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25 Top Central America Packing List Items for 2024 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

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The region of Central America is lush, beautiful, and full of some of the most amazing wildlife – not to mention beaches – you’ll ever see! Some specifics can vary by country, of course, but the area as a whole is fairly tropical and wet.

After learning first-hand how tough it can be to pack for the varied climates and terrains, I’ve put together a packing list to help guide you! You’ll learn what to wear in Central America, what NOT to bring, what the seasons are like, and the answers to top FAQs.

Remember your smile, your patience, and a great sense of adventure! Enjoy your trip!

Exploring the jungles of Central America never gets old.
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What to Pack for Central America – 25 Essentials

  • 1. Neck Wallet

    Central America has its fair share of pickpockets, especially in touristy destinations. A neck wallet is a great way to keep your valuables safe and easily accessible. During long travel journeys, you also have a lot of passports, tickets, and travel documents to keep up with, this will make it considerably easier and prevent anything from falling out of your pocket or being snagged by sticky fingers. It also has RFID-blocking material to stop thieves from scanning your credit cards.

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  • 2. Activated Charcoal

    Food poisoning or a simple upset stomach is more common when on the road, that’s why it’s called Traveler’s Diarrhea! Sleep deprivation, foreign microbes, and windy mountain roads can be a recipe for even worse sickness. It’s a good idea to keep some activated charcoal on hand in case illness strikes at an inopportune time. It detoxes your body to get you back on your feet more quickly.

    Activated Charcoal

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  • 3. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

    There is a rising number of cybersecurity crimes in Central America, so you must protect your sensitive digital info (like credit card numbers, passwords, and even your identity) from hackers with a virtual private network.

    Not everyone realizes that whenever you connect to public wifi in hotels, Airbnbs, restaurants, and the airport – you’re putting your personal information at risk. However, affordable services like NordVPN make it easy to keep your private data secure with just 1-click. We even use it at home and wouldn’t recommend traveling internationally without it.

    Virtual Private Network (VPN)

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  • 4. Quick-Dry Travel Towel

    A microfiber towel is always handy on a beach day or for hanging out by the pool. It can also be your best friend due to its small size combined with its handy stuff sack. Extra points for its quick dry time (10x faster than traditional cotton, and way lighter too!)

    Quick-Dry Travel Towel

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  • 5. Waterproof Phone Pouch

    Since you’ll be surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific, and giant ponds like Lake Nicaragua, you will likely need a waterproof phone case. We like this pouch that allows you to film underwater videos, in case you don’t want to bring a full-fledged camera. Either way, you don’t want to risk dropping your phone in a hotel pool or the Panama Canal without one of these!

    Waterproof Phone Pouch

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  • 6. Travel Insurance for Central America

    A formerly mandated item that should not be taken lightly – travel insurance is essential when leaving the country. Paying out of pocket for incidents could cost tens of thousands, and some people don’t realize that their domestic provider only covers them at home.

    We use Faye Travel Insurance since they are the best provider we’ve come across in years! Instead of doing piles of paperwork and relying on a slimy provider that doesn’t want to support you, Faye makes the claims process a breeze through their mobile app. They pay you when you need the funds most, reimbursing you through the app too and wiring you the money quickly. Don’t neglect to add this item to your packing list, it’s a small expense and you won’t regret having it.

    Travel Insurance for Central America

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  • 7. High-Quality Filtered Water Bottle

    In the event that you have no access to bottled water, a premium filtered water bottle will have you covered. It’s small, portable, and can filter quite a lot of water before the filter needs to be replaced. It purifies unclean tap water from parasites, bacteria, viruses, microplastics, sediment, and more. It’s not worth the risk of a trip to the hospital, this water bottle is way cheaper!

    High-Quality Filtered Water Bottle

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  • 8. Lightweight Daypack

    This essential item will come in handy during excursions and hikes during the day. It’s also very practical when you are traveling by bus, and the rest of your luggage is stored in the compartment underneath the vehicle. Make sure you keep your valuables (including IDs, visas, and passport), water, and some snacks for the day on your person in this pack.

