An absolute gem of a nation, Costa Rica in Central America ticks many a traveller box!
From incredible wildlife to stunning landscapes, amazing diving to brilliant hiking, this is a small country that packs a heck of a lot in.
In fact, it’s one of the most eco-diverse places in the world!
So if outdoors, active, nature stuff is your kinda bag, then I can highly recommend visiting this stunning part of the world and, to help you out, here’s my ultimate Costa Rica packing list.
Taking you through, item by item, exactly what you need to pack for a trip to this country, this is the only checklist you’ll need to ensure you leave nothing behind that you might miss!
- The 21 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
- 10 Things to Know Before Backpacking Central America
- 20 Epic Things To Do on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
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Keep It Light: Packing Cubes and Backpacks
Before I get onto the actual checklist of what you should pack for your trip to Costa Roca, I wanted to write a quick few tips to cover some specific questions you might have.
First up, this packing list is designed to be lightweight, i.e. it’s ideal for backpackers, but also for anyone else heading to this country who doesn’t want to haul massive suitcases around.
If you’re moving about Costa Rica, which you definitely should, then lugging massive bags on and off buses or flights is simply no fun, so this packing list is designed to make sure you have everything you need for every inch of this country, without being too weighed down!
And if you manage to condense your stuff down well, then this whole Costa Rica packing list below should fit into a 40-50l backpack.
I never take anything bigger, even when I’m travelling for 6 months at a time, so you’ve got no excuse!
This 50l Aura backpack from Osprey makes a great option and would be brilliantly accompanied by some good packing cubes!
Yes these guys are the answer to all your packing problems my friends, and if you want to compress your gear to take up less space, as well as have it nicely organised, I highly suggest you get some!
I absolutely love these Osprey packing cubes and personally would never consider heading off to Central America, or indeed anywhere, without them.
Packing for Hiking
So while we’re on the subject of keeping the luggage weight down, it’s worth pointing out that the main checklist below does detail everything you need if you plan to hike a lot in Costa Rica, as I suggest you should.
The main overall advice here is to bring layers that are thin but still protect you from humidity, harsh UV rays and insects etc.
A thin, light waterproof jacket will be very handy when packing for hiking in rainforest areas and, as always, I recommend garments with lots of pockets so you have easy access to things like tissues, camera, sanitiser, snacks etc.
A silk sleeping bag liner will also be useful, especially if you’re enjoying multi-day treks in areas such as Corcovado, and no matter whether you’re tackling a big one like this or just day hikes, an active camera like the Go Pro Hero 8 will be ideal with its waterproof, compact and durable attributes.
Packing For Your Flight to Costa Rica
It’s also worth taking some time to think about what to wear on your flight to Costa Rica.
Making sure these items tie in as much as possible with the checklist below, will help you keep your packing light as you won’t be doubling up or carrying unnecessary things you won’t wear again until the flight home.
Quite simply, layers are key.
You never know how hot or cold a plane might be and if you want to get some sleep, comfy clothing is king.
This is especially true given flights to Costa Rica from Europe, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa are long haul (usually connecting with a flight in the USA), so I’d certainly advise wearing things you feel at ease in.
Ladies, I always wear leggings on long-haul flights and love these natural bamboo fibre ones from Boody, which I now never travel without!
I pair them with either a thin cotton top or dress (depending how much coverage you want) and then also take a sweater and a scarf on the plane for extra cosy layers.
The travel wraps from Sholdit, which have hidden security pockets are perfect for travel adventures and I love mine!Compression flight socks are also a must in my book when it comes to long haul flying as they help you avoid the possibility of DVT and I pair these with a lovely eye mask and earplugs to ensure I get some good zzz.
A travel pillow will also help you sleep and I love this one from MLVOC, which I just bought and I’m already a huge fan of thanks to its memory foam, high-sided design.
Gents, if leggings aren’t your thing, then loose-fitting jeans or comfy cargo pants might be a good option, with a t-shirt and thin sweater on top.
Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List
And so finally here it is, my item by item checklist for exactly what to pack and wear in Costa Rica …
1x Thin Waterproof / Windproof Jacket
Set in the tropics, Costa Rica can be wet and humid and very warm, which means thin layers are crucial here so that you can stay dry without overheating.
Taking a thinner jacket you can layer on or off when being active also makes a lot of sense. I personally love the North Face Venture 2.
1x Thick Hoodie / Sweater
Costa Rica rarely gets cold, but after a rainstorm, if you’re up for a dawn hike or post-diving, you might want to feel a bit snug.
As such, 1 thicker jumper is nice to take with you – I suggest wearing one on the plane anyway.
A good activewear sweater, like this Columbia fleece is well suited to the job, as it is designed for outdoors travel and is perfect for hiking and camping.
2x Thin Long-Sleeved Tops
Good for cooler days, or when hiking / travelling, thin long-sleeved top are also ideal when you need to layer as they can be worn under thicker jumpers.
Choosing a natural fibre like cotton or merino, is a good choice for budget vs comfort.
It will also reduce the amount you sweat.
Thin tops also make for an excellent hiking base layer.
7x Singlets / T-Shirts
Choose tops that match the trousers / leggings / shorts you choose to pack and consider quick-dry or moisture-wicking options.
T-shirts are good for covering shoulders and offering sun protection in the tropical climate of Costa Rica.
2x Pairs Long Pants / Trousers
Great for going out in the evening or wandering around towns when it’s rainy, a couple of pairs of versatile trousers are a must when it comes to packing for Costa Rica.
I think 2 is a good number to cover a wide range of activities from strolling to going out in the evening to nature time.
Costa Rica is not super conservative and is used to tourists, but even then, locals tend to wear longer items of clothing that at least stretch to the knee and you may feel more comfortable doing the same.
Just make sure any trousers you pack are thin as this country is rarely cold! You’re way more likely to sweat rather than shiver!
2x Pairs Leggings / Hiking Pants
One of my travel essentials, leggings are so helpful for hiking, volunteering or exercising, for being comfortable, for extra nightwear or for under a casual dress in the evening.
If you have room, my advice is to take 2 pairs and make them bamboo fibre ones if possible, as these guys are soft, light, comfortable, breathable, quick-dry and hypoallergenic… what’s not to love!
If you don’t like leggings, hiking trousers or loose-fitting pants will do instead as they are also good for travel days and if you plan to undertake any volunteer work.
2x Pairs Shorts
You’re going to need something to wear during those hots beach days in Costa Rica, especially if you’re in the country to dive, surf or generally live it up by the ocean!
2x Light Dresses
Again a good item for beach days.
Or if you want to dress up a bit during the evening, you can pair these over a pair of leggings too!
You see, so versatile!
8x Pairs Underwear
Small and compact, 8 pairs will save you a lot of handwashing.
2x Bras + 2x Sports Bra
Small and great for hiking. I really love this black one from Nike.
5x Pairs Socks
Make sure you take ones of various lengths / thickness, including ankle socks for city days and good, non-blister socks that stretch over the ankle for hiking and nature activities.
I always recommend a couple of sarongs whenever I travel because they are so versatile.
Great for hiking, lying on the beach, using as a thin sheet at night or trying to keep your neck protected from the sun or sweat out of your eyes, the list goes on and on!These sarongs from 1 World have some beautiful designs too.
1x Cap / Sun Hat
Something to shield your face, neck and ears from the strong UV rays that are very prevalent in Costa Rica and which you’ll be exposed to for long periods of time if you’re in national parks etc.
2x Bikinis / Swimwear
Well you need something to enjoy those fabulous beaches with that’s for sure!
Hopefully they’ll get so much use, you’ll see packing 2 pairs as a worthy use of space!
1x Pair Sunglasses
Make sure they are UV protected and consider prescription ones if you wear glasses usually.
You can always double up on your daywear here to save room.
Otherwise, thin and light cotton shorts and top will do the job.
