We all know 2021 vacations call for a different kind of suitcase packing. Here’s our advice on what to pack for your trip to Costa Rica in the new age of travel and tourism.
What to Pack: Clothing
Note: This is a list of what to pack on your vacation with recommendations of how many to pack. However, your final count will depend on how long your particular tropical vacation is going to be.
- Swimsuit (2-3, if you don’t want to wear a wet bathing suit to the pool or each)
- Loose sundresses (Loose is better if you’re not used to high humidity like found in beach areas like Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero.)
- Shirts, Tank Tops, and Crop Tops (Choose what you feel comfortable in, but don’t worry about showing some skin if you want. Bring several, since you probably will sweat in them. Keep in mind that lighter colors will be cooler in the heat. Bring a variety of materials and styles.)
- Shorts (Bring a couple, since these might get wet if you put them on over a bathing suit or wear them while walking through the ocean or a river; wet shorts are very uncomfortable. Swimming trunks can often be worn for shorts as well.)
- Exercise shorts (These are great for hot weather and physical tours like hiking, rafting, or ziplining).
- Skirts (Easy to combine with both your shirts and bikini tops.)
- Cocktail Dress (Make this loose and cool, but nice enough to wear in some of the nicer hotels and restaurants you might want to visit, such as Four Seasons or Andaz, as well as many other luxury options in Guanacaste, specifically in the Papagayo Gulf.)
- Jeans or Khakis (1 pair for night activities or a trip to one of our rare cooler areas, like the Central Valley.)
- Lightweight Jacket or Sweatshirt (Something that you’ll feel comfortable throwing on top of any of your outfits in case of rain or a cool night. Keep in mind that it’s possible to feel cool, but still hot enough to sweat. Jackets are often better, since you can roll them up tightly and pack them in a small backpack for adventure tours. There are some parts of Costa Rica where you can experience cool weather, such as Monteverde and San Gerardo de Dota.)
- Bras, Bralettes, and Sports Bras (Consider that things tight against the body tend to be uncomfortable in high humidity and will be sweat in. Also consider what you’ll wear at a restaurant versus a jungle hike.)
- Underwear (Bring 1 pair for every day of your trip, plus a few extra just in case. Quick-dry material is always more comfortable here.)
- Socks (Unless you hate sandals and flip-flops, you’ll probably only wear socks when on an adventure tour. Therefore, make most of them sports socks.)
- Sleepwear (Don’t bring your thick long pajamas. Tank top and shorts are often more coverage than you’ll want on hot nights.)
- Hat (Definitely bring a hat to shade your face from the UV light of the sun. Baseball hats are ideal for both beach and adventure tours, though a nice floppy sun hat will fit right in at the beach.)
- Umbrella (It rains a lot in Costa Rica, though it almost never rains all day. The advantage of an umbrella over a rain jacket is that it won’t make you hot.)
- Sunglasses (These are notorious for getting lost in oceans. Either keep a firm hand on yours or bring a spare.)
- Small backpack (A small backpack will be a lifesaver on hikes and other longer tours. It is worth noting that many tour operators in Costa Rica do provide simple drawstring bags to participants.)
What to Pack: Shoes
Tip for what to pack and what to wear: Wear your biggest and bulkiest shoes on the plane, so you don’t have to pack them in your limited-space suitcase.
- Sandals or Flip-flops
- Strap-on water shoes with thick soles
- Tennis shoes or hiking boot
- Comfortable slip-on flats
What to Pack: Toiletries
Keep in mind that you can buy just about any toiletries you’d need at a store or pharmacy here in Costa Rica. What you might not find are specific brands you prefer to use, which is why we recommend packing the necessities.
- Face sunscreen and Body sunscreen (Make sure it is good quality and a high enough SPF. Costa Rican sun is much stronger than any sun you’ll come across in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Bring enough, since you’ll be applying it every two hours.)
- Bug Repellant (Our tropical paradise has its fair share of bugs that love to bother and bite. We do recommend trying eco-friendly repellant options.)
- Calamine Lotion (This common medication helps relieve mild itchiness from bug bites or even sunburns.
- Aloe Vera Gel (If you do get a sunburn, this will feel soothing and help you heal.)
- Shampoo, Conditioner, and Body Wash (Most hotels provide shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, though you’ll want to bring your own if you have any special products like color-care or products for natural hair.)
- Toothpaste and Toothbrush
- Deodorant (Trust us, you’ll want to apply this, frequently.)
- Brush or Comb (Humidity does strange things to many people’s hair, so keep this in mind.
- Hair ties and clips (When all else fails, throwing your hair into a ponytail or braid is often the easiest route when dealing with humidity frizz.)
- Razor (There are lots of bare legs in Costa Rica. Do what makes you feel comfortable.)
- Facial Cleanser and Spot Treatment (You want to make sure you get sweat and dirt off your face at the end of a day of hiking or playing in the ocean. Plus, people always take lots of pictures on vacations!)
- Makeup and Makeup Remover (As little or as much as makes you happy! Foundations and creams with SPF are especially smart.)
- Feminine Hygiene Products (We always hope to plan vacations around that time of the month, but just in case, make sure you bring some back-ups.)
- Band-Aids, antibacterial cream, and anti-inflammatories (Tour operators will usually provide a thorough first aid kit, in case of any injuries, though you won’t always be with a tour operator. It’s best to be prepared so nothing dampens your vacation.)
- Medications (Pharmacies in Costa Rica don’t usually require prescriptions the same way they do in many countries, which means you can often get a hold of many medications you might forget. However, to make sure you get the right brand and dosage, you’ll definitely want to remember your own medication from home. We mention this only for emergencies.)
