what to pack for costa rica

Pack Like a True Tico! What to Pack for Costa Rica

Costa Rica is so hot right now!

It seems like we all know someone who has been to, is going back to or is moving to Costa Rica. Sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is an ecotourism and biodiversity magnet.

Nature-lovers, adventure-seekers, surfers, yogis, honeymooners, families and solo travelers alike are drawn to Costa Rica for countless reasons.

While Costa Rica is relatively small in size, comparable to the state of West Virginia, it is made up of seven provinces, 12 ecosystems and 12 climate zones. It is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Over 26% of the country is protected.

There are two coastlines, five active volcanoes and forests in the clouds.

Packing for a trip to Costa Rica is heavily dependent on when you visit, where you go and what you plan on doing. There are definitely some must-bring basics, though, regardless of when and where you will be in Costa Rica.

If you want to pack like a pro for your trip to Costa Rica, knowing what to expect of the season, climate zone(s) and regions(s) will make a significant difference.
 


 

What to Know Before You Go to Costa Rica

Be prepared for the season

Costa Rica only experiences two main seasons, wet and dry. The dry season typically lasts from December to April but can vary depending on the year and part of the country. The wet or rainy season usually spans between May and November.

The farther south you go on the Pacific coast, the rainier it tends to be. The Caribbean coast does not stick to the seasonal perimeters that the rest of the country follows.

During the dry season, you will rarely see any rainfall. During the rainy season, it generally does not rain all day and every day, but it will rain at some point most days. The further into the rainy season you go, though, the more consistent the storms usually are.

As you can imagine, the months with little to no rainfall are some of the most popular times to visit Costa Rica. This is also in part because Christmas, New Year’s and Easter take place during the dry season months, too.

Both seasons have their pros and cons, and it really all comes down to your availability, budget and desired destinations and activities that will make one season better than the other for you.

Know the climate zones you will be in

There are 12 different micro-climate zones in Costa Rica. While many of them only vary slightly, it is wise to have a general idea of what to expect on the climate front to properly pack for your trip to Costa Rica.

It might come as a shock to learn that there are actually some places in Costa Rica where temperatures can reach the high 90s and others that can dip down into the 30s.

Costa Rica’s average temperature is around 76°F.

Guanacaste/Nicoya Peninsula

what to pack for costa rica

This zone includes places like Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Playa Guiones, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais.

This Northern Pacific region of Costa Rica is always hot. Temperatures here, especially in the middle of a sunny day in the midst of the dry season, can max out close to 100°F.

However, early mornings and evenings can be pleasant in temperature and range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. This is the driest part of Costa Rica in terms of annual rainfall.

Central/Southern Pacific coast

what to pack for costa rica

This stretch of coastline includes magical destinations like Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Drake Bay.

Prized for its lush rainforests, this zone is very humid. The average highs are a bit lower down here than up north and evenings, especially during or after a rain, can be refreshingly cool.

Central Highlands

what to pack for costa rica

The central highlands include Monteverde and Tilarán.

This is cloud forest territory. During the day, a t-shirt and pants is the ideal attire for exploring the cloud forests, but at night you might want to wear a long sleeve shirt.

Central Valley

what to pack for costa rica

The Central Valley, which includes San José, Santa Ana and Grecia, is famed for having some of the best weather in all of Costa Rica.

Temperatures here are very mild, and the nighttime can actually be chilly. You can definitely wear pants and a jacket up in this zone at night and be comfortable.

If you plan on visiting the Irazú or Poás Volcano, or any other high elevation point in Costa Rica, you can expect temperatures to be cold and sometimes even freezing early in the morning.

Temperatures at high elevations can remain on the chilly side throughout the day if the cloud coverage is thick, which it often is.

Caribbean coast

what to pack for costa rica

The Caribbean Coast is very humid, receives a lot of rain and is hot more often than not.

As with anywhere in Costa Rica, if it’s rainy or cloudy, the temperatures can be far milder.

Protect yourself against the hazards

Mosquitoes

While the mosquitoes are definitely worse during the rainy season, they are a threat year-round. Some mosquitoes in Costa Rica carry dengue, chikungunya and zika.

Do not venture outdoors without first applying insect repellent.

Sand fleas/flies

In many places, sand fleas, also called no-see-ums, plague the beaches at dawn and dusk. These pesky, invisible biters will eat you alive if you do not have insect repellent on.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by infected sand fleas. It has been reported in parts of Central America, including Costa Rica.

Do yourself a favor and just wear insect repellent at all times.

Sun

Costa Rica is located just north of the equator. This prime tropical location makes the sun significantly stronger here than places farther away from this Earth-hugging latitudinal line.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think that you can go sans sunscreen in Costa Rica. Even if you are wearing the highest SPF sunscreen, your skin will still be kissed by the sun.

Storms

For at least five months of the year, you can expect storms in Costa Rica.

Storms bring rain, wind, mud and slippery roads and pathways. Packing the proper rain gear and footwear is essential for your trip to Costa Rica.

Pack Like a True Tico! What to Pack for Costa Rica

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The Must-Pack Basics for a Trip to Costa Rica

Insect repellent

REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, Pump Spray, 4-Ounce

Costa Rica is an entomologist’s dreamland. There are thousands of different species of insects that make their home here, and more being discovered on a regular basis. While many of those species are harmless, the ones that bite are potentially very dangerous.

Save yourself from irritating bites, itchy skin, unsightly welts and dangerous viruses by dousing yourself in bug spray. There are plenty of natural bug sprays that use a combination of essential oils like citronella, lemongrass and germanium. They are far more pleasant to use than the heavy-DEET sprays.