1x Pair Hiking Boots
Depending on your plans (i.e. are you making a ton of multi-day tough treks or just enjoying day hikes) either hiking boots, hiking shoes or trail runners will do.
Check out this post I wrote to learn more about the difference between these.
Personally, I’d opt for something lighter in Costa Rica – the climate here is warm, so you definitely want something breathable and you won’t be scrabbling too many mountains.
1x Pair Trainers / Runner / Day Shoes
Either converse, pumps or sneakers for exploring cities and towns on foot.
These New Balance black trainers are great all-rounders.
1x Pair Flip Flops / Sandals
Personally I’d never travel anywhere without my Arizona Birkenstocks and neither should you!
Thin Toiletries Bag with Hook
A light and thin wash bag is also essential for keeping the weight in your bag down.
And those with a hook are easy to hang up in small bathrooms or when out in nature.
This one is a great option.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
I always go for shampoo and conditioner bars when I travel to save the plastic and keep the space down.
Although they are a bit pricey, they last for ages.
Say goodbye to mid-travel spillages and bulky bottles people, this is the eco-friendly future!
Keep in a ziplock bag to prevent from getting soap slime on everything you own!
I suggest an anti-bacterial bar as they are great for keeping you clean in tropical climates where you’re likely to be sweating a bit!
I always pack a natural crystal deodorant as they last forever (great if you’re travelling for a few months) and are free from many nasty chemicals.
They are also the only thing that stops me sweaty in the tropical heat.
Face Cleanser, Toner & Moisturiser
Great for bringing your skin back to life after days in the strong sun and salty ocean.
Choose a 30 SPF or higher for those strong rays in Costa Rica and go natural if you can to keep the chemicals out of your skin.
Natural Bug Repellent
This doubles as a great moisturiser, soother and aftersun – much needed in Central America.
Buy some organic aloe vera here.
SPF Lip Salve
Very important for those strong UV conditions and keeping your lips healthy and happy.Burt Bees are always my go-to as they never dry out my lips and offer excellent SPF protection.
Tea-Tree Essential Oil
A powerful antiseptic, anti-mould, anti-fungal treatment.
Also great to throw in a few drops with your washing and ideal for freshening up smelly bags / laundry etc.
Get an organic tea-tree oil if you can.
You won’t regret this if you’re travelling for a while in the humid climate of Costa Rica!
An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites, tiger balm is super versatile and a must on my Costa Rica packing list, especially if the mosquitoes love you as much as me!
Paracetamol, Anti-Septic Cream, Rehydration Salts & Band-Aids
The only medicine you need to take.
Most things can easily be bought in Costa Rica, which is probably more westernised than you envisage.
The best way to deal with your time of the month when travelling ladies.
Saves the planet from more waste too.
Check out the best prices for them here.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Razor & Spare Blades
Nail Scissors & Nail File
Cotton Buds / Pads
Glasses / Contact Lenses if you wear them
Eye Mask & Earplugs
Key for sleeping in hostels and / or when camping.
This eye mask from Alaska Bear is super comfy… go on treat yourself!
I recommend Latrek when it comes to the best travel towel because they are cheap, compact, soft and don’t smell.
Love, love, love mine.
Read my full review here.
Definitely needed for hiking, sightseeing and active adventure days, this one from Marmot is perfect for the job as it’s super featherweight and packs down to next to nothing.
Literally an ideal item for your Costa Rica packing list.
Very useful for locking up bags and valuables when staying in hostels or on bus rides, these don’t have to be expensive, just reliable!
Best to get a TSA-approved one in case of any hassle at the airport.
Filter Water Bottle
Try not to add to the world’s plastic problem and consider travelling with a filter water bottle.
Not only does this mean you can safely and easily drink the tap water in Costa Rica, but it will also save you the money and hassle of having to buy bottled water.
Much cheaper and more environmentally friendly, the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottles have an amazing technology that filters out 99.9% of harmful bacteria and the filter lasts for 4000 litres, which means you’ll likely only have to replace it once a year!