    Lightweight Daypack

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  • 9. Universal Power Adapter

    Countries like Belize, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, and more will not need a power adapter, but a universal one is great to have for future travel. We always use this universal power adapter when traveling overseas, it works in 100+ countries and comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee, which means the quality is top-notch!

    Universal Power Adapter

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  • 10. Discounted Tickets on Central American Tours

    Whether you want to chase waterfalls and hot springs in Costa Rica, or trek volcanos in Guatemala – There are incredible excursions and cultural tours in Central America. We loved visiting the Mayan Ruins in Mexico, and sometimes the slower pace of a food tour or sailing is the perfect activity.

    Our favorite booking service is Get Your Guide, they’re a fantastic intermediary that connects you to local tourism countries so you can get the most authentic experience. I’ve noticed their tickets are often cheaper than booking directly with tourism sites.

    Discounted Tickets on Central American Tours

    See all Central American attractions at ➜

  • 11. Affordable Action Camera

    Central America is known for its amazing views of lakes and mountains, ancient ruins, and colorful cities. Make sure you carry a camera to capture all of it. Keep in mind that using your smartphone can attract the eyes of pickpockets. This option is waterproof, in case you want to go on an underwater adventure.

    Affordable Action Camera

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  • 12. Spanish Dictionary / Phrasebook

    Remember that the most spoken language in Central America is Spanish. If you are not familiar with the language, a phrasebook will come in handy. Do not rely entirely on Internet solutions and translators, you may find yourself in a situation where an old-school pocket-sized dictionary could save your life… figuratively, of course.

    Spanish Dictionary / Phrasebook

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  • 13. Flotation Strap

    And don’t forget to attach a flotation strap to all of your essential items. I once dropped my phone in a lake, and even though it was protected by a trusty waterproof case, it couldn’t float– so it sank to the bottom out of sight. I learned my lesson the hard way and hope that you don’t have to! Attach a buoyant strap as a layer of insurance for your phone, camera, keys, or anything you wouldn’t want to lose.

    Flotation Strap

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  • 14. TSA-Approved Luggage Locks

    Unfortunately, we had a pair of sunglasses stolen from our checked luggage once on an international flight. Now, we always secure our things with these TSA-approved luggage locks. Bring a couple of sets with you for checked suitcases, backpacks in crowded areas prone to theft, city lockers, hotel lockers, and more.

    TSA-Approved Luggage Locks

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  • 15. Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger

    Keeping your electronics charged is one of the most important things when you are traveling. However, sometimes finding a place to do so can take precious time away from your exploration. Having a portable charger will allow you to maintain enough battery to supply your camera, phone, and other small electronics.

    Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger

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  • 16. Jet Lag Relief

    Long flights, layovers, and time changes are not a forgiving combination. Combat the effects of travel days with jet lag relief. These make a big difference in feeling adjusted when you land, so you can immediately start exploring and immerse yourself in the culture! With natural ingredients, it’s very gentle on the system, which is way better than similar products that use caffeine and harsh stimulants.

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  • 17. Packing Cubes

    If you haven’t tried packing cubes before, you’re in for a treat! These game-changers will make packing so much easier and you will be super organized for the duration of your trip. Instead of throwing clothes all over the hotel or Airbnb, use these cubes to pack similar items together, labeling them (shoes, pants, shirts, essentials, etc.) You’ll never lose that concert t-shirt again and it makes repacking at the end of the trip WAY easier. The bonus laundry bags are definitely a perk!

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  • 18. Rain Shell

    A lightweight rain jacket is always necessary in Central America. The rainy season extends from May to November, but small showers throughout the year are not unusual, and believe me: when it rains, it pours! You’ll be glad to have a little extra protection if you get caught in the middle of one!

