Costa Rica Packing List To Deal With Every Type of Climate 2024

Did you know the “Rich Coast" has up to 27 microclimate zones within it? This means that coming up with an inclusive Costa Rica packing list has never been an easy job! 

With so many microclimates, your packing list will need to be just as diverse as the weather itself. While tropical beaches might call for lightweight, comfy clothes, cooler areas like cloud jungles emphasise layering to keep your body away from the cold. 

It sounds like a new challenge to your packing journey. Yet, with a bit of knowledge and preparedness, you can bring what you’ll need for a perfect tropical getaway. Whether you plan for beach lounging on the Southern Pacific Coast or trekking through the jungles, here is your packing guide!

Essential Travel Documents To Visit Costa Rica

1. Passport & Visa

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To visit Costa Rica, you need a passport with at least 3 months left before it expires  Photo By CardMapr.nl on Unsplash

For those flying from the UK, EU, Canada, Australia, or within the US, there's no need to bring your visa. Just pack your original passport. But first, check your passport's validity before you go. 

If you’re taking off from the UK, your passport needs to have at least 1 expiry date counting from the date you're leaving Costa Rica. Things are the same for US travellers.

2. Travel Insurance

Prepare for the unexpected by getting travel insurance right before your trip. Paying for this safety net means you’re paying for extra peace of mind when travelling, especially when things don't go as planned. If your trip gets interrupted, you’re covered for delayed baggage/stolen luggage, trip cancellation, and similar situations. 

Above all, Costa Rica travel insurance will provide financial assistance for medical expenses if you need emergency attention while away from home. So, secure travel insurance right after booking your trip.

3. Driver's licence

If you want to take a grand tour around Costa Rica by car, don't leave your original driver's licence at home. It must be state-issued and remain valid while you're in the country. Remember that photocopies won't work for your trip.

4. Credit Cards And Cash

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Bring enough cash to avoid the hassle of finding ATMs in remote areas of Costa Rica Photo By Rochu_2008 - stock.adobe.com

If you're flying somewhere other than the States, exchange your currency at the airport in Costa Rica. It's always nice to have some cash on hand for local foods, souvenirs, and transport. We recommend withdrawing enough cash right at the airport, as ATMs are not common in areas like the Osa Peninsula or the Caribbean Coast.

5. Reservation Copy

Hard copies of your reservation can make your trip go smoother. So, before you go, print out copies of your flight, hotel, tour booking, and car rentals. This will also help you keep track of your itinerary better. You should always keep a copy of your passport with the entry stamp on your body.

6. Proof of Onward Or Return Travel

According to Costa Rica Laws, you need to present onward or return travel proof if you’re not a resident or citizen. It’s also important to note that this ticket cannot be for more than 90 days after you’ve arrived in Costa Rica. Those visiting the country with a round-trip ticket or a tourist visa won’t have to deal with this hassle. 

Costa Rica Packing List - Must-Have Items For Your Trip

Daypack

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Slip all you need into your daypack and jump on your epic adventures on the Rich Coast. Photo credit: Sára Škopová / @saraskopova

Dragging around a suitcase is the last thing you want to do in this Central American country. Whether you're wandering in the national park or making your way through a rugged trail in the woods, wearing a backpack is always better.

If you do it right, you can pack one’s week's worth of clothes into a carry-on and a personal item. Then, you only need to do your laundry weekly. If your Costa Rica itinerary is jam-packed without much time for a visit to the laundromat, you can pack 2 weeks of clothes in a checked bag and a day pack.

Check out Cabinzero rucksacks and backpacks if you’re still looking for a new travel companion to Costa Rica. Our Classic lineup is chic, water-resistant, and durable. If you want more comfort, the ADV and ADV Pro, with their padded hip belt, padded back panel, and chest belt, are more than enough to make your back and shoulders happy during a long trek.

Bring a beach bag or shoulder bag to store your towels, change of clothes, wallet, keys, and more when you are hitting the beach after a long day of ziplining or rafting. While at it, throw on a quality backpack cover - an essential for, say, rainy Monteverde.

