Costa Rica Packing List: What to Bring to Costa Rica

Earlier this month, we went to Costa Rica for a week to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We’d been planning it since last summer, and I thought I was so ready, yet once I got there, I realized a few mistakes I made. To save you from making the same ones, and to help you have a more comfortable trip, I’m sharing my updatedCosta Rica packing list!

So I spent the last few months prepping for this trip to Costa Rica. We’d booked our flight last summer and made reservations at Hotel Costa Verde, a beautiful hotel built into the hills overlooking Manuel Antonio Beach. It’s literally built into the rainforest, so each morning, we had a monkey show around 5:20 am. (If that sounds early, be ready — Costa Ricans are early risers and things close earlier at night. I promise though, you will adapt quickly and be happy about it!)

costa rica packing list costa rica sunset Quepos
This view is from our balcony in CV Studio Plus suites at Hotel Costa Verde.

We’d made reservations for the Canopy Safari Zipline experience and a private guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, not far from the hotel. I’d reserved us a suite with a tub on the balcony, overlooking an adults-only pool and poolside bar. It was all the stuff of dream vacation.

I’d packed a few dresses, several pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans (because one excursion we considered required pants), a bathing suit, a caftan (more on that later), a pair of sneakers and three pairs of sandals. Oh, and, of course, jammies and underclothes. Sounds pretty solid for a week on a relaxing vacation, right?

anniversary dinner at el avion in Quepos or Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
This is a built-in bra dress for our anniversary dinner at El Avion. SO comfortable yet cute. WalMart!

The temps were a steady high 70s – low 80s and the humidity was hovering over 70%. You wake up, step out on the balcony and it’s humid. It doesn’t get any less humid throughout the day and when you start walking anywhere, you sweat. A lot. And there are a lot of hills, so add in exertion to normal humidity-related sweat. For people who come from dry California, it’s a lot.

This means you go through a lot of clothes. You need duplicates and extras. You will change throughout the day. And you do NOT want 100% cotton or anything denim.

Trust me on this.

Our first day, we walked around downtown Quepos. We walked by the iguana sanctuary, a ton of shops, bars (which open early, so of course we stopped and got a drink), the marina and more shops, before we hopped back on the bus (a whopping $.60-ish USD per person) and went back to the hotel…where I changed out of the denim shorts, straight into my swimsuit. Everything was sweaty. Everything went straight onto hangers to dry off before I put them in my dirty clothes bag.

Keep reading for the full Costa Rica packing list!

I learned quickly that half my wardrobe wasn’t going to work. I mean, it had to, I was tight on luggage (thanks, Volaris, for changing our flight and not giving us time to do our required manual transfer of luggage in Mexico City) but I had to get creative. Our first excursion was the national park tour. I made it 20 minutes before I was a sopping mess. We all were, it is not cooler under a rainforest canopy; you just may get less direct sun. Halfway through, at the gift shop, I bought a whole new outfit of neon green nylon gym shorts, a pura vida tank, also nylon, and a hat. We’d been instructed to wear our swimsuits so changing was easy. Then my husband had to shove my soaked outfit into his backpack for the remainder of the tour….find yourself a guy who will do this. It was gross.

After that, I had to re-examine my entire wardrobe. Dresses that had built-in bras were prioritized and I took advantage of the hotel’s laundry service. In by 9am, back to us that evening. I had purchases this odd parachute type of fabric matching shorts and sleeveless top combo in black. $17.99 well-spent. I rewore it in various ways the rest of the trip. Those neon shorts were reworn on our parasailing adventure.

outfit costa rica canopy zipline
This is the shorts and sleeveless top set from WalMart! Game changer!

We’re already planning to return soon, so I’ve got a whole new Costa Rica packing list from this trip. It’s affordable, will take less luggage space, and is all stuff I can rewear here at home, too. Some of the links are affiliate links, so you won’t pay any extra, but I might get a little cash!