    Rain Shell

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  • 19. Windproof Travel Umbrella

    Along the same lines, an umbrella is wise to have on-hand. This reliable umbrella is compact, well constructed, and comes with a carrying case that allows you to store your umbrella without getting surrounding items wet.


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  • 20. Mosquito-Repellent Wristbands

    Dengue Fever is still prevalent in this area and central America’s warm, humid climate and abundance of jungle means that it can be a breeding ground for some pretty horrifying insects. You don’t want to risk your health with a mosquito-borne illness, so use bug repellant to prevent itchy bites, which could also become infected. These wearable wristbands are a nice compromise to spray bottles since you don’t have to reapply it all day. They’re also non-toxic and safe for kids.

    Mosquito-Repellent Wristbands

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  • 21. Cooling Towel

    In Guatamala, for example, the average daytime temperature regularly reaches 100˚F! So you will absolutely need a cooling towel to beat the heat. This baby drops to 30-degrees colder than the outside temp, and stays chilly for up to an hour. It’s a frosty delight and works by simply adding water. We love it and won’t visit anywhere tropical or humid without it. Some may consider it a luxury, but when you’re melting in triple-digit heat, you’ll thank us!

    Cooling Towel

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  • 22. Hanging Toiletry Bag

    Bathrooms are hit or miss in central america. You may have a squat toilet and no countertop space, or you may have a luxury abode. Even if you have storage – opt for this hanging toiletry bag to stay organized. It creates a built-in shelf and can hold all skincare, haircare, makeup, and first-aid items. It consolidates all liquids which also prevents luggage spills.

    Hanging Toiletry Bag

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  • 23. Dry Shampoo

    Keep in mind that some of the countries in Central America are in a state of development. Depending on where you go, there may be instances where water is unavailable, or just too cold to comfortably bathe. Dry shampoo will keep you looking fresh even when a shower isn’t an option.

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  • 24. Motion Sickness Patches

    The often undeveloped roads of Central America can be bumpy! Not to mention the bumpy boat rides and water activities that could have you turning a little green. Motion sickness patches are a smart preventative measure to pack. This holistic option is very subtle but will help if you’re prone to land or seasickness.

    Motion Sickness Patches

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  • 25. Packable “Just in Case” Bag

    We’ve all suffered through that common traveler experience – you didn’t pack enough bags! This “just in case” bag is the perfect backup plan for shopping and underplanning. This option is fantastic because it’s made of duffel material that’s super lightweight AND it counts as your personal time on the flight (so you can avoid carry-on fees!) Use it to buy some new clothes and indulge in some regional treats like spices, coffee, tea, chocolate, hot sauce, textiles, sarongs, jewlery, and more.

    Packable “Just in Case” Bag

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What To Wear In Central America

The countries in Central America all have their own unique cultures, but they are largely united by the fact that they are primarily Catholic. With this in mind, it’s important to be considerate when visiting this part of the world, and wear conservative clothing, regardless of how warm it might be.

This means lightweight breathable fabrics like cotton or linen will be most comfortable. Athletic clothing also does well to help wick sweat, and offer sun protection. Pack layers, as temperatures can fluctuate widely at higher elevations.

The street style in Central America is quite similar to the United States, but just slightly more formal. This means pressed button-down shirts for men, and stylish dresses or blouses for women. It’s most important to dress for comfort, rather than fashion, but aim for a look that is cool (literally!) and collected.

What Should Women Wear? – (Click to expand)
When visiting Central America, women should favor practical, conservative clothing. While the culture tends to be slightly more formal than in the US, it’s not necessary to wear anything fancy. Instead, coordinate outfits that look polished but will still protect you from the sun, bugs, and will be comfortable in the heat.

Shorts and sundresses are totally acceptable, but try to keep the hemlines on the conservative side. Lightweight, loose fitting clothing will feel most fresh in the humidity and heat. When it comes to shoes, it’s good to have a couple of options. Comfortable, broken-in sneakers or running shoes are best for exploring. Flats or sandals are a more stylish choice for dinners out, or days at the beach.

