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A man wearing a backpack standing in front of a waterfall and turquoise blue pool of water in a jungle
July 27, 2022

What to Pack for Your Trip to Costa Rica

If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip to Costa Rica, most sources will tell you to pack as little as possible. Then they provide a list of suggestions so long that you might need to bring two big suitcases, and possibly a burro. 

Let’s dial back on that a bit. 

You can pack for Costa Rica with only a carry-on, if you’re frugal with your choices and you understand that you can buy many essentials once you’re here.

So let’s take a realistic look at what you really, truly need to pack when planning a vacation to Costa Rica.

A blue backpack, flashlight, binoculars, map, sunglasses, portable charger, smartphone, and water bottle lying on a wooden table
Pack smart by packing light for your trip to Costa Rica.

Money

Don’t forget this! If possible, bring U.S. dollars in smallish denominations, like twenties, and even $1 bills for tips. U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Costa Rica — but be advised that fifties and hundreds are sometimes not accepted for fear of counterfeits, so avoid bringing big bills.

A hand holding a fan of $1, $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills
Some merchants won’t accept $50 or $100 bills for fear of counterfeits, though you can trade them in at banks.

You will probably be given change in colones, which is useful because you’re going to want local currency for most transactions. You probably won’t get a good exchange rate in a taxi or at a grocery store, but it doesn’t matter much if you’re paying small sums. 

We do not recommend changing money into colones at your home airport or the airports in Costa Rica, as exchange rates are terrible. The best way to get cash is to go to a bank and use your debit card to withdraw colones, or else go inside the bank to either withdraw money or change dollars. (And always bring your passport when you go into a bank, or otherwise you can’t do anything.)

Shoes

Most people will want to bring two pairs of shoes, and you should wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane to save room in your bags. For hiking, walking around or everyday use, you can bring tennis shoes or hiking boots. 

But the national footwear of Costa Rica, so to speak, is flip-flops. Pack a pair for everyday use, or buy them when you’re here. Note that flip-flops are not recommended for ziplining, as you can lose them in the air. And while flip-flops are fine for crossing mud puddles, they are not reliable in fast water.

A pair of blue plastic flip flops standing in the sand on a beach with clear blue water in the background
Most people find that flip-flops become their go-to footwear in Costa Rica.

If you’re planning to do any rafting, canyoning or any hike involving crossing streams, we suggest a pair of rugged sandals with closed toes. The strip of rubber covering the toes will protect you from injury when walking through a rocky stream or down a rough trail. Closed-toed sandals are also great for whitewater rafting, where you have to jam your toes under the edge of the raft for stability. 

Rain gear

You might think I was crazy if I advised you against putting rain gear on your Costa Rica packing list. When I moved to Costa Rica seven years ago, my son gave me an excellent, lightweight raincoat — yet I’ve almost never used it.

Although Costa Rica can be very rainy, depending on the area and the time of year, you almost never see Ticos wearing rain gear. Some Costa Ricans live 100 years without ever owning a raincoat. If it rains, most people either break out an umbrella or duck under a roof. And if it’s just sprinkling, getting a little wet is no big deal. 

However, if you’re planning on jungle hikes, ziplining, boat rides or other outdoor adventures, these will go ahead rain or shine, so we would recommend a lightweight rain jacket for these occasions. Bringing a small travel umbrella is also an option, though you can also buy one here.

A man with long brown hair wearing a green rain jacket smiling in front of a waterfall
A light rain jacket is usually a good idea, though in the dry season you may never use it.

A waterproof “dry bag,” sold at sporting goods stores, is a great thing to have to keep your cellphone, wallet and passport dry if you’re going on a boat ride, exploring a river or hiking in the rain. Or even if you don’t buy a real dry bag, kitchen zip-top bags can be useful for keeping small stuff dry.

Warm clothes? 

Depending on your destination, a jacket, sweater or sweatshirt may seem completely unnecessary. But remember that some destinations in Costa Rica can be pretty cold, even if you’re just passing through.

A man and a woman passing each other along the street, each carrying an umbrella
Bring one sweater, sweatshirt or jacket in case of cold (including on the plane).

Also, I usually find that airplanes can be really cold, so I always bring something warm to wear on the plane. On the plus side, these bulky garments won’t crowd your bags if you wear them on the plane.

But for daily wear in most parts of Costa Rica, you won’t need more than some shorts, shirts, skirts or blouses, maybe a hat, and of course don’t forget underwear. You might want to bring one set of nice clothes for “date night,” but don’t overdo the couture when you’re visiting the jungle.

Things you will need but can buy here

Sunscreen is a necessity almost anywhere in Costa Rica. Bring your own if you want, but you can also buy sunscreen at any mini súper here. It’s not essential to put on your Costa Rica packing list.

A tan bag with a yellow hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen hanging off the sides sitting on rocks in front of the ocean
Remember that you don’t need to bring certain items that you can buy here.

Same goes for insect repellent — bring it if you want, but you can also buy it here. And the list goes on: You can bring an umbrella, flip-flops, sunglasses and hat, but you can also buy those things here. Always consider the bulkiness of the object, the space in your bags and how desperately you will need it upon arrival. 

Medication

If you require any kind of medication, bring it with you. Costa Rican pharmacies are generally well-stocked with medicines of all kinds, but if you need your pill now, you don’t want to be driving the streets in a taxi looking for a pharmacy that might or might not have it.

Several weekly pill containers sitting on a countertop
Although pharmacies are generally well-stocked, it’s a good idea to bring any medication you might need.

Personal kit

There are some things you never want to be without, like maybe your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, feminine products or cherry-red lipstick. Sure, you can buy all those things here, but you may want that toothbrush even before you get off the plane. Bring any toiletries that you consider daily essentials.

A toiletry bag featuring deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, makeup, and band-aids, a razor, and more
Pack a personal kit containing essential toiletries.

Costa Rica Packing List: The Bottom line

Pack light, but don’t leave behind anything you can’t live without. 

Rarely does anyone hauling their luggage all over Costa Rica say, “Dammit, I didn’t bring enough stuff!”

 


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