What to Pack: COVID-Related
Even if you and your family are vaccinated, you’ll want to pack at least the first three items on this list of what to pack. Check out this update for more information on COVID-19 restrictions and options in Costa Rica.
- Face masks (Remember that professionals recommend wearing a newly washed face mask every day. Most hotels offer laundry services so you can decide whether to get yours washed or bring enough for the whole trip. Masks are currently required inside all indoor public spaces, like hotel lobbies, restaurants when not at the table, and grocery stores.)
- Plastic bags (One for storing clean masks and one for storing used masks.)
- Hand sanitizer (Most indoor establishments will offer hand sanitizer at their entrance, and most will require you to lather up. This hand sanitizer is sometimes cheap and rather slimy, which is why we recommend bringing your own, more quickly-drying sanitizer.
- Sanitizing wipes (This one is just a precaution, since the Costa Rican Travel Board has strict regulations for restaurants, hotels, and tour operators on keeping everything clean and sanitized. However, safe is better than sorry.)
- Thermometer (Many hotels, restaurants, and even stores will scan you with a thermal sensor upon entrance, so it’s easy to tell what your temperature is throughout the day. However, we do recommend bringing your own thermometer in case you don’t have access to one and are feeling suspiciously warm. It’s always better to know than to wonder and worry.)
- Acetaminophen (Many doctors prescribe acetaminophen for people who have a cold, the flu, or even mild cases of COVID-19. So if you’re feeling a bit ill, this is often a safe medication to start taking. Please note that you should not take any medication that has not been previously approved by your doctor.)
- Hand lotion (No one wants dry, overly-sanitized hands on their vacation!)
What to Pack: Documents
- Passport and Copy (We recommend keeping these in different bags. If the worst case scenario happens and you get your passport stolen, the copy will help you get things sorted out at the embassy.)
- Driver’s License (Tourists with valid driver’s licenses from their home countries can drive in Costa Rica for up to 90 days, which is the maximum length of a tourist visa.)
- Proof of your return ticket (You may be asked for proof of when you’re leaving Costa Rica when going through Immigration. Make sure your return ticket states you are leaving within 90 days of your entrance to Costa Rica.)
- Hotel Confirmations (For one, you’ll be asked for your destination address when going through Immigration and Customs. For another, you’ll want to make sure you know where you’re going, in case you miss a transfer or get mixed up for some reason!)
- Travel Agency Contact (Your travel agency will often have a 24/7 number you can call in case of any emergency. Keep this number on you, but not just in your phone. In case your phone gets wet, damaged, or stolen, you’ll want to be able to contact us, even from a borrowed phone.)
- Travel Itinerary (If you’re traveling with us, we’ll provide you with a detailed itinerary. Keep this on hand digitally and in print so that you can know what’s next every step of the way.)
- Medical and Travel Insurance Information (In case anything happens and you need to contact them.)
- Cash, Credit Card, and Debit Card (Almost every store or restaurant here will accept credit and debit cards, though some won’t accept American Express. We do recommend bringing cash for the few places that don’t accept cards. Dollars are widely accepted almost everywhere.)
What to Pack: Electronics & Entertainment
To be honest, you probably won’t need entertainment-related things as much as you might think on your Costa Rican vacation. The times you might have downtime and want something to fill the time are on your flights and on the road when you transport from one region to another. Though you may find that you are so fascinated by the environment around you while on the road that you don’t want to be distracted.
As far as between tours and at your hotel at night, you may very well find yourself quite tired. Even if your itinerary isn’t full of tours and activities, just being in another country can be pretty exhausting by the end of the day! Often, our travelers find themselves ready to rest and even go to sleep early while on vacation in Costa Rica, in order to be fresh and ready for the next day.
- 1 or 2 entertainment items (Such as a book, Kindle, iPad, or hand-held gaming console)
- Cellphone and charger
- Electrical socket adapter (If your plugs are not North American grounded or ungrounded)
- Step-up or step-down voltage transformer (If your electronics need voltage other than 110-120 volts)
- Laptop and charger (If you’re planning on working, otherwise, we’d suggest leaving it at home.)
- GoPro, charger, and extra batteries (The nice thing about a GoPro as opposed to other cameras is you can usually attach it somewhere and forget about it while you enjoy your activities.)
- Waterproof phone case (A lot of water activities can get your phone wet. The best cases still let you navigate on your phone even while it’s in the waterproof case.)
Things You Might Not Need to Pack
With limited suitcase space, you’ll want to make sure you know what to pack and what really isn’t necessary.
- Formal clothes (Even at the nicer restaurants, you’ll fit in fine with a cute cocktail dress or a nice short and pants. If it’s on the beach, nice shorts are accepted as well.)
- Safari clothes (By all means, bring the kind of clothing that will make you most comfortable in a warm, humid environment. That being said, Costa Rica is a tropical country, but you won’t be in the “jungle” the whole time.)
- Outlet and voltage adapters (If you come from North America. For travelers from other countries, check Costa Rica’s plug and voltage guidelines.)
- Portable USB charger (Bring it if you want, of course, but this probably won’t be necessary. All hotels and even most tours and some transportation will offer you outlets where you can charge your electronics.)
- Guidebook (Of course you can bring one if you like researching a country this way. The reason we add it to this list is that countries and cultures are changing so often that online information is usually more up-to-date than information found in a guidebook.)
- Water purifier (In Costa Rica, water is potable in almost every region, especially in restaurants and hotels.)
- Hair dryer (Check with your travel agency about the hotels on your itinerary, but most hotels carry hair dryers these days. It’s one big thing you probably don’t need to bring.)
- Beach towel (Again, different hotels have different policies, but most provide special towels you can take to the beach.)