Who knew you could pack such a variety of adventures in such a small country – one about the size of the state of West Virginia? Well, Costa Rica proves that you can! With awesome beaches, rain forests, jungles, waterfalls, hot springs, volcanoes, surfing, diving, hiking, spelunking… What does this incredible backpacking destination NOT offer? We can’t think of much either.
And while sun, tropics and beach probably first to come to mind when thinking about Costa Rican travels, you may be surprised that there’s a lot more to consider that will affect what to pack for Costa Rica.
And we’re here to help! Here you’ll find an all-you-need-to-know guide for what to pack for Costa Rica – complete with a packing list of top 22 travel needs, recommendations on what to wear in Costa Rica and what to pack by season – with a special section for guys and gals – and what NOT to pack.
Let’s get started so you can get through the packing part and move onto the fun stuff – getting yourself to Costa Rica for an unforgettable adventure!
The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List
Packing for a Costa Rica trip or vacation is now made easier thanks to this kick ass list. From what to wear to in Costa Rica, to what sunscreen to use, we have it all covered here.
The Backpack and Luggage: Nomatic Travel Bag
Before we tell you what to pack for Costa Rica, let’s start with to pack it all into. We have tried a lot of difference bags over the years ranging from the shocking to the sublime. For all types of travelers and destinations, our number one recommendation is the Nomatic Travel Bag.
The Nomatic travel bag covers every detail to make backpacking travel the best experience. Because of its smart design, it manages to provide loads of packing space in a convenient, carry-on size package! Its handy built-in pockets make plenty of room for all the necessities on your what to pack for Costa Rica checklist – you’ll find separate compartments for important items like shoes, water bottle, electronics, underwear and socks. As an added bonus, there’s also an RFID-safe and cord management pocket.
You have a choice between backpack or duffel bag carry, and extra carrying comfort for your back thanks to its innovative strap system and detachable sternum strap. And its black, waterproof material is every bit sleek and modern as it is durable and tough. There is a reason why most Broke Backpacker staff swear by this backpack.
Alternative Luggage: AER Travel Pack 2
Our number two selection for an epic travel backpack is the AER Travel Pack 2. Like the Nomatic Travel Bag, this AER backpack is fully featured, big enough to hold an extended weekend of clothing, and tough enough to last years of travel abuse. Whether this bag is right for you depends on what you bring to Costa Rica as storage is limited.
I have taken the AER Travel Pack 2 on multiple trips and since then it has risen has in the ranks of my go-to travel backpacks. It will do perfectly for your Costa Rica trip, and for many an adventure to come.
Check out our AER Travel Pack 2 review to learn more.
A Suitcase: Nomatic Carry-On Pro
Backpacks not your thing? That’s ok. Our friends at Nomatic are back again with a great alternative to their badass Travel Bag; the Nomatic Carry-On Pro. This is a great carry-on-able suitcase for your Costa Rican trip.
This suitcase is ultra-durable, sleek, and comes with a handy tech compartment for transporting your laptop and other electronic bits. Nomatic has been an industry leader when it comes to travel gear and that reputation is reflected in the quality build design and functionality of the Carry-On Pro suitcase.
Check out our Nomatic Carry-On Pro review to learn more about this epic suitcase.
The Camera: GoPro Hero9 Black
For most of us, our smartphones now feature cameras with stunning photo capabilities.
But… if you are an aspiring photographer who wants to take next-level photos and video beyond iPhone selfies, I recommend going with an action camera like the GoPro Hero9 Black.
It does deliver pro-quality video and gives you a bunch of a different angle options and shooting speeds to work with for photos (including a selfie-mode).
Think of a camera purchase like this as a long term investment that will have you capturing epic shots well beyond your time exploring here.
If you are looking for something cheaper for video specifically, check out these epic GoPro Alternatives.
What To Pack For Costa Rica: Personal Gear
Costa Rica is generally hot, steamy and lovely. However, there is a rainy season during which time things can get very wet, humid and bloody. Chances are that you will be spending some time on the beach too so pack accordingly.
Other that that, there are also some epic trekking and camping opportunities in Costa Rica so it is important to ensure that you have all the gear you will need.
Costa Rica Checklist
You’re an adult and you know to dress yourself right? So we are NOT going to patronise by telling you to wear pants and pack deodorant (but make sure you do both). Instead, we are going to recommend the following kick-ass items!
