What To Pack For Costa Rica: 15 Essential Items

When I decided to relocate to Costa Rica, it was my goal to pack as light as possible. One, because I’d be travelling around a lot, and two, because it’d be carrying everything on my back in a 50L backpack. Now, in general, I’m quite a relaxed traveller, but when it comes to my packing list, I am fully prepared. Too often some things will be more expensive or simply not available at your chosen destination (definitely the case for Costa Rica).

If you’re wondering what to pack for Costa Rica specifically, you have come to the right place. For this post, I’m listing 15 essential items that should be on your Costa Rica packing list (+ what NOT to pack!). Whether you’re backpacking through Costa Rica for weeks or going on a short family holiday, you’ll most likely use these items every single day!

Ps: This post doesn’t include obvious things such as your passport, laptop or underwear (don’t forget those tho…)

What to pack for Costa Rica: 15 must-have items!

1. SUNSCREEN

Every Costa Rica packing list has to include sunscreen. I can’t possibly stress this enough. Don’t think you don’t need it. Don’t think: Oh, it’s just a 15 minute walk. The sun in Costa Rica isn’t to be underestimated. You will get burned. And it will be bad. I definitely suggest buying your sunscreen in advance, since the offer in Costa Rica is limited and expensive.

Read next: How To Travel Costa Rica On A Budget: 9 Money Saving Tips

2. A MOSQUITO NET

There seems to be a bit of a debate going on between backpackers whether a mosquito net is necessary or not. Well, let me tell you: I would’ve DIED without mine (because I wouldn’t have slept ever). I used it almost everywhere I went. It’s not just mosquitos you’re keeping out: it’s cockroaches, spiders, ants, etc! They all come out and play at night and I’m assuming you don’t want them crawling in your sheets (speaking from experience, yes). Granted, if you’re staying in San José or in a more upscale hotel, you hopefully won’t need it!

3. A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE

I didn’t take one, regretted it immediately and bought one on the spot. In Costa Rica, you can drink the tap water in most places (tastes surprisingly good too), so you can easily refill your water bottle. Besides, plastic water bottles are expensive too AND bad for the environment.

4. ANTI-MOSQUITO SPRAY

Anti-mosquito sprays or sticks are a must in Costa Rica. It does depend on when and where you’re going: some places I didn’t have to use anything, others I covered my entire body with spray and I still got bitten. Nevertheless, I usually never left without some kind of protection against those vicious little creatures.

5. A SWEATER

You may think that because you’re going to the tropics, it will be hot and sunny all the time and there’s no need for warmer clothes. Don’t make this mistake! Not only can it get chilly at night, some buses and shuttles have freezing cold aircon and you’re going to want an extra layer of clothing when you’re stuck in there for hours. In fact, I think I wore my two sweaters the most out of all the clothes I brought.

6. A RAIN JACKET

If you’re wondering what to pack for Costa Rica’s rainy season, the answer is everything on this list + a rain jacket! Even during dry season, there are plenty of areas where it’s still rainy or extremely humid (like La Fortuna or Monteverde’s famous cloud forest). If your backpack isn’t waterproof, a rain cover isn’t an unnecessary luxury either.

7. FLIP FLOPS

Before I knew anything about Costa Rica, I thought it would be dangerous to walk around on flip flops because of all the poisonous insects etc. I’m not saying it’s always 100% safe, but when you see toddlers wearing flip flops in national parks, you start to feel kind of stupid in your fancy hiking boots. Also, it’s way too hot to wear closed shoes most of the time!

8. SUNGLASSES

Speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I lost mine in the ocean (who swims in giant waves with sunglasses on??) and had to buy new ones, ’cause it’s just too annoying squinting all the time. Plus, it’s always good to protect your eyes from the sun.

9. A UNIVERSAL ADAPTER

I will warn you right now: sockets in Costa Rica are the most annoying things ever. Sometimes your charger just falls out! Depending on where you’re from, you’ll also need a universal adapter. I brought two so I could charge several devices simultaneously.

10. A SMALL BACKPACK

If you have one of those big trekking backpacks or any type of suitcase, it’s really convenient to pack a smaller backpack for hikes or day trips. You can leave everything you don’t need at your hotel/bnb and only take the necessities. I’m thinking snacks, water, anti-mosquito stuff, insect cream, etc.

11. CREAM FOR BUG BITES

An item that was in my backpack no matter what, was a cream for bug bites or stings. Costa Rican mosquitos have no mercy and their bites itch like crazy, so trust me, you’ll be happy you brought this!

12. MEDICATION + FIRST AID KIT

Pills and other things you buy in a pharmacy are ridiculously expensive in Costa Rica. Whether it’s allergy pills, pain medication or even moisturizer, add it to your packing list to avoid the hassle later on. A first aid kit can also come in very handy; you never know when you might need scissors or some bandages.

13. A FLASH LIGHT

Did you know that the sun sets around 6pm in Costa Rica (all year round)? If you’re staying right in the town centre, a flash light might not be necessary (depends on the town though). However, the minute you venture off to more quiet, dark, jungly areas, I promise you’re going to want to see where you’re putting your foot down.

14. WATER SHOES

Another invaluable item for a trip through Costa Rica! You might not need water shoes as much when you’re going to the beach (the sand is usually really soft!), but if you’re planning on exploring any sort of waterfall, hot spring or river, you will need them. It’s all fun and games watching people stumble, until you have to do it yourself. Save yourself the pain! And embarrassment…

15. A POWER BANK

This isn’t the most crucial item on the list, but if you’re someone who likes to take a lot of pictures or film videos, having a power bank at hand can be very useful. It’s also convenient when you’re going on long day trips and you want to listen to some music!

What not to pack for Costa Rica?

Aside from what you should pack for Costa Rica, you might be wondering what NOT to pack! It’s a valid concern, especially for those planning on backpacking through Costa Rica. No one likes to carry around stuff they don’t even use! Here are some things I would leave at home:

travel items

1. SNEAKERS OR HEELS

I brought hiking boots, a pair of sneakers and flip flops. Since I walked around on flip flops 90% of the time, it was completely ridiculous that I was carrying around two extra pairs of heavy shoes. So, if you’re in doubt between bringing hiking boots or sneakers, I’d definitely go for the hiking boots. They offer way more support, are often waterproof and they can handle some dirt. What’s even more unpractical is wearing heels in Costa Rica! Roads are super uneven almost everywhere and most events are at the beach anyway!

2. FANCY EQUIPMENT

Theft is definitely a problem in Costa Rica (never leave your stuff unguarded) and I heard some disturbing stories of someone being stabbed for holding onto their expensive camera. I personally wouldn’t risk it and just leave the real fancy stuff at home. If you do feel like you need it, I suggest never going to secluded areas by yourself.

Read next: 15 Things You Should Know Before Travelling To Costa Rica

3. EXPENSIVE CLOTHES, JEWELRY OR HANDBAGS

I feel like dressing up really isn’t a thing in Costa Rica. It can easily attract unwanted attention (from thieves) and it just isn’t the place for it. Costa Rica has a tropical climate so you’ll probably be sweating in your nice clothes and in general, everyone dresses very casual. Many people pretty much live in their swimwear! Also, if you plan on doing any sort of outdoor activity, a small backpack is so much more convenient than a handbag.

These are all the things I would (and wouldn’t) pack for Costa Rica, hope you found this post helpful! What does your Costa Rica packing list look like? Let me know in the comments 🙂


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