Great for doing emergency washing, such as underwear in a sink, travel handwash is always a must when I backpack anywhere.
So useful in Central America if you’re diving, surfing, heading to the rainforest and travelling during the rainy season!
These small and compact guys are great for keeping your electrical equipment safe and dry.
Check out this top-rated one for ideas.
Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
Personally, I wouldn’t bother with a full sleeping bag if you’re travelling in Central America, it’s just too hot to warrant it most of the year.
That said, a silk liner, which will keep you snug at night and actually stop you sweating is the perfect alternative and it’s lighter and less bulky to carry too.
Check out this one to learn more.
Latin American Spanish Phrasebook
Even though most people speak English in this country (especially those working in the tourism sector), having a little bit of Spanish under your belt will go a long way in Costa Rica.
I strongly suggest investing in a Latin American Spanish phrasebook therefore and using it to pick up at least a few basic phrases to ingratiate yourself with the locals.
When it comes to language learning, a little really can go a long way.
Lots of people say you don’t need this, but I find it very helpful.
Choose a light, inexpensive one and make sure it has a bottle opener, corkscrew and knife – like this.
When you’re out in nature in Costa Rica, a multi-tool can come in very handy.
Smartphone & Headphones
Taking your smartphone to stay in touch with those at home, checking maps, booking accommodation and uploading some pics while you’re in Costa Rica is a great idea.
Also download some audiobooks and music onto your phone before you leave home – a great idea for journey days.
I recommend Amazon Audible and Spotify Premium for these purposes and wouldn’t travel without either.
Portable Power Pack
Portable power packs are great when travelling, especially if you’re out sightseeing and snapping all day and worried about your phone or camera battery lasting.
I recommend the Anker Powercore, it’s light and can charge my iPhone 7 around 5 times in one go!
I love my Sony A600 mirrorless camera, which I used throughout my travels in Latin America and beyond.
Light, compact and sturdy, it’s perfect for travelling.
A GoPro Hero 8 is also a great idea to help capture the more active adventures you might have in this country such as hiking, waterfall chasing or diving.
It’s also great for video.
Lens, Spare Battery, Memory Card & Charger
All essential for the camera and / or the Go Pro.
Costa Rica uses European style outlets, so get a Skross World Adapter that won’t fail you.
Headlamp & Spare Batteries
I never travel anywhere without a headlamp and recommend you choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red night light function to keep the bugs at bay.
I love my Black Diamond number, which has served me very well across Central America, especially during those occasional power cuts!
Documents & Paperwork
Passport & Photocopies
Definitely take a colour copy of your passport and keep it on your person at all times.
Taking a photo of your passport and storing it safely in your email account is also a good idea.
Depending where you’re from of course, you may or may not need this for Costa Rica.
Most European and North American passport folders get visa-free entry on a 90 day tourist stamp obtained at both land and air border points.
Always good to have with you wherever you travel.
Travel Insurance Policy
Can’t go wrong with the excellent travel insurance from travel insurance from World Nomads in my opinion.
I’ve used them during my travels in Costa Rica because they cover you for many outdoor and sporty activities, which are a key part of many peoples’ Central American adventures.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
If you’re from the UK, the Starling Banking app can provide you with a current account and debit card that doesn’t charge you for transactions or ATM withdrawals in Costa Rica.
If you’re there for a while, this will save you a lot of money.
Also remember that you will need a credit card (plus an international driving license) if you want to rent a vehicle in Costa Rica.
Hidden Cash in Small Thin Purse
Take some USD cash with you that can be exchanged into Costa Rican Colons in case of an emergency.
Sadly, at some point, it’s going to be time to go home *sob sob *
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
And there it is, my ultimate Costa Rica packing list and the only one you’ll ever need!
Designed to be practical, while keeping things light, I hope I’ve covered all with this item by item checklist
Have any questions about what to pack for your time in this Central American nation?
Did I miss anything out on this packing list?
Please drop any comments into the box below and I’ll get back to you…