Reef-friendly sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreen, mineral and chemical. It has been proven that chemical sunscreens containing the active ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate are largely responsible for coral bleaching and coral reef destruction.

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Face Lotion | Vegan and Reef Friendly (Octinoxate & Oxybenzone Free) Broad Spectrum Natural Sunscreen with UVA/UVB Protection | 1.7 oz

The active ingredients in mineral-based sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and they are not harmful to the environment.

There are several Costa Rica-based companies that are making highly effective, delicious smelling and environmentally friendly sunscreen products. An impressive selection of international brands like Alba Botanica, MD SolarSciences, and Sun Bum’s mineral series, are also jumping on this bandwagon.

Reusable water bottle

Costa Rica is working to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021. Join the cause in Costa Rica by bringing or buying a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing single-use plastic water bottles.

The water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, but many restaurants, hotels and other accommodation types provide filtered water.

Rain jacket

Packing a rain jacket is an absolute must for your trip to Costa Rica regardless of the time of the year. A rain jacket will obviously serve you well during the rainy season but is also great to wear in the misty cloud forests or on a boat excursion.

A rain jacket can also function as a wind breaker and light insulator. For the best options out there, check out our ultimate guide to choosing a versatile travel rain jacket.

Polarized sunglasses

Ray-Ban RB2132 New Wayfarer Polarized Sunglasses, Tortoise/Polarized Green, 55 mm

The sun is strong! Protect your eyes!

Polarized sunglasses are especially great for when you are out at sea, as the colors of the sea are beautifully intensified. RayBan and Costa are two of the top sunglasses brands that make polarized sunglasses.

Hat

The sun is strong! Protect your face!

Dry daypack

Packing a dry or water-resistant daypack for your trip to Costa Rica is pro-level prepared. Many of the activities and excursions you will likely want to do will involve some element of wet. Whether wet from rain, wet from cloud forest mist, wet from the ocean or wet from rafting.

To protect your camera and other non-water friendly items while out and about, a dry daypack is key. Mandarin Gear makes an ultra-light, waterproof and durable daypack that folds down to pocket size when not in use.

Two types of shoes

Leave the fancy footwear at home! The only two types of shoes you will need for your trip to Costa Rica are a pair of sandals and a pair of walking or hiking shoes with good traction.

If you really want to pack light and efficiently, you can opt for adventure sandals like the ones that KEEN makes.

Flashlight or headlamp

Power outages are not uncommon in Costa Rica, especially during big storms. There are also many places you might stay where the outside lighting is limited or non-existent.

Having a flashlight or headlamp can really come in handy when walking around at night or in the midst of a power outage.

Copy of your passport

Guard your real passport with your life! Losing it in Costa Rica will only bring an element of total inconvenience and hassle to your trip.

It is a good idea to lock your passport in the safe or hide it somewhere. Then just carry a copy of your passport around with you.

Costa Rican Spanish phrasebook or app

While English is widely spoken in Costa Rica, it is respectful and highly appreciated when visitors at least attempt to communicate in Spanish.

Costa Ricans are friendly and non-judgmental, which makes this a great place to practice your Spanish.

what to pack for costa rica

Try FluentU free for 15 days before your trip to brush up on your Spanish. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers and news programs—and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.

The best part? You can download files for offline use, meaning you can keep studying on a beach or in the jungle in Costa Rica!

What to Add for a Coastal Costa Rica Adventure

Sun shirt or rash guard

You will definitely want a sun shirt or rash guard to wear during all that fun in the sun you will likely be having. These lightweight and quick-dry shirts are perfect for protecting your skin against the harmful rays of the sun.

Sarong or quick-dry towel

A sarong or quick-dry towel should be part of any travel pack. Both can be used for multiple purposes and take up very little room in your suitcase.

Cotton or linen shirts

Packing for a coastal trip to Costa Rica is all about lightweight, breathable and loose-fitting clothing.

Swimsuits

If your focus is on the sea, you will likely be wearing a swimsuit every day. Pack several.

Del Toro Bikinis, Morena Beachwear, Salvaje Swimwear, Maracao Beachwear and SLOTHY Summer Wear are all Costa Rican brands that hand-make beautiful and affordable swimwear, if you are looking to treat yourself to a new suit.

After-sun lotion

The elements are harsh in Costa Rica. Treat your skin to some TLC after a day in the sun and sea.

What to Add for an Inland Costa Rica Journey

Hiking shoes

Merrell Men's J65239, Black/Wild Dove, 10.5 M US

Some of the best excursions include hiking or trekking through wild terrain.

Make sure you pack comfortable and supportive shoes that have good traction. Merrell has a great selection of men’s and women’s hiking shoes that are also water shoes.

Sweater or jacket

The higher you go, the cooler it is. Especially at night and early in the morning. Pack a cozy jacket or sweater that you can throw on when your bones feel chilled.

Long sleeve shirts

Packing for a trip to Costa Rica that involves the central and highland parts of the country is all about layers. You will be very happy that you packed a few long sleeve shirts for your trip.

Binoculars

Did you know that there are more species of birds in Costa Rica than in all of North America? A pair of binoculars is a great addition to your pack and one that will only help you see more wildlife up close and personally.

 

Whether you are headed to Costa Rica in the wet or dry season, to the Central Valley or Caribbean coast, for a week or a month… you should have everything you need.

Now pack your bags and start your adventure!
 


 

Jenn Parker is a native Floridian who has been living in Costa Rica since 2010. She is an avid writer, traveler and nature lover on a mission to surf the earth and share her stories. She writes for multiple publications, including a collaborative blog called Ocean and Oak.

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