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Costa Rica Packing List (& What Not to Bring)

Costa Rica Packing List (& What Not to Bring)

Heading to Costa Rica soon and wondering what to pack? In this guide, we share our top tips for everything you need to pack for your trip to this tropical paradise.

Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes, activities, and unpredictable weather call for smart packing to ensure you are prepared for anything. Whether you are hiking in the cloud forests of Monteverde, soaking in the geothermal pools of La Fortuna, or wildlife spotting in Manuel Antonio National Park, having the right gear can make all the difference.

In addition to clothing /footwear advice and tips on what to wear in Costa Rica, we share tons of practical tips of travel essentials you shouldn’t forget if you want to truly enjoy your trip.

From lightweight clothing and sturdy footwear to personal care products and must-have accessories, we’ve got you covered. In addition, we also share some tips on what NOT to pack for Costa Rica. Say goodbye to overpacking and hello to stress-free travels!

Good to know: While this Costa Rica packing list might look quite extensive, you can easily bring all of this and travel with hand luggage only. To give you an idea, we visited Costa Rica as a family of five (two adults and three teenagers), for two weeks, and each of us packed one 22″ x 14″ x 9″ suitcase or backpack (and we still overpacked a few t-shirts ;)).

Essential packing list for Costa Rica

Here is our packing list for Costa Rica:


As a general rule, try to pack only lightweight, breathable, and quickly-drying clothes. Costa Rica has a tropical climate with really hot temperatures year-round. Plus, it can rain at any time. Yes, even in the dry season, you can never be 100% sure that it will remain dry during your entire trip.

Here is the list of clothes that we recommend packing:

  • UV shirts, ideally at least one with long sleeves. We packed 2-3 UV shirts per person. They are ideal for snorkeling, rafting, wildlife spotting, etc.
  • Swimwear. You may want to pack two sets, in case one is really wet, but it’s not a must. I mean, that’s the whole point of swimwear – that it gets wet… 😉 Swim shorts are nice to have for women as well, especially if you are planning to go rafting, waterfall rappelling, or snorkelling.
  • Sun hat. Any type of sun cap or hat is better than none, but most locals wear wide-brim hats, like this.
  • Rain jacket or a poncho. We packed rain jackets and used them on a few occasions. Usually, it’s too warm for a rain jacket, but if you are at higher elevations and it’s raining and windy, you will be happy to have a jacket that is both wind- and waterproof. For example, we really needed a rain jacket when zip-lining in Monteverde – it was rainy and windy and we wouldn’t have enjoyed it without proper clothing.
  • Quick-drying long pants or leggings. We packed one pair of lightweight hiking trousers each. We only needed them in Monteverde, for zip-lining (obligatory) and hiking in the cloud forest on a grey rainy day. Oh, and we also wore long pants on the plane.
  • Sweatshirt. We packed one lightweight fleece sweater each and wore it in the evenings in Monteverde. Plus, we needed something warmer to wear on the plane anyway. In any case, I recommend packing one sweater, sweatshirt, or a thicker long-sleeved shirt for your trip, just in case.
  • One or two nicer dresses for women and shirts (linen – or polo shirts) for men. In general, things are very relaxed in Costa Rica and people dress very casually everywhere. However, if you are staying at a luxury resort or plan to dine at nicer restaurants, you may want to pack some dressier clothes. Just make sure that they are very light or you will be sweating. I packed two summer dresses and wore them for dinner a few times. But if I am honest, I only wore them because I had packed them and not because it was needed. On most nights, we simply went to dinner in shorts and sports T-shirts and most other people in restaurants were also very casually dressed.
  • PJs, underwear, socks – everything as lightweight and quick-drying as possible.
What people wear in Costa Rica
This is pretty much what we wore in Costa Rica most of the time – shorts, T-shirts, sun hats, and either sandals or closed shoes.


What kind of shoes you need to pack for Costa Rica will highly depend on the type of trip you are planning. If you are just staying at the beach, you will be fine in flip-flops or light sandals. However, you will need sturdy anti-slip footwear with closed toes for hiking, wildlife spotting, or some adventurous activities like zip-lining, rafting, rappelling, etc.

While you can pack different shoes for all activities, you can also do with just one pair of shoes for everything (in that case, opt for waterproof closed shoes like this). On the other hand, the chances that your shoes will get wet are quite high (and it’s very difficult to get anything to dry in Costa Rica), so it’s best to have at least two pairs anyway.

We recommend packing one pair of closed shoes (sneakers or light hiking shoes are ideal) and one pair of sandals or water shoes. Closed-toe KEEN water sandals are perfect for almost everything – hiking, beaches, water activities, etc. However, some hikes and night tours explicitly require closed shoes and not just closed-toe shoes. So in addition to sneakers or hiking shoes, we recommend packing lightweight travel sandals, ideally something waterproof like Teva sandals.

Our experience: My husband and I packed our Merrell lightweight hiking shoes and the kids wore sporty sneakers (like this) and we wore them most of the time. We each also packed a pair of waterproof sandals/water shoes which were perfect for rafting, boat excursions, beaches, etc.