First Aid Kit 

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Bandages are a must if you’re in for a long jungle hike. Photo By Svitlana - stock.adobe.com

Basic medical supplies are available in most hotels. Even when your budget hotel doesn’t offer it, you can easily find a clinic or pharmacy (known as farmacias) around town. You can refer to this and this for more information. You can streamline your medical supply with:

  • Ointment and/or cream for wound treatment
  • Aloe vera (optional) if your skin is prone to sunburn
  • Antibacterial gel for wound cleaning and hand washing.
  • Blister bandages: If you’re expecting a lot of trekking/hiking through the forests and mountains, they’re your lifesavers.

Sunscreen, Sunglasses & Hats

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The sun is stronger in the tropics, so always use sunscreen. Photo By corradobarattaphotos - stock.adobe.com

It seems obvious, but we don’t mind reminding you to bring your sunscreen - a good sunblock of 30 SPF or higher. Sunscreen is very expensive here. Pack double the amount of sunscreen you want to bring; you are going to use them a lot.

Only 8 to 12 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica is truly a tropical zone with powerful sunshine, especially at high altitudes. Therefore, sunburn will be the worst nightmare for your dream beach lounging and mountain trekking. If you’re jumping into some water adventures, check if your sunscreen is waterproof and, preferably, reef-friendly.

And as we’re talking about the tropics, don’t forget to throw on two pairs of sunglasses to protect your eyes, too. Save a place for a wide-brimmed hat as well, to cover up from the strong sun rays.

Mosquito Repellents

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Bring your mosquito repellants from home, as these products are very expensive in CR. Photo By Encierro Adobe on Adobe

Costa Rica's tropical climate means there are mosquitoes year-round. They are more common in beach regions, especially during rainy seasons (from May to October). Poor drainage in Costa Rica’s streets leads to the formation of puddles, creating ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. 

DEET repellents are a favourite brand of many travellers. Yet, if you prefer natural alternatives, many organic stores in Costa Rica sell repelling oil or natural sprays.

Clothes

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Keep your wardrobe casual when coming to Costa Rica. Photo By Galyna Andrushko - stock.adobe.com

Costa Rica is the land of a casual, laid-back wardrobe. Looking for wise clothing advice to put on outfits that won’t scream “tourists”? It’s simple: dress casually. Slipping into a comfy top and shorts and putting on sandals can help you blend in well with the crowd.

Overall Recommendation

Anything comfortable and practical is the right answer. Bring breathable skirts and shorts, which, for your minimalist wardrobe, will be the best choice. Bright colours are not recommended as they scare the wildlife away, so you should pack neutral-coloured pieces instead. 

Yet, since Costa Rica has various areas and different climates, we also have some extra clothing advice right below:

  • Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast: Unless you're staying at some fanciest resorts in town, you won't have to follow any dress codes in beach towns. Even a lovely sundress will make you look refined and stand out there. When you don't feel like dressing up, T-shirts, tank tops and shorts are the way to go. 
  • Mountainous areas: The best formula for your wardrobe is quick-dry, moisture-wicking tops with hiking pants or athletic shorts.
  • Volcano regions: Expect hot and dry weather in areas like Arenal, Irazu Volcano, La Fortuna, and Tenorio. Comfortable and loose shorts and T-shirts will work best there. The temperature might drop near Lake Arenal, so bring some spare layers of clothing.
  • San Gerardo de Dota and Cloud Forests of Monteverde: Packing for cloud forests like Monteverde or San Gerardo de Dota is not the same as for tropical Costa Rica. Due to the high elevation, it gets cooler and wetter in these regions.

Therefore, dress in layers to protect yourself from the cold, whether you're hiking at ground level or on hanging bridges. Here is the formula: 

  • Moisture-wicking base layer 
  • Lightweight sweater or fleece
  • A waterproof layer like a poncho, raincoat, windbreaker or jacket.
  • South Pacific and Osa Peninsula: Again, humidity is the real deal here in the Osa Peninsula, which can be 80% year-round. So make sure to choose moisture-wicking fabric even when you do not have a hiking plan in mind. 
  • Around the city of San José: For a walk around San José - Costa Rica's capital, you can stick to casual dresses. But note that It's less common to see women walking around in their swimsuits and flip-flops, so you can save them for your beach time. For men, you can pack a short-sleeved button-down shirt and pants for your city strolls.

Pack For Each Activity

The rule of thumb here is to pack for activities. Do you want to go hiking in the morning and ziplining in the afternoon? Then, bring at least two sets of clothes. It’s hard to wear one outfit for the whole day in Costa Rica; your clothes will get sweaty and dirty unless you plan on doing only one thing for a day.

