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.
To help you pack, I’ve created a list of 17 must-have items to bring, along with a guide to what to wear in Costa Rica and what NOT to bring.
Whether it’s a sleepy beach town you’re after or an adventure through the treetops of a tropical rainforest, Costa Rica will teach you all about the fun and relaxing “la pura vida” lifestyle by the end of your trip.
1) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – With so many adventures to enjoy in one Costa Rica, your phone is bound to be at risk. Whether you’re in the sun, sand, water, or rainforest, your phone will need to be protected. This universal-fit phone case keeps your device safe from water, scratches, and most dents and dings so you can adventure without worry, and still use your phone’s camera and touch screen.
2) Activated Charcoal – 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 feeling better and exploring Costa Rica.
3) Travel insurance – While Costa Rica is fairly safe, misfortune while traveling can’t always be avoided. If you need an emergency trip home or to recoup your losses after a theft while traveling, travel insurance plans can help with these and other, similar issues. Plans are generally inexpensive and will give you comfort in knowing you’re protected should something happen.
4) Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger – Having a spare charge for your devices on-hand at all times is extremely handy. When you’re out taking part in daily activities in Costa Rica, you won’t want to have to make a stop back at your accommodation to charge your camera or your phone when they run low on battery. This portable charger is the size of a tube of lipstick and works with standard USB charger cables so that you can use it to deliver powerful charges to your devices, even while on the go.
5) Packing cubes – Organizing items while packing should be easy, not a hassle. These packing cubes come in various sizes so that you can pack items away and know exactly where they are should you need to find them while en route. I like that they gave me the ability to move items from my suitcase to my daybag and back without having to unpack and re-pack things.
6) Mosquito Repellent Wristbands – These wristbands are the perfect solution for travelers on-the-go. They don’t require reapplication like lotions and sprays, and they’re effective without the nasty chemicals that other repellents rely on. They clip on securely so you can keep them on while surfing and hiking, or just lounging at the beach.
7) Sarong – You may not realize it, but sarongs have a multitude of uses beyond just a swimsuit cover-up. I’ve used mine as a travel sheet, a privacy screen, a pillow case, and many other things. I always have one with me while traveling, and I always recommend it to other travelers.
8) Slip-on Mesh Water Shoes: Women’s and Men’s – It’s really nice to have a pair of shoes that you can wear both in water and on land. These do a great job of protecting your feet while you’re doing anything in or near the water, and they’ll allow your feet to dry quickly and without trapping sand in your shoes. They’re comfortable and lightweight, too, which makes them easy to carry and pack.
9) Waterproof Underwater Camera – You won’t want to miss out on any great 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 in and out of the water. This sporty camera is a great alternative to the spendier GoPro, and is waterproof up to 30m!
10) Women’s and Men’s hiking shoes – You’ll probably be doing quite a bit of walking and hiking, and your shoes for these activities will make the difference between comfort or soreness and stiffness at the end of the day. When choosing shoes, plan to break them in with a few longs walks or hikes before your trip so that you can avoid blisters while traveling.
11) Rain jacket Women’s and Men’s – 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 rain jacket is an absolute must, and one that’s packable and compact can be carried easily in your daybag during the day, just in case you get caught in a downpour while you’re out.
12) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – I recently had my credit card information stolen on a trip to Paris, and it was because I wasn’t using my VPN while I was browsing the internet on someone else’s WiFi. A Virtual Private Network is intended to unrestrict your access to internet in places where censorship and monitoring of your online activity are a problem. What many people don’t realize is that it also adds an extra encryption step between you and potential hackers or cyber-threats, so you’re much safer while using online services. Just the touch of a button on your mobile device protects you and the service is very affordable.
13) Backpack or daybag – 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 ideal. It’s designed for traveling, so it’s got all of the pockets and clips you’d expect of a good hiking backpack, but 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.
14) First-Aid kit – 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 traveling abroad. This kit has all of the essentials and is designed to be manageable and compact for traveling.
15) Travel towel – It’s not wise to count on the towels at your accommodation being up to par unless you’re staying at a nice hotel. Either way, it’s incredibly nice to have an absorbent and quick-drying spare on hand just in case. This towel is ideal, since it’s small but just as absorbent as a regular towel. It also dries quickly so it’ll be ready for your next use.
16) Water bottle with built-in filter – It is not technically unsafe to drink the water in most parts of Costa Rica, though you’ll find that the taste is not ideal. In fact, many places will still offer you bottled water or water that’s been filtered manually, just for comfort’s sake. I recommend bringing a filtered water bottle with you so that you can control your own water quality, and you won’t be stuck without potable water should you visit more rural locations in Costa Rica.
17) Beach Bag – There are beaches all along both coasts of this country, so you’ll have no trouble finding a sandy place to spend some time relaxing! Bringing a beach bag with you full of the items you’ll need – toys for the kids, a book to read, drinks and snacks – is a good idea. This beach bag is cute and easy to clean, so you won’t have to worry about tracking sand back with you in your luggage or daybag.
Casual comfort is the idea 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, 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 them 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 sight-seeing 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:
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.
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 Carribbean 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 culture and food — with equally beautiful sites. These destinations are best traveled to by bus.
4) Are any vaccinations recommended?
Routine vaccinations for anywhere — measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot — are called-for, and a good idea.
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.
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.
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 adaptor to use Costa Rican outlets?
Costa Rica electrical outlets run on 110 volts — the same as the United States.
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.