Costa Rica offers a diverse nature and wildlife, which makes is a true paradise. From beautiful white sandy beaches to green rainforests and mounting volcanoes. There are some essential things you need to pack for Costa Rica to stay safe and which will help you on your journey. This post lists all the items you will need. Use this as your checklist to ensure you pack everything you need to bring on your trip to Costa Rica.
packing list for costa rica – what to bring?
Costa Rica is a tropical country, so expect hot temperatures and humidity. Pack casual tops, shorts, sandals, flip flops. Take clothes that dry quickly. Sportswear is good if you’re planning on hiking or plan to have an active type of holiday.
In San Jose, locals are more used to wearing long pants than shorts. It’s more of a cultural thing rather than weather choice. You should respect those cultural differences and embrace them.
Hiking shoes or winter shoes, as long as they have a sturdy grip. If you plan to go hiking (and you should!) in Costa Rica, you need shoes with a good grip. Hiking trails can be muddy and wet even during the dry season, so take shoes you wouldn’t care to mess or the ones that will not get wet. Choose the ones that are waterproof, breathable, and lightweight.
If you don’t want to take hiking or winter shoes with you, then at least take sneakers, as some activities such as ziplining, will require you to have closed-toe shoes.
Costa Rica has two seasons. Dry, which lasts from December to April, and the rainy season starting from May through to November. Costa Rica is a small country, yet it has 12 life zones with its own microclimate. Meaning different places across Costa Rica might have different weather. Even if you’re travelling in dry season, the weather can be quite unpredictable and you can still have some drizzle during the day. So don’t be surprised and get wet, be prepared instead. It’s better to get a good quality raincoat, than the cheap ‘plastic bag’ of a raincoat people tend to use at festivals. I got mine at Topshop for £50 and absolutely love it, it served me well on many occasions.
Warm Hoodie/ Sweater
As above, the weather can be unpredictable. And the nights can be cold. If you’re hiking a volcano, the elevations are high, so when you get on top it can be quite chilly, even on a sunny day.
This is especially useful if you’re planning on doing water activities, which Costa Rica has plenty of tours to choose from. White water rafting will require you to wear watershoes. Other activities include kayaking, canyoneering and hiking through wet areas. I got my pair from ‘No Fear’ and they’re great!
This will be your saviour. The tropical climate in Costa Rica is home to many mosquitos, bugs and other insects. The mosquitos are relentless in Costa Rica. You may not see or hear them but they will still get you and leave you with itchy bites. Some mosquitos may transmit dangerous diseases such as dengue, zika and other illnesses. You should wear it every day, and not only when going into the rainforest, as the mosquitos are present throughout the Costa Rica even in the urban cities like San Jose. The best mosquito repellents will contain DEET. I used Jungle Formula Spray.
The sun is very intense here. Even being exposed in the sun for as short time as half an hour without protection might leave you with a nasty sunburn. I recommend using the highest SPF50 or at least 30. You should reapply it every few hours or more often if you are swimming or take part in other water activities, which might wash the sunscreen off. I used Piz Buin SPF30, which protects the skin but still tans leaving you with a nice sun kissed colour. Sunscreens are expensive to buy in Costa Rica, so it’s better to get one before boarding the plane.
Insulated Water Bottle
It can get very hot in Costa Rica and so will your bottle water. If you want to cool down with cold water, the insulated water bottle will keep it nice and cold. Many hostels offer free filtered water, so you can refill your bottle instead of keep on buying a bottled water in the shop.
Flashlight / Headlamp
The days are very short in Costa Rica so it gets dark right after sunset at around 5.30pm and it’s like that throughout the year regardless of the season/ month, because Costa Rica lies so close to the equator. The main streets are usually lit with lamp posts, but smaller streets may be very dark. Plus, it’s not unusual for the electricity to suddenly go out in Central America. You may also decide to take a night tour to the rainforest to experience the wildlife, as that’s when all the animals come to live. The headlamp or flashlight will guide you in the darkest of times!
Although many people in Costa Rica speak very good English and it’s relatively easy to communicate with anyone, especially in touristy places, you should still embrace the local culture and at least try to communicate in their native language. Also, some people such as bus drivers generally speak Spanish only. In Costa Rica, you get to hear a lot of ‘Pura Vida’, which means ‘Pure Life’. Ticos (Costa Ricans) use it for hello, goodbye, thank you or anytime they feel like it. I used a pocket size dictionary, which came very handy! There is also a useful app you can download on your smartphone called ‘Learn Spanish Phrases’ from Bravolol Limited, which has practical phrases to use in different kind of situations.
In Central America including Costa Rica, they use American style power socket, so if you live in Europe or the United Kingdom you will need an adapter. I use world-wide universal travel adapter to have just one and be able to use it wherever I go.
Portable power bank
Re-charge your phone and camera anywhere anytime on the go, so you don’t have to worry of running out of battery during your trip and missing the picture perfect moment.
If you’re planning on taking part in water activities but still want to take your other items with you, such as your phone or money, simply put it the dry bag. Dry bag won’t let any water in it, as it’s very secure. I got mine for only £14 which included the big bag, smartphone protection plastic bag and money belt. Bargain!
Small First Aid Kit & Meds
Hopefully, you won’t ever need to use it, but just in case it’s always useful to have it. You can get a minor injury that will need a small treatment. Definitely include plasters and some medications. Although tap water is safe to drink in most places in Costa Rica, I recommend always drinking filtered water. Generally, anytime you’re in a new place and unfamiliar with the food, traveller’s diarrhea can occur. It’s better to load up on the meds than spent your holiday on the toilet. If you’re sensitive to long car rides or shaky boat rides, you will need some motion sickness medication too.
Rain cover for your backpack
In case you’re travelling in a rainy season, this will keep your things dry on rainy days! If you’re backpacking, they’re unlikely to be waterproof, so you will need an extra protection.
This quickly absorbs all water, leaving you dry. Great for wiping sweat off too.
This is a must above anything else. You need one to capture the beauty of this unique country. For my trip, I used Nikon J5, which is light and perfect for travelling, taking good quality pictures. I also don’t leave for the trip without my GoPro, so then I can look back on all the movie clips I took, which takes me right back to that place.
Costa Rica is popular for its rich wildlife. Getting a closer look at it is rewarding. If you want to see a sloth in its natural habitat, they are high on the trees and can be difficult to spot, because they blend so well with the tree branches and leaves. You will need binoculars if you want to see it properly.
Useful tips when packing for Costa Rica
Tip 1: Use backpack for your trip, rather than a roller suitcase. The road conditions are not great in Costa Rica and in some rural parts there are no pavements.
Tip 2: Pack your clothes in bags, so it’s easy to unpack/ pack and find your items. Take few spare bags to separate your clean clothes from the dirty or wet ones.
Tip 3: Get cash when you’re in Costa Rica. Don’t convert it in your home country, most countries won’t have Costa Rican colones anyway. You can pay in US dollars almost anywhere in Costa Rica. Some shops/ restaurants and hostels don’t accept cards. The ATM’s in Costa Rica aren’t as popular as in other countries. There might be only one or none depending on where you are staying. If so, these are used by everyone and so can often be out of service or not have enough cash. So keep that in mind.
Now, you should be ready for anything that Costa Rica throws at you. Travel safe while enjoying and making the most of your time in this great country.
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