A small or medium crossbody purse is the most practical handbag choice. You never want to carry more than you need. A stylish crossbody can hold the essentials and be held close to your body to deter thieves.

What Should Men Wear? – (Click to expand)
The men of Central America are masters of casual, well-put-together looks. Visiting men should take note! Button-down shirts and jeans or slacks are the typical uniform for locals. Men visiting Central America likely won’t be acclimatized to the heat, so pants may feel too heavy. Instead, opt for shorts paired with a t-shirt or button-down.

Be sure to bring at least one slightly formal outfit for nights out or fine dining establishments. Chino pants and a pressed button-down should be just the ticket! When it comes to footwear, be practical. A pair of comfortable sneakers is essential for days with lots of walking, while sandals are fine for beach days. Remember to pack a couple of light layers, especially if you’re headed to a high-altitude location, as it can be cool in Central America.

Packing for the Seasons in Central America

Wet Season (June, July, August, September, October)

Central America’s wet season runs from June through October. The temperatures and humidity are high during these months (both averaging in the 80ºs), and hurricanes can occur as well. If visiting during this time of year, packing can be a challenge. You need to plan for sun, bug, and rain protection, all while ensuring your outfits will keep you feeling fresh in the heat. Favor loose-fitting items, ideally with breathable fabrics. Remember, if your clothes get wet, it can be difficult to dry them again in the humidity. Aim for lightweight fabrics and synthetics. A rain shell or poncho is a wise addition to your packing list, but remember, when it rains, the air is still hot! Also be sure to bring sensible walking shoes or hiking boots, as you’re bound to encounter mud in rural areas.

Dry Season (November, December, January, February, March, April, May)

Central America’s dry season coincides with the high season for tourism. Average daily temperatures hover comfortably in the high 70ºs and humidity levels are lower as well. For visits during the dry season, plan to pack warm-weather attire– sundress, shorts, t-shirts, but include a few light layers as well. Temperatures can be chilly, especially after dark. A light sweater, fleece jacket, or pashmina will cut the chill without taking up valuable space in your bag. Take precautions, and pack a light rain poncho as well, because an occasional rain shower may still occur.

Dressing for Activities in Central America – (Click to expand)
Archaeological Sites – Central America is home to countless incredible archaeological sites, and it’s no doubt that your travel itinerary will include at least one! When visiting these landmarks, prepare for sun. Most of the sites are very exposed, with minimal shade. Pack a sun hat, sunscreen and bug spray. Athletic clothing will keep you looking and feeling fresh(ish) even if you’re sweltering in the heat. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be logging a lot of steps.

Cathedrals – The Spaniards spared no expense when constructing cathedrals throughout Central America. Even if you’re not interested in history or religion, these buildings are incredible sights to behold. Just remember, most cathedrals are still active places of worship and it’s important to behave respectfully. Don’t wear anything too revealing– ladies, pack a pashmina to throw over your exposed shoulders. Always keep your voices down, and obey any signs forbidding photography.

Visiting Markets – The markets of Central America feature everything from textiles and leather products to hand-carved toys and delicious food. They’re the ultimate shopping destination! Markets tend to be crowded so it’s crucial to take precautions against pickpockets. Keep your money and valuables close to your body, either in a small purse or a money belt. Also be sure to wear closed-toe shoes as your toes may be trampled in the commotion if exposed. If carrying a backpack try wearing it on your front, unless you have locking zippers.

What NOT to bring to Central America

  • 1.Heavy Layers

    There’s really no need to pack heavy outerwear in Central America. You’ll do best with versatile, lighter pieces which can be worn individually or together for extra warmth. Save space in your bag for souvenirs!

  • 2.Valuables

    Traveling with valuables can be anxiety-inducing. It’s a drag to feel like you need to be on-guard all the time, to ensure nothing goes missing or is damaged. Vacation should be relaxing, so leave valuables at home whenever possible!