Good Shoes – Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero
Whether you are traipsing through city street, clambering up mountains sides or headed deep in the jungle, it always pays to wear good shoes. If you are gonna spend your whole time in Costa Rica at the beach , then you can skip this step but for those adventure hungry amongst us, read on.
Shoes that are also good for hiking are not the most attractive pieces of footwear but these ones are kinda suave right? They are some of the most comfortable and deliver good ankle support for a long day of walking about town. I mean, your body is already going to be suffering enough from all of those Mojito’s you’re gonna be downing.
Check out the women’s Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero.
Good Rain Jacket – Arcteryx Beta AR
Did you know that the surface of the earth is 70% covered in water? And you know how that water got there? Yep because it tends to rain here on planet earth quite a lot! If you are visiting Costa Rica in the rainy season, it will most likely rain (otherwise you’ll feel cheated right?) so be prepared.
There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong gear for it. Don’t let a bit (or a lot) of rain ruin your trip and make sure you are ready with some top notch rain gear.
This is our pick of the many rain jackets we have tried. It’s reliable & stylish and looks good worn out in the mountains or in city bars.
Any time of the year there is a beach, pool or lagoon with your name on it waiting in Costa Rica. You will be the disappointed guy or girl in the corner if you forget to pack swimwear while everyone else is in the water. Or you might get drunk, lose your inhibitions, and jump in naked with the risk of getting arrested.
Don’t get arrested for being drunk and naked. Instead, just pack whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable in the water.
Travel First Aid Kit
You don’t need to tote around half a pharmacy, but a well-stocked first aid kit should be in all our backpacks. Stuff happens on the road and it’s inconvenient and embarrassing when you can’t manage small situations like a cut finger or hangover migraine.
You can tuck this lifesaver away in a forgotten pocket – and it’ll be there when you need it.
Tip: Add a few bits and pieces to the first aid kit after you purchase it, like extra headache medicine, any personal meds you need (like allergy pills), whatever you take to calm your stomach and a few more plasters.
Travel Insurance From World Nomads
Ok, you can’t pack travel insurance in your backpack, but you can take out a cheap policy to insure yourself against theft, flight cancellations, accidents, etc.
Costa Rica can sometimes be dicey. Robbery and tropical sickness does happen here. I’ll be honest, Broke Backpacker founder owns his financial solvency to having travel insurance in Costa Rica – about 10 years ago he spent a month in hospital here and racked up a proper hefty bill.
We use either World Nomads or SafetyWing. You’ll be happy you did if the time comes to use it.
Sun God Sunglasses
Costa Rica is bright and sunny. Thank god! So a reliable pair of sunglasses is undoubtedly one of your Costa Rica packing essentials. Our favorites are SunGod Sunglasses because they deliver on quality and style.
They’re built tough with triple-layer scratch-resistant lenses and trademarked Adventure-proof Frame Material. You can also customize them with your choice of lense and frame colors to reflect your own style. Plus they’re covered by SunGod’s lifetime guarantee of free repair. Check our in-depth review here.
Suncream: Thinksport Safe SPF 50+
By now, all of us are as pasty as the driven snow from sheltering in place for the last six months. Am I right? This means we are even more vulnerable than usual to the sun’s fierce rays. Packing sunscreen for Costa Rica may seem like a no brainer, but you would be amazed how many sun-burned Gringo’s, Gringitas and Gringets you see wandering around.
Thinksport Safe SPF 50+ sunscreen gives folks strong sun protection in a non-oily formula that’s free of gluten, paraben, phthalates and biologically harmful chemicals.
Another backpacker/traveler favorite for staying organized is a hanging toiletry bag. It’s extremely helpful to have all of your accessories neatly gathered in one bag that you can hang for easy accessibility, especially when counter space isn’t plentiful or even available. A well-organized bag is worth having whether you’re tree whilst camping or a hook in the wall – it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
Historically, I have been the guy who has my stuff all over the bathroom, so getting one of these things really changed the toiletry game for me. Plus they are not too expensive either. A no-brainer essential packing item for Costa Rica, and the rest of the world.
Money Belt – By Active Roots
There is no point denying that Costa Rica can be dangerous country and tourists are sometimes targeted by thieves.
