Costa Rica is one of the more tourism-focused locales of Central America. From backpackers to families, it’s an easy spot to travel for anyone seeking adventure, exoticism, untouched nature, and authentic experiences.
To help you pack, I’ve created a list of our must-have items to bring, along with a guide to what to wear in Costa Rica and what NOT to bring.
Get ready for living ‘la pura vida!’
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What to Pack for Costa Rica – 28 Essentials
1. Quick-Dry Travel Towel
Costa Rica is full of waterfalls, rainforests, and slippery terrains – so you don’t want to be lugging around a bulky hotel towel. It’s also not wise to count on the towels at your accommodation being up to par (and some hotels won’t even provide them). Consequently, we always bring an absorbent spare, just in case. This one is small but mighty! We find it to be ideal since it’s compact and dries 10x faster than cotton.
Whether you’re at the beach, boating, chasing waterfalls, or hiking through the rainforest – your phone is bound to be at risk. This universal-fit phone case keeps your device safe from the elements (water, scratches, sun, dents, and dings) so you can adventure without worry and still use your phone’s touchscreen. This one is our go-to for its ability to allow your phone to film stunning underwater videos with sound!
Costa Rica has been the victim of extensive, brutal ransomware attacks (to the point that the U.S. sent them $25M in 2023 to bail them out! Yikes!) To protect your internet connection and ensure you are not a victim of online theft – use a Virtual Private Network to add a layer of encryption between you and potential hackers. My credit card information was stolen on a recent trip to Paris because I didn’t use a VPN while browsing the internet on our AirBnb’s Wi-Fi – lesson learned!
Just the touch of a button on your mobile device protects you against hackers targeting your passwords, credit card numbers, and overall identity. Censorship is also prominent worldwide and many people don’t realize that a VPN also unrestricts your access to the internet (generally with content-based apps like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, but also Facebook and PayPal that can be frequently blocked). We use NordVPN since they outperform their rivals in bandwidth, speed, and value. It’s a traveler’s must-have and surprisingly affordable.
No matter which season you’re traveling in, Costa Rica will probably treat you to a taste of the rain that makes the country so lush. A windproof umbrella is the perfect way to embrace the romantic drizzles of Costa Rica. This one weighs less than a pound so it’s easier to carry around as the showers come and go. For a more intense downpour, you may also want a rain jacket for added rain protection.
Don’t neglect to bring a flotation strap – when boating, docking, snorkeling, swimming in waterfalls, etc., this strap will ensure your phone remains buoyant if it falls in the water. I’ve dropped my phone in (with a waterproof case) and it became impossible to retrieve in the sharp coral reef. Steer clear of this mistake and attach it to your phone, keys, or anything you don’t want to lose at the bottom of the sea.
One of the biggest mistakes I see travelers make is forgoing insurance. You’ve already paid thousands for your trip, why wouldn’t you add on protection for your investment? Costa Rica formerly required travel insurance by law; now, it is strongly recommended because paying out-of-pocket for a medical bill would be detrimental (and in some cases, difficult to recover from financially). A simple airlift starts at $25-35K and that is before arriving to the hospital for treatment!
Don’t rely on your at-home provider because they typically only cover you domestically, and protection ceases once you cross the border. We use Faye because they are the best travel insurance brand we’ve come across. Most providers don’t want to pay you, so they give you tons of hurdles like complicated paperwork, requests, and months of delays with no guarantee of payment. Faye reimburses you quickly through their app and gets you the funds when you need it most. They’re the real deal and even offer plans with trip cancellation “for ANY reason.”
Unfortunately, petty theft is common in certain areas of Costa Rica. While violent offenses are rare, pickpocketing is always possible in crowded areas or popular attractions. Protect yourself against this preventable crime by keeping your valuables out of sight and out of mind. This neck wallet serves as a carrying case for your cash, credit cards, I.D., passports, and cell phones; large enough to hold everything you need but still small enough to be worn discreetly under your shirt. It’s the best way to remain unnoticed rather than appear like an easy target.
Travelers often find themselves plagued by stomach upset when they encounter unfamiliar foods, drinks, and travel stress. Fortunately, these issues are seldom dangerous, but they can certainly stop you from enjoying your trip! Activated charcoal is a remedy that works well to absorb any toxins or other harmful substances in your digestive tract so that you can get back to quickly feeling better and exploring Costa Rica.
A reliable luggage lock is an extremely important travel essential because it protects all of your other essentials from theft. This two-pack is TSA-approved, lightweight, and super sturdy. They’re 10x harder to crack than a typical combination lock, so I never travel without at least a couple of pairs for suitcases, backpacks, lockers, hostels, etc.
