquitoes and there are a few serious diseases you can catch like dengue fever. There are also other annoying little bugs that bite like gnats. Mosquitoes are not found in elevations above 1500 meters but they are everywhere else. Of course you can buy repellent at a local store but it will probably be very expensive – to save money, bring it from home.
Sunscreen. Sunscreen is also a must and bring at least SPF 30 (40 if you burn easily). Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator so the sun is strong! Again, it might be espensive to buy sunscreen on the spot, so pack it with you.
Toiletries and medications. You can find all toiletries in Costa Rica like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, mouth wash, toothpaste and floss. There are a few items that you should bring, though. These are tampons for women (small grocery stores sometimes don’t have them), face wash (very expensive), a medical kit, hair detangler spray, hand sanitizer, a packet of tissues and face wipes. If you wear contact lenses, make sure to bring a couple extras. If you’re taking any medicines, write down a list of them and keep it with you at all times. Try to include the active ingredients in each medicine or find the Spanish name. For basic medicines, you can find mostly all OTC at the pharmacies in Costa Rica.
Rain jacket. A rain jacket is an essential item if you’re visiting during Costa Rica’s rainy season (end of April to beginning of December). And you want to get a waterproof one!
Day bag. For day trips, sight seeing and tours, bring a day backpack. If you’re not planning on doing long hikes, you can get away with a 20-25 L backpack to hold all the essentials: snacks, water, towel, change of clothes, camera, etc.
Insulated water bottle. With such high temperatures and humidity on the coasts, it’s the best feeling in the world to take a long sip of fresh cold water in the heat. It also helps to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles and you’ll save money on buying water. You can drink tap water in most places in Costa Rica.
Sunglasses and hat. It's better to bring 2 pairs of sunglasses. One cheap pair so that you won’t cry if it gets lost in the ocean while you're swimming and one nicer pair for lounging and sightseeing. A hat or visor is also essential.
Swimwear. If you plan to visit the beach, don’t forget your swimwear! So that you always have a dry pair, bring two.
Cameras. If you want to capture all those awesome adventures, an action cam is the best. And if you’re a photographer, bring a wide angle for landscape shots and a telephoto lens (at least 300 mm) for birds and wildlife. A tripod is a must for wildlife photographers!
Flashlights or head lamps. It can be common for the electricity to go out during really rainy days, so you might need a flashlight (for this same reason, it's also smart to have a charged battery pack with you). It is also helpful if you’re walking at night since many streets are not brightly lit and there aren’t really sidewalks.
Extras. Here are some other items that will be useful:
Don’t forget to bring these to Costa Rica and for traveling internationally!
If you're visiting Costa Rica during rainy season, you should also bring:
Remember that Costa Rica has some regions with high elevation, so if you're traveling to Monteverde, for example, expect it to be cold! You'll need warm clothes.