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42 Essentials to Pack for Costa Rica

The ultimate Costa Rica packing list: what to pack to stay healthy, happy, and bug-bite free in Costa Rica.

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After four trips to Costa Rica, I’ve learned two things: one, my hair NEVER looks good in the jungle; and two, there are a few essential pieces of travel gear that will help you fully embrace the concept of “Pura Vida” … and prevent you from spending your entire trip scratching bug bites while parked under your hotel room’s A/C.

Our Costa Rica packing list will cover the specifics of what to bring and why, but we’re not going to tell you, like, exactly how pairs of underwear to pack – we trust you can figure that out on your own. (Rule of thumb: one per day of your trip.)

Instead, we’re focusing on the specific things you’ll need to make your trip to Costa Rica as wonderful and memorable as possible, so you don’t look back and cringe because you got a horrible ear infection and spent the rest of your vacation miserable. (Why yes: that is how I spent the second half of my 3rd trip to Costa Rica.)

In this essential Costa Rica packing list, we’re including everything you need to bring to stay cool, comfortable, bug-bite-free and blissfully un-sunburnt. Let’s go!

Need some help packing for your next adventure? We’ve created 5 FREE Printable Packing Lists with everything you need to plan your next trip. We’ll also send our favorite travel tips straight to your inbox! Just sign up below.

Psst: Looking for more travel tips? Check out some of our other helpful posts!

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Suitcase packed with beach essentials next to a snoozing dog.
Backpack or suitcase? Jeremy prefers his Away suitcase, but Lia swears by her Pacsafe carry-on backpack! (Our dog, meanwhile, hates all luggage because it’s a sign that we’re about to leave for a trip – unless we start packing her stuff too, and then she gets all excited.)

What to Pack Stuff In

Sure, you can get away with a suitcase full of bunched-up clothes, but you’ll be much happier with well-organized luggage – especially if you’re traveling for a longer period of time or visiting multiple destinations!

Unpacking and re-packing every few days is such a chore, and staying organized will make it a LOT less miserable.

Here’s what to pack your stuff in so you stay organized and can easily move from place to place.

  • Carry-On Luggage: For most trips, you’ll want to pack carry-on only to save money and hassle. You don’t want to be lugging a massive suitcase down a dirt road from the bus station and up 3 flights of stairs! For suitcases, we’re huge fans of Away carry-on luggage (we also love this inexpensive Away dupe). If you prefer a sturdy backpack, Lia swears by this PacSafe backpack. It’s comfortable, roomy, and theft deterrent – it’s Lia’s go-to backpack for carry-on travel.
  • Packing Cubes: We LOVE packing cubes. Nothing makes unpacking your stuff and putting it away again easier than packing cubes. Not to mention it keeps you organized – and sane. Even if you aren’t a packing cube convert, we recommend rolling your clothing rather than folding it, which saves space and also helps prevent wrinkles. Win-win!  
  • Laundry Bag, Toiletry Bag, & Shoe Bag: When you’re traveling, anything inside your luggage is gonna get all over everything else. So we keep them separate using different bags (plus packing cubes for our clothing). Our laundry goes in a laundry bag so it doesn’t get moldy or smell up our clean clothes. The shoes we aren’t wearing fit into a little shoe bag so we don’t get whatever we’re walking through all over our stuff (gross). And this hanging toiletry bag keeps our belongings protected from leaks, spills, or moisture. FWIW, we’ve tried using plastic bags – but they tear really easily and are a lot harder to replace while traveling than you’d think! Plus, re-usable bags are also more earth friendly.
  • Day Bag: We typically each carry a day bag on trips. This cute backpack is perfect for some snacks, a couple of jackets, a travel umbrella, cameras, phones, and whatever we need for the day. It also doubles as our lockable carry-on valuables bag while on transit, which is key for safety (never let your passport, camera, or laptop out of your sight on travel days)! For more active days, we pack up a Camelbak Hydration Pack that fits 70oz of water in addition to all our gear. It’s perfect for hikes or exploring on hot days when you’ll need to stay extra hydrated!
Lia Walking on Beach in Corcovado National Park Costa Rica carrying a pair of shoes
Rocking these pants and carrying my Allbird Tree Skippers. Why am I not wearing sandals on the beach, you ask? Because we rode horses to get to this beach and I was told to wear close-toed shoes! Would I recommend wearing cropped pants on a 4-hour horseback ride? No. Do not do that. (The shoes were great, though.)