Having a spare charger for your devices at all times is extremely handy. With diverse landscapes like jungles, mangroves, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes – the chances of being far from a reliable power grid are high. You won’t want to deal with a dead battery in the middle of the rainforest or lose access to GPS, internet, or signal to call someone in case of an emergency. This portable charger is the size of a lipstick tube and works with standard USB cables so that you can use it to deliver powerful charges to your electronics, even while on the go.
Costa Rica is all about experiencing nature and living la pura vida. To help you stay cool when you’re out zip-lining, horseback riding, or hiking, we recommend you pack a cooling towel. These clever little towels drop to 20 degrees below the outside air temperature when wet. All you have to do is soak the towel, wring it out, and instantly you have a refreshingly cold towel for all of your Costa Rican jungle adventures.
Anywhere off the beaten path in Costa Rica has potentially unsafe drinking water. Therefore, we recommend bringing a quality filtered water bottle with you so that you can control your own water safety, and you won’t be stuck without potable water no matter where you roam. This one is a little pricey but worth every penny because it’s the only one we know of that removes 99.9% of harmful bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, chemicals, chlorine, and sediment.
Organizing items while packing should be easy, not a hassle. These packing cubes come in various sizes so that you can store items away and know exactly where they are should you need to find them while en route. You can label each cube (tops, pants, essentials), and I like the ability to move items from my suitcase to my daybag and back without having to unpack and re-pack.
These wristbands are the perfect solution for travelers in tropical destinations. They don’t require reapplication like lotions and sprays, and are effective without the nasty chemicals that other repellents rely on. They clip on securely so you can wear them while hiking or just lounging at the beach.
The style here is laid-back meets casual, so the dress-code is very relaxed. A swimsuit cover-up is a smart way to move fluidly from the beach to the grocery store to a coffee shop and back to the hotel without a second thought. While you can dress up a little nicer for dinner or a night on the town, this crochet dress and a swimsuit may be all you need for the day-to-day.
From beaches with sharp pebbles to waterfalls with slick rocks, it’s really nice to have a pair of shoes that you can wear both in water and on land. Regular hiking shoes will be impractical and weigh you down, leading to soggy toes and an increased chance of blisters. These water shoes allow your feet to dry faster without trapping sand or sloshing water around. They’re comfortable and lightweight too, which makes them easy to carry and pack.
Costa Rica has gorgeous clear waters with vibrant coral reefs and wildlife. You won’t want to miss out on any memorable pictures of your trip just because you don’t want to risk getting your camera wet. Since it’s likely that you’ll be taking part in water-related activities, it’s a good idea to take one of these with you for quality pictures and videos, in and out of the water. This sporty camera is a great alternative to the spendier GoPro, and is waterproof at depths of up to 100 ft!
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Travel smarter, not harder. This 2-in-1 beach bag and cooler is a dreamy product that is perfect for long days of adventuring! It’s waterproof, sand-proof, and holds everything I need without being too bulky or heavy. We carry a change of clothes, towels, sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottles, etc., and then the detachable cooler chills all of our snacks and drinks for the day. It’s easy to clean since you can shake the sand right out, and it folds back up compactly. This set even comes with a waterproof beach mat.
You’ll want a comfortable way to carry your daily items without hurting your back and neck, and a feather-weight daybag like this is top-notch. It’s water-resistant and designed for traveling, so it’s got all of the pockets and clips you’d expect of a good hiking backpack without the weight and bulk. Use it to carry things like your rain jacket, phone, water bottle, camera, and any items you may purchase throughout the day.
When exploring CR, there are times you will want the extra protection of pants to prevent mosquito bites, and there are times you will want the freedom of shorts for mobility and airflow. These convertible pants are where comfort marries practicality – transforming easily from pants to shorts in no time. They are made of a silver fiber material that lowers your body temperature as it hits the skin. Men, check out these equally-awesome convertible hiking pants for guys.
Always pack along a dry bag for days spent on or near the water. From boating to docking to walking ashore, your cash can quickly become a disintegrated wad of worthlessness if you don’t plan ahead. A dry bag will preserve items that need to be dry like your phone, currency, watch, snacks, clothes, books, etc. This one by Earth Pak is easy to clean and really works – all of our belongings have come out 100% dry, even after being completely submerged.
This wide-brim hat looks fantastic on while also protecting your face and eyes from UV radiation. The sun is no joke here and having a foldable travel hat will mean the difference between adapting gracefully or feeling overwhelmed by the powerful rays. I like this one because it’s very packable and crushable, still able to bounce back to its original shape.
This hybrid concept is crucial for any hiking, camping, climbing, or rocky adventuring. A headlamp is the most convenient way to keep your hands free while ensuring your safety on uneven grounds. It’s also really helpful to get around at night if you are staying somewhere remote where streetlights are at a minimum or if you have to pee in the jungle where it could be spider city! I feel safer as a woman traveling with it and can navigate much easier.