I also took a pair of dressy thong sandals to wear with my summer dresses, but I could have easily done without them (or dresses).

Keen sandals - best shoes for Costa Rica
If you pack just one pair of shoes, KEEN sandals are almost perfect. But we recommend packing at least two pairs anyway – one of them completely closed.

Personal Care Products & Medication

When packing for Costa Rica, don’t forget some essential personal care products – see our list below. While you can also buy most of this stuff in Costa Rica, keep in mind that everything will be much more expensive in Costa Rica than at home.

Here are just a few examples. We bought sun cream in Costa Rica and there was literally nothing under $20 anywhere. We also had to get some eye drops at the pharmacy and paid over $13, whereas the same eye drops at home cost $4-5.

Here is what you should definitely not forget to pack:

  • Sun cream. The higher the SPF factor, the better. SPF 50 is really the minimum. Most sun creams they sold in Costa Rica were SPF 70 or even SPF 85 and believe me, you need all the protection you can have. That’s why UV shirts are extremely useful too!
  • Aftersun lotion. We used ours every single day and were really glad we packed it.
  • Medication. Pack any prescription medicines you may need. In addition, it’s good to have some pain relievers, probiotics, antihistamines, and something against diarrhea. If you are prone to motion sickness, pack something too – not just for boat trips, but also for long drives on curvy mountain roads. We also always pack some adhesive bandages.
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, etc. – anything that you use regularly. If you like using washcloths, you may want to pack them as well since not many accommodations provide them.

TIP: If you are traveling with hand luggage only, be sure that liquid sizes don’t exceed the allowed maximum. Also keep in mind that insect repellent sprays may not be allowed in your hand luggage. We could take them in our hand luggage when flying out of Europe, but not out of Costa Rica. So also for this, insect-repellent wipes or bracelets are better than sprays.

Swimming in geothermal hot pools in Arenal Costa Rica
If you look closely, you will see that the backs of my arms are burnt. It happens so quickly – use all the sun protection you can!


No packing list nowadays would be complete without all the essential electronics and accessories. Here are some things you may want to pack:

  • Smartphone, charging cables, a power bank.
  • Power adapter – Costa Rica uses the same plugs as the USA (type A/B plugs), so if you are traveling from the USA, you don’t need anything extra.
  • Binoculars – not a must, but nice to have since there is so much wildlife everywhere you go in Costa Rica.
  • E-reader might be nice to have if you are planning a relaxing beach holiday with lots of free time to read books.
  • Laptop and external hard disk. This is definitely not a must, but if you like to back up your photos during your trip, it’s a good way to do it.

Good to know: Most hotels and restaurants in Costa Rica offer free Wi-Fi. However, if you also want to stay connected when traveling around, consider getting an e-SIM card. You can also bring a mobile hotspot device and get a local SIM card.

Reusable water bottle - a must on any Costa Rica packing list
A reusable water bottle is a must!

Other Must-Haves

In addition to clothing and electronics, there are quite a few other things that we recommend packing for Costa Rica:

  • Reusable water bottle. You will need this every day! Please note that many national parks do not allow single-use plastic bottles, so you really need a good reusable bottle. We saw people with huge water bottles and also with hydration backpacks. Since we only had hand luggage, we had no space for huge bottles. We bought a couple of flexible, collapsible water bottles like this before the trip and they worked just great.
  • Sunglasses. Also, if you wear prescription glasses, you may want to pack a second pair just in case.
  • Waterproof phone case. This is nice to have for any water activities – from swimming in the waterfalls or hot springs to rafting. A good waterproof phone pouch can also come in handy if you get caught in a tropical downpour.
  • Dry bag is another must-have in Costa Rica. Waterproof dry bags come in all kinds of different models and sizes, many can also be worn as a backpack. We found a dry bag so much more useful than a backpack with a rain cover (we had both – one backpack with a rain cover and one dry bag). If it rains, it truly pours and a good dry bag is the only way to be sure that all your belongings stay safe and dry. A waterproof fanny pack is also nice to have.
  • Umbrella. If it’s hot and raining at the same time, often, a rain jacket or even a poncho feels too warm. Plus, your legs and feet get soaking wet in no time, even with waterproof shoes (water runs inside your shoes from above!). We noticed that locals often carry an umbrella with them. It is indispensable when it rains really hard, but you can also use it to protect you from the sun. If you are visiting Costa Rica in the green season, I would definitely pack a small travel umbrella (one per person).
  • Quick-drying travel towel. There are so many opportunities to go swimming in Costa Rica, from beaches and hot springs to waterfalls. A quick-drying towel is nice to have. That said, it’s often so hot that you will dry without any towel too. We packed microfiber travel towels and used them on many occasions. I also read that some people recommend packing a small towel as well – to wear around your neck to absorb sweat.
  • Clothesline for travel. Sometimes it’s so humid that it’s very difficult to get things to dry in Costa Rica, even more so if you have nowhere to hang them. We packed a small retractable clothesline like this and used it on a few occasions. Depending on your accommodation and the weather, you may not need it, but we figured it’s so small that it can’t harm to pack it. And we were glad we did.
  • A bicycle lock (what?! why?! – I’d like to see your face now ;)). Leaving your luggage in the car in Costa Rica is not advisable. However, if you are road-tripping, it’s sometimes unavoidable. Attaching all your suitcases to each other (and potentially to the car) with a long bicycle lock may not be a 100% theft-proof solution, but it will sure make it difficult for anyone to quickly run away with all your luggage. In any case, never leave your documents or any kind of valuables in the car!