What to Wear in Costa Rica

When we pack for Costa Rica, we’re usually aiming for comfort above cuteness – but I do like to sneak in a bit of both whenever I can!

OK listen, I’m just gonna be real with you: my primary goal for my clothing in Costa Rica is to keep me from drowning in sweat (or at least, help me cool off quickly if/when I am inevitably sweaty). Second priority, smell (no thanks). Third priority, actually looking cute.

Another major challenge is to pack for a variety of activities and temperatures. On most recent trip, we needed to pack clothing for rain, the cool mountain air of Monteverde, the hot tropical rainforests of Manuel Antonio and Corcovado, hiking, and snorkeling/diving/swimming.

Some days, we dressed for a hike or horseback ride, changed into beachwear halfway through, dried off, and then put our old clothing on. So all of our clothing needed to be very quick-dry and packable too (because nothing makes a hike or horseback ride more miserable than a giant, heavy backpack).

But it can be done! We’ve got a few crucial suggestions that are up to the challenges of Costa Rica, and yes, some of them are even cute.

Here’s the best clothing to pack for your trip (for men and women, and everyone in between)!

  • Wool Clothing: Yes, seriously. Merino wool is a miracle travel fabric. It keeps you cool when it’s hot AND keeps you warm when it’s cold. When it gets wet, you’ll stay comfortable while your clothing dries. It naturally resists the growth of fungus and bacteria, so it never stinks – a must-have for travel! It’s even flame retardant. What more could you ask for? Today’s performance wool isn’t like the itchy wool of the past – it’s thin, stretchy, and super soft to the touch, like cotton. We highly recommend wool clothing for travel. Here’s what we brought:
  • Hemp Clothing: Much like merino wool, hemp is a fantastic travel textile. It’s also temperature regulating, meaning it’s cool to the touch and keeps you cool when it’s hot (but also insulates you when it’s cold out). It’s also naturally anti-bacterial, so you won’t get that stinky “I’ve been sweating in this for a week straight” smell. And as a huge bonus, hemp is more sustainable than most other textiles, requiring little water and almost no pesticides to thrive and grow. Hemp is even able to clean up polluted soil, making it a tool for actually fighting against climate change. Hell yeah! Because it’s not a super popular textile (yet), it’s a little hard to find. One of our favorite eco-friendly clothing brands, prAna, makes a fantastic hemp line – browse women’s and men’s. (Lia loves this comfy t-shirt!)
  • Quick Drying Shorts (His & Hers): We’re obsessed with the Zion line from prAna, which is what our favoite hiking pants are made from. These shorts are made from the same stretchy, high-tech, quick-drying fabric! Jeremy’s shorts double as both the shorts he wears every day and a swimsuit. They’re a 2-for-1 (which means less space in your carry-on) and they look great, too! They dry quickly, making them perfect for hopping in and out of waterfalls, rivers, and the ocean and then resuming your normal travel activities.
  • Hiking & Adventure Travel Pants (His & Hers): You’re going to need a pair of pants that serve multiple purposes and are up for adventure anywhere: beach, jungle, river, mountains, and city. Luckily, these awesome prAna hiking pants were designed with travel and hiking in mind and were up to every challenge we threw at them. They’re also quick-dry, so I even wore them while white-water rafting and waterfall rappelling in San Gil.
  • Breezy, comfy everyday pants: Allow me to introduce you to the perfect hot weather travel pants! I discovered these amazing pants at Old Navy while shopping for my trip, and it was love at first try-on. They’re SUPER lightweight and take up very little suitcase space when rolled up. They’re comfortable and stretchy, quick-drying, and just the right length. And they’re cute as hell! I bought a bunch of differet colors because sometimes stuff goes out of stock and never comes back, and I need these pants. (I also love these pants, made from the same fabric but with vertical zippers, which is also super travel friendly. And they come in a wider range of sizes up to 4X.)