I always have a first-aid kit on hand while traveling – you never know when a minor scrape or cut will need some attention, and you certainly don’t want to risk infection while abroad. This travel-sized kit has all of the basics and is designed to be manageable and compact for remaining mobile.
In case you want to bring some of paradise back home with you, this “just in case” bag is a brilliant idea. Save yourself baggage fees since it counts as a personal item and fits neatly under the seat of a plane. Be sure to check out famous Costa Rican goods like leatherwork, tapestries, swimwear, sarongs, paintings, masks, ceramics, and food-based items like salsa, coffee, and chocolate!
While trekking through beautifully overgrown forests, you may find that bathrooms are not always readily available in Costa Rica. Since many developing parts of the country are deeply immersed in mama nature, it will be smart to pack some compact toilet paper (so you don’t have to use a potentially poisonous leaf!) Once water is added, this little tab will expand into a full towel cloth. We chose this option because it’s biodegradable, reusable, and hypoallergenic.
Staying in a hotel with (smaller than necessary) countertops does not have to infringe upon your sanity anymore. This hanging toiletry bag will keep your routine in harmony by holding TONS of stuff and vertically optimizing your life. It’s great for camping or when you just need to hook your belongings on a door for more space, unfolding to display numerous compartments, pockets, and hiding spots for makeup brushes and TSA-approved bottles. Bonus points – we’ve never had a luggage spill since purchasing this.
Casual comfort is the vibe here. Breathable, light fabrics will serve you well in this tropical climate. Thin cotton or linen, airy athletic fabrics, and anything quick-dry will be assets on your adventure, as well as when packing since they’re so light and compact.
Light layers, a rain jacket, convertible quick-dry pants, and a pair of good-quality, broken-in (preferably waterproof) hiking shoes will be your best friends here. The idea is to stay comfortable in any of Costa Rica’s climate zones by adding or removing layers, and staying as dry as possible.
DRY SEASON – December, January, February, March, April:
For most regions, Costa Rican dry season lasts from December through April, and features significantly less rain and much more comfortable temperatures. This is also peak tourist season, so if you’re not into crowds you may want to opt for travel during the shoulder season.
Pack comfortable and lightweight layers so that you can add and remove them as needed. Fabrics that dry quickly are still important – you may be engaging in water activities, or ones that make you sweat. Don’t forget your hat, reef-safe sunscreen, and sunglasses – the sun is extremely strong when you’re near the equator, so come prepared!
Temperatures average between 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C) during this time of year, with November through January being the coolest months.
WET SEASON – May, June, July, August, September, October, November:
These months bring rain to almost the entire country – and lots of it! Although the Caribbean region of the country has very enjoyable weather during September and October, if you’re looking to travel during those months.
The best parts about traveling during the rainy or “green” season are the gorgeous vegetation (hence the term “green season”), the incredible waterfalls, and the smaller tourist crowds that make sightseeing easier. The rain, however, can take a toll on unprepared travelers. Bring a good rain jacket and dependable hiking shoes that can withstand water. It’s also wise to bring a second pair of sandals or water shoes to avoid having to re-wear soggy shoes. Quick-dry fabrics are crucial.
Temperatures during the wet season average between 75°F to 85°F (about 24°C to 29°C), though it will feel humid and a little hotter than it really is.
A note about regional differences: Costa Rica is known for its topographical and climate variations. Exploring the country will take you to some high and cool areas, and to some low and very warm areas, plus everything in between. It’s a good idea to do some research about your specific destination(s) in the country before you go, and to follow the packing guide above to be sure you have gear for any weather.
What NOT to Bring to Costa Rica
1.DON'T PACK valuables and irreplaceables:
As with most tourist destinations, theft can happen, as can accidental damage. It is definitely safer to leave valuable items at home where you know that they’re safer from both.
2.DON’T BRING your computer:
Costa Rica is truly a place to kick back and relax. Instead of spending your time behind a screen, leave it at home — best not to risk it being stolen or broken anyway.
3.DON'T TAKE cold-weather clothing:
No need for a heavy coat or excessive layers here. While it can cool down at night, a rain racket should suffice to protect you from those afternoon showers. Leaving other heavy layers at home will save you weight and packing room.
4.DON'T PACK nice jewelry:
Costa Rica is casual, so trade your jewelry in for some shades. Fine or heirloom jewelry is not on trend, and not needed in this tropical environment. Avoid the possibility of theft or damage to your beloved adornments by leaving them safely at home.
5.DON'T TAKE fancy clothes:
“La pura vida” is a life of relaxation and comfort. The Costa Rican dress code is quite casual. Dressing up too much will keep you from blending in, and will keep you from truly relaxing.
6.DON'T BRING a large amount of cash:
U.S. dollars are accepted in many places, but don’t carry a lot at a time. Colones are the Costa Rican currency, and ATMs are widely accessible to restock, either in U.S. dollars or colones.
