Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world — home to active volcanoes, wildlife seen nowhere else in the world, pristine beaches and near-untouched rainforests. It is a country that can provide memories for a lifetime — but pack incorrectly and you could end up feeling very wet. Or hot. Or cold.
So what should you pack for a country where you could be watching the surf break off the shore of Tamarindo Beach one day and hiking through rain-soaked jungle the next? Here are some suggestions:
Clothing is not optional
Costa Rica is a small country, but its varying landscape and climate mean you have to pack light and smart. Given the contrasting conditions between beach life and jungle hikes, flexible clothing options are a must. A couple of pairs of shorts, swim wear, shirts (or T-shirts) and a long pair of pants for the evenings should cover you for most beach or urban conditions. While a couple of pairs of hiking or track pants are best for moving through the jungle, along with several pairs of good socks. Your feet can get quite wet walking through the rain or crossing a stream, so it is crucial that you always have a dry pair for the morning. And don't forget comfortable — and well broken-in — shoes.
It can rain quite a lot. To be prepared for when the weather is not being kind, it pays not only to have sunblock, a hat and sunglasses, but also to bring a waterproof jacket and a rain-proof cover for your pack itself. Even a few hours of exposure can leave it soaked so we can’t say this enough: dry bags, dry bags, dry bags. Anything you don't want to get wet should go into dry bags. Time to move on and your clothes are still wet? Tuck damp things into a separate bag until you can air them out properly. It beats making everything you own smell dank.
Bring a few ways to pay
One of the beautiful things about travel is the idea that you say goodbye to the hassles of everyday life as soon as you lock your front door and head to the airport. But you still need to pay for things while you're on the road. For a trip to Costa Rica, you'll need credit and debit cards, but also enough U.S. dollars to sustain yourself for several days, as there may be times when withdrawing cash or paying for goods electronically is simply not an option. You’re also not going to get very far without your passport.
Something to make the memories last
A travel notebook and digital camera are often the first things packed by any traveller, and for good reason. However, given that the only constant with travel is never really knowing what will happen next, you should bring multiple spare (charged) battery packs for your cameras, or even look for equipment that takes standard batteries — just in case you're shooting a lot and don’t have easy access to a power outlet. The same goes for packing extra memory cards. You can never have too many.
Even a Scout wouldn’t go without…
Resourcefulness should not be overlooked when packing for Costa Rica. To avoid draining your phone battery by using it as a flashlight, pack a hands-free headlamp for slippery trails and moving around at night. Tropical-strength insect repellent, a waterproof phone case and a reusable water bottle are also recommended. It's worth noting that all of these things should go into a backpack, not a suitcase. It’s more flexible, easy to stow and your back will thank you.
Prepare for bumps in the road
While Costa Rica has many of the comforts of home — especially in the major tourist centres — it’s important to be prepared in case things do go wrong. A good first-aid kit is essential, along with extra prescriptions you may be taking. Hand sanitizer, cloth masks and antibacterial wipes can help limit your exposure to illness — but make sure your toiletries are biodegradable or properly disposed of, as you will be visiting some fragile ecosystems.
Originally published September 14, 2015. Article updated with new packing info, tips and photos on November 2, 2020.
Mentally packed and raring to go? G Adventures runs a number of tours in Costa Rica with a wide range of experiences and activities. We’re thrilled to show you this big blue planet of ours — check out all of our small group trips!