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Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and diverse travel destinations. If you are lucky enough to be making your way to this “Pura Vida” nation, you may be wondering what to pack. From waterproof and fast-drying clothing to sturdy shoes and flip flops to headlamps, this is the only Costa Rica packing list you’ll need.
Surprisingly, it is possible to pack light and still bring everything you need. Certainly no fancy clothes or shoes are needed for a Costa Rica vacation!
Costa Rica Packing List for All Regions
Costa Rica is bursting with beautiful beaches and lush rainforests. We recommend visiting different areas of the country, so we’ve covered packing for all types of adventures in Costa Rica.
From water shoes to rain gear to beachwear, here is the ultimate Costa Rica packing list. This has been compiled based on my experience traveling to Costa Rica on several multi-gen trips. I have included both things that we were glad we packed, and the stuff we wish we’d known to bring!
The landscape of Costa Rica varies greatly, as does the climate. You will want to pack different items for the rain forest than you will want to bring for the beaches.
Wildlife spotting is a must-do activity in Central America. You don’t want to pass up the opportunity to see sloths, toucans, monkeys, poison dart frogs and the many other animals native to Costa Rica. Be sure to bring along a good camera. Today’s cell phone cameras may suffice for some. But a GoPro may come in handy for ziplining or snorkeling.
American dollars are accepted widely and cash is typically preferred. Of course, you will also want to pack a credit card that doesn’t charge international fees. And, you can get Colones, the local currency, from the ATM with a debit card.
Flashlights or Headlamps
While you can get by using your cell phone light, you will be much better off with a more powerful light. While on the beach in Playa Potrero, we experienced a couple of power outages. Not only is a headlamp or flashlight useful for getting around after dark on the beach or streets without any lights, but they also come in handy when there are power outages.
We love these Black Diamond headlamps for camping, but forgot to pack them. Fortunately we made friends with a family in our beachfront condo building who delivered some extra lights to us one night during a power outage. This Luci Solar Light is one that our friends loaned us that is both easy to pack and provides a lot of light.
Unlocked Cell Phone
If you own your phone outright, have been with the carrier for more than a year and are in good standing, then your provider is required to unlock your phone.
Once they have done this, then you can swap out SIM cards. We heard that you could buy a SIM card at the airport, but didn’t locate a place to do this at the Liberia airport. San Jose is bigger so it may be available there. Instead, we stopped at a Walmart near the Liberia airport. Activating the SIM card may be more difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. I had to enlist the help of a friendly hotel clerk.
And now, the iPhone 13 and later models have dual eSIM functionality. This means that you can buy an international SIM card online prior to your trip and not have to worry about switching out the physical card.
These options are much cheaper than the international service provided by most US based cell phone providers. But they do require some technical skills.
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You can also add international service to your plan. AT&T charged us $10 per day for this.
A cell phone can be indispensable for the maps and GPS when you have a car rental. We recommend using both Google Maps and Waze. Be sure to remember your charger!
With cell phones you may think you don’t need a map. But I was surely more comfortable knowing that we had one in the car. Especially because street signs are limited and cell and WiFi service can be spotty. I was thankful to have this great waterproof map of Costa Rica, and also glad not to need it.
Drybag or Waterproof Backpack
No matter what region you are in, you are likely to encounter water. Waterfall tours, white water rafting and mangrove tours are all popular, as are snorkeling and sunset cruises. And, it can be rainy depending on the region and time of year. Even if you are visiting one region, you may take day trips to another. Best to protect expensive or important camera equipment. We purchased a drybag that came with a waterproof phone case specifically for this trip.
Fast Drying Clothing
Whether you will be in the rain or on the beach, quick-drying clothing is a great option. Here are a few of our favorite items:
- Kuhl Trekr Kapris for women. As a side note, long pants are ideal for the rain forest to keep off the mosquitoes.
- Cargo Shorts for men
- Capilene Cool Trail t-shirt for men
- Capilene Cool Trail t-shirt or tank top for women
- Men’s long-sleeve hiking shirt with BugsAway
- Women’s SunDefense with moisture wick and sun protection
- You might also want to throw in some extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Shampoo and conditioner.
- First aid kit.
- Imodium, Pepto Bismol in case of upset stomachs.
- Pain reliever.
- Insect repellent or Bug spray
- Reef Friendly Sunscreen lotion or spray.
- Extra set of contact lenses, if you wear them. Contact solution.
- Aloe in case of sunburn.
- Water bottle. The water is safe to drink in most developed areas of Costa Rica and a water bottle will allow you to refill without using plastic.
- Women will want to bring their preferred feminine products.
Costa Rica Packing List for the Beach
Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts boast beautiful pristine beaches. These beach areas are the easiest to pack for. For Costa Rican beaches you will need a strong SPF sunscreen, beachwear including swimsuits, sarongs and water shoes or flip flops. And, that could really be all you need.
Though I may get the award for the most unique item on my Costa Rica packing list during our most recent visit. We stayed in a home in Las Catalinas just steps from the beach and waters ideal for stand up paddle boarding. We flew Southwest and since bags fly free, I brought along my inflatable stand up paddle board. I am not suggesting that you do this. But I loved having it handy and being able to take it out at my convenience almost every morning.
- Bathing suits
- Beach cover-up or sarong
- Water shoes. I preferred wearing my Chacos over flip flops. My husband preferred his Keens.
Costa Rica Packing List for the Rainforest and Cloud Forest
The interior of the country offers lush rainforests and cloud forests. Both areas get a lot of rain and can get cold at the higher elevations of the cloud forest. The rainy season lasts most of the year here. For this area, you’ll need mosquito repellent with DEET, rain jackets, hiking boots and fast-drying clothing. A daypack can be helpful for storing layers.
Rain Jacket or Poncho
You will want a lightweight raincoat. Even during the dry season you may get a rain shower in the rainforest. We are fans of Columbia. But ultimately just make sure it is something light and easy to pack. Believe it or not, it does get cool in certain places like Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
One of our fellow tour members on a sloth tour in Arenal wore open-toe shoes. You should have seen him jumping around when we spotted poison dart frogs. Whether shoes or boots, you’ll want something closed-toe with good traction for muddy paths. Personally, I prefer shoes over boots and like Merrells brand.
While we liked having water shoes for the beach, they are also useful for the rainforests and national parks. Water shoes are perfect for rafting, which is a popular activity in these areas.
What to Pack for Kids
Our visit to Costa Rica included ages from three on up. Here are the most important things you’ll need for the little ones.
- While I love my Chaco’s, our go-to water shoes for our kids are Keens and Teva sandals.
- Definitely don’t forget Children’s Tylenol. We always need it when we don’t bring it. I have a child who hates the liquid Tylenol and recently discovered Children’s Tylenol chewables — even easier to pack! That and bandages should be a part of any first aid kits when traveling with kids.
- Goggles are a very important part of our swim supplies for kids. And, it is so important to the kids that we bring their nose goggles.
- As a parent, I am also a fan of swim shirts with built-in sun protection.
- And of course, hats to block the sun are so important too.
- Most tours will provide binoculars, as well as scopes to better see the incredible wildlife. But in hindsight, I wish we had brought along a small pair of binoculars for our kids to watch for wildlife at the hotels. There are plenty of incredible birds and iguanas that can be found right off of a hotel balcony in La Fortuna, near Arenal.