Pack At Least One Thing To Keep You Warm

Again, it can get chilly and windy at times, especially during night car drives. Thus, at least one piece of long-sleeve shirt or sweater should be on your Costa Rica packing list. Remember to also pack long pants and socks to leave no room for the cold to bite.

Underwear

It’s hard to recommend the right amount of undies and socks as individuals' use and preferences vary. However, you should bring enough to supply yourself each day. If you want to pack light, we recommend bringing 7 pairs and washing them weekly as you go. For ladies, sports bras are great if you want to do some adventures.

Shoes

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A pair of sturdy hiking shoes will support your feet on bumpy terrains. Photo By Daniele Bianchini on Pexels

When it comes to footwear, you need to prioritise comfort over fashion. This means leaving your skinny heels at home, as sidewalks are barely a thing in the country. 

Are you planning to do something active in Costa Rica, such as a hike through the dense jungles or national parks? Then, a pair of sturdy, closed-toed trail shoes should be on your checklist. Flip-flops are also a go-to for the beaches. They are wonderful for leisure strolls around towns.

Since the tropic land can rain hard, quick-drying and waterproof footwear are your smartest choices. This also means that thick leather hiking boots (that take forever to dry) aren’t your best friend in Costa Rica.

Water shoes or sports sandals (great addition!)

Are white-water rafting, hiking tours through the rain and mud, or kayaking on your itinerary? These adventures normally get your feet wet, and that’s when sports sandals or water shoes like Keen or Merrel come in.

They will help to protect your feet from water and sand. Some beaches in Costa Rica are also rugged and rocky, and you might find your water shoes are even more enjoyable to wear than flip-flops.

A comfortable pair of shoes for town exploration

If your luggage still has space, throw in a pair of strap-on sandals or lightweight running shoes. They’re especially useful if you’re doing a self-guided tour of museums, cafes, town centres, souvenir stores, etc.

Rain Jacket

Rain jackets are essential, even when you visit the Rich Coast during its dry season. Photo By Daniele Bianchini on Pexels

The rainy season runs from May to December. A lightweight, water-proof rain jacket is also a must if you're visiting mountainous areas like Poas, Monteverde, Dominical, Vara Blanca, Bajos del Toro, Uvita, Bijagua, Monteverde or Osa Peninsula.

Yet, things might be a bit unpredictable in the Caribbean, as sudden downpours are common in Costa Rica, and even a walk on the beach could end up getting yourself wet. So, throw in your rain jacket no matter what season you visit the place.

Toiletries

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Tampons can be scarce in Costa Rica, so be prepared! Photo By RaspberryStudio - stock.adobe.com

Skip a full-blown toiletries bag, as you can get almost any toiletries in Costa Rica. That said, if there are specific brands you think it's hard to find in the country, feel free to slip them into your suitcase. 

However, It's a bit challenging to find these items in Costa Rica, or they can get incredibly expensive: 

  • Pad and tampons for women (especially less common in remote/rural areas)
  • Detangler or hair gel
  • Tissues and face wipes
  • Again, contact solution, bug spray, and sunscreen are $$$$ here, so always bring your own, if you can.

Contact Lens

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You can get contact lens solutions only in local pharmacies, and the price is quite high. Photo By Alexandra on Adobe

Contact lens + solutions + case: Contact lenses are easy to lose in the ocean when you're doing some active watersports. Unfortunately, not many places in Costa Rica sell contact lenses or their solution. Even if you’re lucky enough to find them, they can be a bit expensive. So, add your contact lenses (and an extra pair, if possible) to your suitcase.

Microfiber Towels

costa rica packing list - CabinZero

An absorbent, quick-dry towels are the key to a comfy day at the beach

Photo By Vasiliki Theodoridou on Pexels

You'll sweat a lot because Costa Rica is incredibly humid, whether it's wet or dry. While most resorts will offer beach towels for you, many hotels will ask you not to bring their in-room towels to the beach, hot spring, or waterfall. 

Anyway, it always feels more like home using your towels. We're currently falling in love with microfiber towels as they take way little time to dry up, and are easy to slip into your luggage.

Swimsuit

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Pack your favourite swimsuits to enjoy hot springs and famous beaches in Costa Rica. Photo By raquelm. - stock.adobe.com

Bring two bathing suits to rotate, as it might take a while for your suits to dry. If you plan to do some surfing, paddling, or scuba diving, prepare a rash guard.