Therefore it is always a good idea to use a money belt to hide your cash just in case something does go wrong.
Sandals: OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops
Circling back to the footwear question, now we are going to talk about sandals. Whether you are traveling to Costa Rica during the warmer months or the rainy season, having a pair of flip flops is a very good idea.
Your feet will be tired and sweaty from those long days wearing shoes so do yourself a favor: pack sandals and give your feet some well-deserved cushion and fresh air. These Olukai flip flops are ultra-comfortable, well-made, and come in a variety of colors.
However, do NOT attempt any serious hikes in these. I have seen it done and it did not end well.
Check out the women’s OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops.
Your Passport or Other Government ID
Costa Rica’n border forces are sticklers for demanding to see passports before letting people in. Why can’t we live in a world with open borders eh? Until that day comes, you WILL need a valid passport to enter Costa Rica so do not forget it.
Other than gaining entry to the country, you will to show this when checking into accommodation, booking tours and occasionally at police checkpoints.
It is usually also worth having a few paper photocopies to hand as well.
When moving from place to place, you shouldn’t store travel documents in a bag, even if it’s under your seat or overhead.
A full-sized money belt that stays tucked under your clothes keeps your documents and cash organized during your travels and assures nothing critical gets left behind or stolen.
A Hat – Patagonia Fitz Roy Trucker
As you should know by now, the sun in Costa Rica can be fierce and you will undoubtedly be spending a lot of time outside. Having a hat on your Costa Rica packing list is a good way to ensure your face is protected from the sun throughout the day.
Patagonia makes great hats. I have probably bought three or four of these over the last five years. Simple. Practical. Comfortable. That is what you are after. Especially useful for hikes and jungle visits.
Single-use plastic bottles are a huge threat to Marine Life – Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle.
The GRAYL GEOPRESS water bottle is the ONLY all-in-one filter water bottle setup you’ll need. Whether you need to purify the water from a hostel sink in Kathmandu or a stream trickle in the Andes, the Geopress has got you covered.
The tap water in Costa Rica is generally not advisable to having a bottle with a built in purifier is a smart bet right?
Read our full review of the GRAYL GEOPRESS!
A Good Daypack for Hiking – Osprey Daylite Plus
If you’re planning on taking day trips or going for a hike in Costa Rica, you will need a daypack. They are great for carrying water, hats and gloves and for packing sandwiches for lunch. We love Osprey products and this daypack is our personal pick.
The Osprey Daylite Plus has a mesh-covered panel to keep your back cool and fresh by minimizing contact with the back of the pack itself and allowing air to get between you and the pack.
Check out our full review of the Osprey Daylite plus for more details.
Additionally, you can attach it to other Osprey packs in case you want to add more capacity and carry just one piece of luggage… but the reviews on this feature are mixed.
Headlamp – Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Headlamps are great for traveling for many reasons. Firstly, they are useful as hell if you go camping or on an early sunrise mountain hike. Then, they come in useful for finding your way to your hostel bed at 3am without having to turn the lights on.
They are also a Godsend if there is a power cut (not unheard in Costa Rica) and great for navigating darkened alleyways at nightfall.
Not all headlamps were created equal and this is one of the best. The Petzl Actik Core comes with a USB rechargeable battery (full recharge in 3 hours or less); however, it is compatible with AAA batteries. Water-resistance is another critical feature. This product can withstand splashing; but keep in mind, water-resistant does NOT mean waterproof.
Final Thoughts on What to Pack for Costa Rica
Now you’re fully equipped with all you need to know about planning your Costa Rican adventure – your 22-needs packing list, a seasonal breakdown with tips on what to pack and what to wear, special packing considerations for men and women, and what backpack we highly recommend as the best for your travels.
Once you have the essentials taken care of, don’t worry about the rest. Costa Rica is all about going with the flow and enjoying life – so get out there and experience Costa Rica’s enchanting “la pura vida” to the fullest!
Buen viaje, amigos!
Also – don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
“Find out how YOU can support the site. We work hard to put out the best backpacker resources on the web, for free! It’s all about helping out our tribe of awesome backpacker readers [that’s you!]. Please visit the link to find out how you can help keep the site going 🙂
For the sake of transparency, some of the links in our content are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse products or services that are not up to scratch. Thanks for your support.