  • 3.Books

    Books are bulky, heavy and magnets for humidity. Opt for an eReader instead. It’s often cheaper to buy ebooks and you can fit hundreds of titles on a device that’s more compact than the average paperback.

  • 4.Formal Clothing

    Skip formal clothing like high heels, gowns or suits. Sure, you may want to dress up for a night out, but there’s really no need to go all out. Instead pack a versatile maxi dress that can transition from day no night. Men, opt for dark
    chinos and a button-down shirt.

  • 5.Makeup

    It’s easy to just toss your entire makeup bag into your luggage and go, but it’s not necessary. In Central America’s hot, humid climate you’re bound to sweat-off anything you apply. Instead of packing your whole kit, stick to a few essentials: tinted moisturizer with SPF protection, mascara and blush. You won’t regret all the space (and weight) you save in your bag!

What NOT to wear in Central America – (Click to expand)
When visiting Central America avoid wearing lots of expensive jewelry. There is no need to be glam, and it can just attract the attention of pickpockets. The same goes for flashy watches. Leave valuables safe at home! Also skip wearing heavy cotton fabrics, as they tend to soak up moisture and are nearly impossible to dry in the humid climate. Instead, favor light layers and guide-drying synthetic articles of clothing.

FAQs about Central America travel

  • 1. What is the best way to get around?

    The best option will really depend on the style of your trip, but you’ll have many modes available to you. Renting a car is a good option as long as you are not intimidated by the idea that traffic laws are treated more like guidelines than actual rules.

    Central American countries tend to have very sophisticated public transportation systems. The vehicles are usually far from luxurious, but there are generally many buses leaving daily to anywhere you need to go. For getting around locally, taxis are usually the best option, though some countries have Uber.

  • 2. Will I be able to communicate in English?

    With the exception of Belize, the primary language of every Central American country is Spanish. Knowing basic Spanish phrases is really helpful. However, many individuals, especially those working in tourism and hospitality, speak at least a little bit of English. Arm yourself with a phrasebook and the Google translate app and you’ll be just fine.

  • 3. Is it safe to travel in Central America?

    Generally speaking, yes. Though, it is important to always use common sense and take precautions to avoid landing in a dangerous situation. Petty crime is common in big cities, especially, so keep valuables concealed from view, and always mind your belongings and pockets. It’s important to do research on your destination before arriving, to ensure you’re informed about the current state of affairs when it comes to crime and natural disasters.

  • 4. Is it difficult to find vegetarian or vegan food options?

    The diet throughout Central America varies from region to region, however, generally speaking, it is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Most meals can be easily modified to accommodate your dietary needs. The majority of dishes consist of rice, beans, vegetables, plantains, and meat in some combination. Vegetarians can request to be served without meat. Vegans may have a tougher time because most dishes are prepared using bone broth. Ultimately, finding vegan and veg-friendly restaurants will be easier in some places (like Costa Rica) than others.

  • 5. Do I need vaccinations to visit Central America?

    The vaccination requirements will vary depending on your country of residence and your destination. For the most up-to-date vaccination requirements for US citizens, visit the US
    embassy website pertaining to the country (or countries) you plan to visit. To find it, Google “US Embassy + ‘country’”.

  • 6. Is there reliable internet?

    Internet connectivity will vary from location to location, as well as by season. In the wet season, storms can knock out power supplies and WiFi along with it. Of course, remote regions are always the most affected. In cities, it should be much easier to find stable connections, regardless of the time of year.

  • 7. Is tap water safe to drink?

    Tap water is safe to drink, in some countries and not in others. For instance, in Costa Rica, you can fill your bottle from the tap without concern, whereas in Guatemala that would be unheard of! Be sure to research your destination ahead of time before giving in to thirst. Alternatively, pack a Lifestraw so you’re covered in case of any doubt.