FAQs about Costa Rica
1. Is it safe to drink the Costa Rican water?
It’s technically safe to drink the water in much of Costa Rica. However, many accommodations will still provide filtered water for your comfort and peace of mind. Once you venture into more rural locations you’re less likely to be able to drink from the tap, so bottled water is recommended. Bring along a filtered water bottle if you want to be absolutely sure that your water is drinkable and bacteria-free.
2. What is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
For a majority of the country, the dry season is from December to April. However, due to the diverse terrain, there are several micro-climates throughout, and you’ll need to do a little bit of research to be sure of what to expect. The Go Visit Costa Rica site has a helpful guide for planning based on where you’re headed.
3. Do you have suggestions for where to go and what to do while I'm traveling in Costa Rica?
Trekking: from a simple stroll to a guided night-hike, there’s a spectrum of options when it comes to seeing Costa Rica’s natural beauty up close. Most treks are 2-3 hours long, and you can book a guide through your accommodations.
Surfing: From Playa Hermosa to Playa Tamarindo, one thing you won’t find is a lack of good surf spots. If you’re a first-timer, there are schools in many of the beach towns, and I highly recommend you take lessons before having a go at it unsupervised.
Beaches: The list is nearly endless. Your first choice will be Caribbean vs. Pacific. From there, it’s easy to simply rent a car and find them for yourself.
National parks and reserves: With more than two dozen national parks in the country, you should save time to savor the ecological diversity they provide. There’s the chance to view nesting sea turtles, a rare opportunity to check out sloths, and even places to see spider monkeys. One of the most popular spots is the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Check out Costa Rica’s neighbors: If you’re on the backpacking trail, Costa Rica’s neighbors are two spots that are worth the look. Nicaragua and Panama offer unique cultures and food — with equally beautiful sites. These destinations are best traveled to by bus.
Be sure to check out Get Your Guide for the best excursions, adventures, and day trips that Costa Rica has to offer. With everything available at your fingertips, your trip is only as good as the itinerary you curate for yourself.
Routine vaccinations for anywhere — measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot — are necessary and always a wise precaution.
Additionally, the CDC recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid if you’re planning to travel to Costa Rica. Other suggestions include Hepatitis B, rabies, and Yellow Fever shots depending on your intended length of stay and if you plan to travel elsewhere. Be sure to check the updated requirements, as they are constantly evolving.
5. What is medical care like in Costa Rica?
There is a fairly high quality of medical care available in Costa Rica. However, keep in mind that many U.S. insurance policies do not cover some international incidents, so it’s best to check with your provider. Trip insurance is also recommended in case of last-minute cancellations and re-bookings for emergencies. We never travel without covering ourselves against medical emergencies and outrageously-priced hospital transits.
6. What’s the best way to get around Costa Rica?
When we visited, we rented a car — a popular choice to be able to see much of the country on your own. There were days we simply drove along the coast, stopping at several beaches along the way.
The car was a stick shift, so it’s probably best to make sure you check ahead of time or know how to drive one. Some of the roads can get a bit tough at times, as they may not be the best maintained. Another option would be to book transportation ahead with your accommodation or hire a driver.
7. Do I need a power adapter to use Costa Rican outlets?
Costa Rica electrical outlets run on 110 volts — the same as the United States. Nonetheless, you should always pack a universal travel adapter – this one works in 100+ popular countries and has a built-in fuse to protect your devices in case of a power outage or bad outlet.
8. Do I need a visa for Costa Rica?
U.S. passport holders do not need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. However, you ARE required to show proof of onward travel. Check the embassy website for requirements of other nationalities.
9. What’s the food like in Costa Rica?
Fresh seafood, beans, and rice are staples of the diet here. One of my favorite dishes in Costa Rica was the simple arroz con marisco — or rice with seafood. Ceviche is also very popular here.
You’ll also get plenty of fresh tropical fruit, which you should absolutely take advantage of – some varieties are hard to get in the states, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how different they taste when they’re fresh. Costa Rica is also known for its coffee, so make sure you enjoy a cup…or three.
10. What is the Costa Rican Departure Tax?
The departure tax is a fee charged to travelers leaving Costa Rica by air – it’s typically not charged to those leaving by land or sea. The tax is around $29 and is sometimes included in return airfare if you purchased ahead of time. Check your purchase confirmation for your airline tickets if you’re unsure.
Lyric is an accomplished poet, best-selling author, award-winning screenwriter (studied at NYU film school), amazing chef, singer/songwriter, and mommy of two amazing little kids! After growing up in Hollywood she decided to delve into a profound spiritual journey and became a yogi-monk for almost a decade. She enjoys helping Asher conduct research, writing for our blog, and loves traveling the world (Paris is her favorite city), and sharing her experiences with you!