TIP: If you are road-tripping in Costa Rica, book a hotel/accommodation with a washing machine and a dryer at least once during your trip! It can be a real lifesaver, especially if all your clothes get soaking wet and muddy. On a recent trip, we booked this beautiful house in Manuel Antonio with this in mind. Also our hotel in Uvita offered to do laundry for free. We were also extremely lucky that our villa at Arenal Volcano Inn had a washer and a dryer. We got so wet in Arenal one day that literally everything – including our shoes – went into the dryer.

People wearing rain jackets hiking in tropical rain in Arenal Costa Rica
We got soaking wet in Arenal. An umbrella would have been much more useful here than a rain jacket and a dry bag would have been much better than a backpack with a rain cover.

Documents, Credit Cards & Money

  • In principle, it’s obligatory to always have your passport on you in Costa Rica. You must be able to prove that you haven’t overstayed your visa, so they need to be able to confirm the date of the entry stamp in your passport. If you prefer to leave your documents in the hotel, take copies of your passport, including a copy of the entry stamp. The easiest way to do this is by taking pictures on your smartphone. While this is not exactly according to the rules, it’s much safer, indeed.
  • If you are renting a car, don’t forget your driver’s license.
  • Be sure to always have some cash. Costa Rica’s local currency is best, but US Dollars are accepted in most restaurants, hotels, attractions, and also at some shops. If you take dollars, take smaller notes ($10-20) and be sure that they are not ripped or damaged in any way.
  • Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica. We used our credit cards pretty much all the time. However, please note that it’s best to take VISA or MasterCard. Not many places accept American Express and even fewer take Discover or Diners Club credit cards. Also, in principle, a PIN is now required for credit card payments over CRC 50,000 (+-100 USD), but in many cases, they just swiped our cards without asking for a PIN or signature.
  • Take paper copies of all your travel bookings and reservations – flights, car rental, hotels, tours, etc.

TIP: Always keep a digital copy of your passport, driver’s license, and any other important documents in a cloud (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). Also, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Our experience: We had paper copies of our passports and digital copies as well, but nobody ever asked us for the documents. In some national parks, they asked us to confirm our names but they didn’t ask to confirm the passport number or to see it. But we were told by local guides that you should always have a copy of your passport, just in case.

Costa Rica signs saying they do not accept American Express, broken dollars, and cards without a pin
Some of the money signs we saw in Costa Rica.

What Not to Pack for Costa Rica

In addition to all the essentials that you should pack for Costa Rica, there are quite some things that you better leave at home:

  • High-heeled shoes and fancy evening dresses. Unless you are attending a wedding or some exceptional event, you really don’t need fancy clothes in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is one of the most relaxed countries we have ever visited. Everything and everywhere is extremely casual. Pura Vida, as they like to say.
  • Jeans, wool sweaters, warm jackets, and other heavy clothing. It’s much too hot and too humid for that!
  • Heavy hiking boots, unless you are planning to do some serious hiking (in which case, they may be very useful). But for most travelers doing a few short hikes to the most popular waterfalls, sneakers and light hiking shoes will be more than sufficient.
  • Expensive jewelry, watches, etc. You don’t want to risk losing your precious jewelry on a rafting trip or while swimming in a waterfall…
  • Heavy makeup. It’s so hot and humid in Costa Rica that you won’t be able to do much with it anyway.
  • High-quality leather purses, bags, etc. Everything you bring risks getting wet, so keep it simple!
  • Paper books. Not only are they heavy, but books may also get wet/damp. Plus, it gets dark very early in Costa Rica and many hotel rooms are quite dark. So if you like to read, simply take an e-reader.
  • Any other currency than Costa Rican Colones or US Dollars.
  • Chocolate, coffee, and pretty much any food. Costa Rica has great locally-grown coffee and chocolate, and you will also find all kinds of food for all tastes. Plus, importing fruit and some other fresh foods, seeds, etc. is not even allowed. There is really no need to bring any food or snacks with you. Remember that discovering local food is part of what travel is/should be about.
River tubing in Costa Rica
This is our family on a river tubing tour in Rio Celeste. Costa Rica has so many fun activities and none of them require fancy clothing. So keep it simple and enjoy!

So, this is our packing list for Costa Rica. I hope that this gives you a better idea of what to wear and what you really need to bring, and what you better leave at home.

Have a great trip!

More travel inspiration and destination guides for Costa Rica:

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What to pack for a trip to Costa Rica

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