Note: We didn’t list out everything here, so make sure you pack plenty of basics! In general, for hot weather I really love cotton/cotton blends and linen, in addition to hemp and merino.

Lia and Jeremy on the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos, Costa Rica.
Let’s pretend we’re models and call that sweat a nice “glow” from the hike to get to this beach at Manuel Antonio National Park. Jeremy is wearing his Teva Sandals and quick-dry shorts, and Lia is wearing her favorite hot-weather travel pants and Teva sandals.

The Best Shoes to Pack for Costa Rica

From hiking in the cloud forests of Monteverde to canyoning and white-water-rafting in La Fortuna to exploring the city streets of San Jose, we had a wide variety of activities planned for our trip to Costa Rica.

Luckily, we brought along 3 perfect pairs of shoes that were up for everything!

We have strong opinions on travel shoes – we have full posts about our favorite women’s travel shoes & men’s travel shoes.

Here are the 3 essential shoes we recommend bringing with you on your trip:

  • Hiking Shoes: If you’ll be going hiking like we did, we recommend a pair of lightweight trail runners (His & Hers). They’re lightweight, breathe nicely, and have insane grip. They were made for running on mud, dirt, and gravel, so their quality is incredible. Also because of that, they’re perfect hiking shoes. So no, you don’t need to stuff your heavy hiking boots in your luggage!
  • Teva Sandals (his & hers): When it’s hot, we pretty much wear these shoes whenever we’re not hiking. Not only are the comfortable and rugged enough to walk for miles comfortable (yes, you can even hike in them!) but they also double as water shoes. They say strapped tightly to your feet in the water and are perfect for adventure sports like canyoning or rafting. Plus, they’re lightweight, durable, and cute!
  • AllBirds Slip-On Shoes (His & hers): For days when you don’t want to wear your hiking shoes or your sandals, these are the perfect everyday travel shoe. They’re lightweight and breathable, perfect for hot weather – and the sole is made from merino, which means it takes a lot for them to get smelly and you don’t need to wear them with socks! These are the shoes we typically wear on city days and travel days.

With those three shoes stuffed into your suitcase (don’t worry, they’ll fit) you’ll be more than covered for all your adventures!

What to Pack for Rain in Costa Rica

We booked our most recent trip to Costa Rica in July, which falls squarely in the middle of Costa Rica’s rainy season. But don’t worry: all that means is that it’s pretty much guaranteed to rain once per day, especially in the jungle or the rainforest.

If you’re prepared, rain on a trip is no big deal (and honestly, we love a good excuse to sit indoors and do nothing but relax and listen to the rain).

If you’re not prepared, it can be super irritating, causing you to cancel fun activities and even smelling up your bag with wet clothing. Yikes!

Here are the 3 essentials you’ll want to bring to prepare for rain:

  • Ultra-Light Rain Jackets (His & Hers): Our favorite rain jackets are some of the best jackets for travel. They’re ultralight and pack down into nothing so they’re easy to carry around in our day bags each day just in case, and they’re incredibly water repellant.
  • Travel Umbrella: This teeny travel umbrella is incredibly lightweight, teeny tiny, and even has a handy carrying case in case you need to fold it up and shove it back in your bag. Despite its small size, it does its job well, and it dries quickly when it’s done! That said, it’s not like .. the most STURDY umbrella – super high winds will definitely turn it inside out. But we love it because it’s so small and lightweight that we just leave it permanently in our day bag and forget it’s there until we need it, and we’re always glad to find it again!
  • Waterproof Socks: If you’ll be hiking in rain or mud, you’ll want to pack a pair of these so you’re not squelching around all day long. We don’t carry bulky hiking boots with us, so these are great addition to our trail runners.

Just keep those 3 rain essentials in your day bag each day, and you’ll never be caught unprepared in a rainstorm!

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