Cover-up is also essential for your post-beach time. A sarong or a bath suit cover-up can double as a dress or romper for you to snap something to eat or drink in Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach (known as OB and PB).

If you have never tried sarong before, you're incredibly missed out. This versatile piece of accessories can be used as a beach towel (it's incredibly quick-drying), dress and coverup for walking around town or visiting more sacred sites like temples.

Reusable Drink Bottle

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Tap water is commonly safe to drink in Costa Rica, so bring your reusable bottle! Photo By Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

To keep yourself hydrated on the go, prepare your favourite reusable water bottle. Since Costa Rica is a very eco-friendly country, it’s encouraging to bring your own water bottle to avoid your plastic footprint during your trip. Tap water is widely available in the tropics, as well. Yet, for those with sensitive stomachs, a water filter will help avoid unwanted health issues.

HeadLamp Or Flashlight

costa rica packing list - CabinZero

The streets are not well-lit in the country, so your flashlight or headlamp becomes an essential. Photo By on Cruz Greifeneder Unsplash

Headlamps or flashlights are not commonly travel essential unless you’re venturing into the backcountry or doing some nighttime mountain hiking. However, it’s an exception for Costa Rica’s packing list. 

This small Central American country has regular power outages, and there are normally little lights on the beaches or streets. A reliable source of light will prevent you from getting lost on your way home. Signing up for a turtle nesting tour? If so, choose a headlamp with a red beam. It’s a local requirement as the light will be easy on the animal’s eyes.

Medication

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Bring along your doctor’s prescription with your pills. Photo By chaiudom - stock.adobe.com

Like with any trip, pack enough medication for your vacation plus a few extra days’ worth of medicines for unexpected delays.  Ideally, all the pills should be in their original containers. Pack your medications in hand luggage, with a doctor’s prescription for custom check if necessary.

We recommend writing down the Spanish names of the medicines so you can easily buy them from the local “farmacias” - pharmacies. Also, take note of their active ingredients, just in case you can't find the same name brand in the local pharmacies.

Tech Gear

  • Travel adapter: Power outlets in Costa Rica are the same as in the US and Canada. Yet, if you're flying from other countries, prepare a travel adapter to charge your gear. 
  • Camera (optional): A camera is a nice-to-have item if you want to capture the landscape and outdoor beauty of the Rich Coast.
  • Battery Pack: Since power outages are pretty common in Costa Rica, you may want to have a fully charged power bank as a backup. 

Miscellaneous Items To Add Fun To Your Trip

  • Spanish book: While you can easily communicate in English in most tourist spots, chances are you can run into cab/bus drivers or vendors who speak Spanish only. 

It's always interesting to have a small conversation with the locals in their local tongue, so you can pack a pocket Spanish phrasebook with you.

  • Binoculars: With a lightweight, pocket pair of binoculars, you can get closer to bird species and wildlife high up in the trees. 
  • Collapsible trekking poles: These poles are key gear for trekkers, trail runners, and hikers. They provide more stability on rough terrains or when you're crossing the streams. Some brands can even act as a monopod for your camera. 

Packing For Rainy Seasons When Visiting Costa Rica

costa rica packing list - CabinZero

Gear up a rain jacket and waterproof backpack cover in rainy seasons. Photo By Etienne Delorieux on Unsplash

Costa Rica's rainy season runs from May through October. The abundant rainfalls bring a new lease of life to the country's lush forests. However, it can also ask for a few extra items on your Costa Rica packing list:

  • Rain jacket or poncho
  • Waterproof backpack
  • Rain cover for your backpack
  • Long sleeve shirt + long pants
  • Waterproof hiking shoes
  • Spare socks
  • More bug sprays/mosquito repellents

Pack For Every Eventuality When Coming To Costa Rica!

Packing for a trip is always a challenge, especially when you’re visiting a new and diverse country like Costa Rica. Whether you're planning to wander through the thick cloud forests, zip-line through the treetops, or simply lounge on the coastline, you need to pack the right clothes and gear.

We hope that this post will guide you through what to pack for the Rich Coast. This small city has so much to offer, and if you're well prepared, you can easily tackle the adventures your way. 

Is there anything you think is essential to add to this list? If yes, feel free to drop a comment and share this post with anyone with a plan to Costa Rica like you!

Kesley


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