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© kansasphoto/Flickr
© kansasphoto/Flickr
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What To Pack On A Trip To Costa Rica

Picture of Lily Cichanowicz
Updated: 11 November 2016
Costa Rica is one of the most tourist-friendly countries in Central America. Host to a diverse array of natural flora and fauna, Costa Rica is an exciting place for nature lovers and outdoor fanatics. Due to its unique dimensions, this narrow coastal stretch has a distinct climate that travelers must prepare themselves for. Here’s what you ought to pack for the perfect Costa Rican getaway.

Pack the right clothes

Costa Rica has a humid, tropical climate and this fact should be at the forefront of any traveler’s mind as they begin packing for a destination in Costa Rica. All travelers should pack some lightweight, humidity-resistant clothing. Costa Rica is known for its laid-back, casual vibe, so no need to bring much formal attire. In San Jose, however, people tend to dress with a bit more sophistication, so reserve a nice outfit or two for time spent here.

Hiking gear

Rural areas and forests get notoriously hot and humid, so anyone planning to hike in these areas ought to take a few special considerations concerning clothing. For hiking and trekking, opt for quick-dry nylon shirts and pants. Long pants or convertible ones with zip-off legs are a wise choice for anyone trekking through the rainforest as they will help shield the legs from bugs and sharp plants and sticks. For those planning to take a trip to the cloud forests of San Gerardo de Dota or Monteverde, bring a light jacket as things cool off at higher elevations.

Shoes

With the notion that Costa Rica is a pretty relaxed country, a comfortable pair of sandals will do for day-to-day activities and for going to the beach. Of course, a solid pair of close-toed shoes is good for walking for extended periods of time, and a proper pair of dressy ones is ideal for a day trip to San Jose. As for hikers, Costa Rica is humid, and rainstorms are common. Therefore, a set of water-resistant hiking shoes and socks is a must. We would even recommend a pair of amphibian hikers, in particular, because they don’t require socks.

Insect repellant

Costa Rica is a tropical country with a flourishing array of fauna and flora. With humid temps and plenty to feed on, bugs are a real force to be reckoned with here. We cannot stress the importance of a quality bottle of bug spray enough. You may even want to consider going with some spray that contains Deet to ward off mosquitoes and the like. There are also special sprays that you can apply to clothing and shoes before you arrive, as well as bug repellant lotions if you’d rather avoid aerosol fumes. On this note, bringing a mosquito net for sleeping is a wise precaution that won’t weigh down your suitcase.

Waterpoof sunscreen

Just as important as bug spray is sunscreen. Costa Rica is situated only a few degrees above the equator. Sun exposure is more extreme than most travelers are used to. Whether you plan to spend several days at the beach or remain inland, sunscreen will be a real lifesaver. Go with a variety that has at least 20 SPF, and remember that even those who don’t think they burn easily are at risk at this latitude. Further, plan on being pretty sweaty most of the time while on vacation in Costa Rica. The only times when this possibly won’t be the case is at the beach. In both scenarios, waterproof sunscreen will serve you best.

Spanish phrase book or dictionary

Costa Rica is a Spanish-speaking country. While it’s reasonable to expect hotel staff as well as other personnel working in the tourist industry to speak English, this most likely won’t be the case for the locals. It’s wise to brush up on your Spanish a bit before the trip and to bring a Spanish phrase book or dictionary. Because Spanish is such a widely spoken language, be sure to keep in mind that Costa Rican Spanish is its own regional variation and that pronunciations and common words will probably vary to some degree from the more formal brand of Spanish spoken in say, Spain. Try to find a phrase book tailored to Central American or Costa Rican Spanish for this reason.

Wildlife manual and binoculars

As we mentioned earlier, Costa Rica is home to a vibrant set of biodiversity. Much of the country is tropical, and it stands between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Plenty of iconic rainforest creatures can be found in Costa Rica, including toucans, scarlet macaws, red-eyed tree frogs, howler monkeys, sloths, jaguars, manatees, spider monkeys, dolphins, and bats. If this is something that interests you, be sure to bring along a wildlife manual that can enrich your knowledge about what you see. A pair of binoculars will certainly enhance your visibility of those creatures, which prefer to keep their distance from humans.

Camera and protective waterproof case

Just as important as protecting your person from rain and humidity, don’t forget to do the same for your electronics! Bringing a camera with enough memory and a camera charge will help you capture memories to cherish for years to come. Plus, a solid photo album is useful for explaining the events of your trip to friends and family upon returning home. Keep your camera and other electronics in a protective, waterproof case if you own one. If not, a plastic Ziploc bag will do the trick. For those heading to the Costa Rican coast, remember that sand can damage the screens of electronics as well.

Beach items

No doubt, Costa Rica is a safe, tourist-friendly country, but between the elements and the risk of petty crime that exists in every tourist destination, better safe than sorry. Further, most would agree that a beach cover-up is a necessary item, particularly for the ladies. Plus, a sarong cover-up can double as a beach blanket or towel. Don’t make the rookie mistake of forgetting a towel specifically designated for beach time, either!

Mesh or plastic bag

Costa Rica is a notoriously humid country where rainstorms can occur without warning, and they often do. For this reason, it’s wise to prepare for a bit of extra wetness. One way to do so is to mind your luggage. Bring a mesh or plastic bag (or a few) for wet clothes. Packing clothing in plastic bags will also make them rain resistant as you trek from place to place with your luggage. No one wants to get caught in a storm on the first night and then be left with damp and dingy clothing for the rest of the trip!

Rain gear

While the plastic or mesh bag might protect the clothing when you’re not wearing them, it won’t do much to keep you dry. When selecting rain gear for Costa Rica, be sure to keep a few things in mind. Most raincoats will simply be too hot. Instead, many seasoned travelers to this region swear by small umbrellas, hats, or plastic ponchos instead. Alternatively, an ultra-lightweight, hooded nylon windbreaker might suffice if you can find one. Take note that rainy season lasts from May through November, and humidity is especially prevalent on the Osa Peninsula where Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez are situated.

Water bottle (with filter)

Sweating and sun exposure will result in dehydration if you’re not regularly monitoring your water intake. For hikers or people spending time in places outside of the city, a water bottle is a true necessity. In these areas, access to drinking fountains or shops where bottled water is sold can be few and far between. A metal bottle will keep its contents cooler for longer, and it is obviously more durable than other varieties. For those worried about ingesting harmful germs from the water supply, consider choosing a bottle with a filter or bring some dissolvable tablets to kill bacteria in the water.