Costa Rica Packing List: What to Bring to Costa Rica

  • Nylon, roomy shorts: it’s hard to rewear much without getting it washed, so consider your number of days but bring several. If they have pockets, bonus. (You will not want to carry a purse for the most part.)
  • Gym tanks and t-shirts: moisture-wicking fabric will keep you cooler and most activities are casual.
  • Two bathing suits: I prefer one-piece so I like that I can wear them under anything, but a two-piece suit can be more comfortable under other outfits, like parasailing, where you will be getting wet. ALSO: pulling down a one-piece to use the restroom when you’re super-sweaty is miserable. At one point, my tank top over it was tangled and I had to get the hubs to help me untangle but I was in that OMG GET IT OFF ME panic mode with my hair all twisted up too. Don’t be me. You’ll also want to rotate and give them time to dry.
  • Caftan: I know, I pictured Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company when I bought it but seriously, game changer. I could take a shower, hop into it and sit on my balcony. It was my between-outings attire. It got so much use and I scored mine at Ross for only $10. It was flowy and cool and you didn’t need to wear anything else. It’s also great if you get a sunburn. I brought a silky robe but almost never wore it.
  • Light, flowy dresses IF you want more than shorts: Built-in bras are handy if you can. Less is more. Most restaurants are not fancy. Do your research just in case, but not a single place we ate would not have been okay with a simple maxi…of which I had several.
  • Camis or tanks with built-in bras: lycra, nylon, etc., these are great under light button-ups and they’re airy and cool while a little fancier than t-shirts or tanks.
  • Nylon underclothes. Leave the cotton at home.
  • Wide-brimmed hat: UV-protectant kind if possible, one you can scrunch into your bag, definitely needs a secure tie so you can wear it if you do something adventurous like jet skiing.
  • Sunscreen: it’s easy to go through your entire 3 oz can/tube but not all hotels have gift shops, but there are a lot of small grocery stores within walking distance of most tourist cities. Even if you wear a hat, the water will reflect onto your face.
  • Light cross-body bag: it will be enough to carry your ID, copy of your passport (original in your hotel room safe), and cash/colones/card. I got this tiny black one from Amazon that also held my iPhone magnetic battery charger.
  • Sneakers: bonus if they will dry fast after they get wet. Close-toed shoes are required for some rainforest excursions.
  • Water shoes: these were perfect for parasailing and we also took them for the jet ski ride. Others wore no shoes, it was suggested we wear no shoes BUT we also got sunburned feet, so there’s that.
  • Sandals with straps: wear the kind that you can easily walk around town in and will also be great if it rains.
  • Flip-flops or slip-ons: this is what you need for pool time or quick walks around your resort or town.
  • Band-aids and anti-blister chafe balm stick: even your most comfortable shoes can generate blisters when wet.
  • If it’s rainy season, bring a light waterproof jacket: the rain isn’t uncomfortable, but if you’re out on an excursion and don’t want to stay wet, it’s handy to have. Ponchos are cool too but keep in mind they get steamy underneath. (We never wore ours.)
  • Pants: one pair of nylon/mixed khakis or mixed-fabric pants, if you select a nighttime jungle tour where they are required.
  • Long-sleeved UPF 50+ shirt: I got this hooded one in grey on Amazon. So light, it dries fast and it protects my neck while keeping me cool.
  • Anti-chafe balm
  • Hair ties and clips: keep it up off your neck if you can
  • Light absorbent beach towel: hotel towels aren’t allowed at the beach, and they are cumbersome to carry.
  • Refillable water bottle: the national park will not allow single-use plastic into the park (as in, they will make you drink it or dump it before you enter) and not every place you visit will have water available. We chose to take our Larq self-cleaning water bottles. You can use my affiliate link here to buy one. Yes, they are expensive, but to know that it removes 99.9% of water impurities, including E. coli, the most popular sickness-causing bacteria, is everything. Fill, push the button, shake. You’re good to go. And it keeps your water cold.
larq self cleaning water bottle on my costa rica packing list
  • Charging cords with both USB and outlet ends: regular plugs from the US work fine in Costa Rica, but you never know what you’ll find in the airports or airlines. (Volaris had nothing.)
  • Chums or other elastic straps for your glasses: you’ll want to see while being on the zipline or jet ski, but you want to not risk them falling off.
  • Waterproof phone lanyard: this makes it so you can video if you go parasailing or kayaking (and you dump over) so no worries about your phone getting ruined.

That list is by no means all-inclusive on what to pack for international travel, because everyone has their own personal things to add that they’ll need, but it is a pretty good summary of a typical Costa Rica packing list that will keep you comfortable. Here are a few additional packing tips we have learned that make things even easier.

  • Use packing cubes: they will help you compact clothes into a tight-fit bag and because they are so snug, they wrinkle less. Note: we did not use them on the way back, we just jammed everything into our case to make it fit because we had purchased a few additional things. This set was enough for both of us to use.
  • Leave most of the makeup at home. Use moisturizer with sunscreen, tinted if you prefer. It will all melt off anyway.
  • Avoid Mexico City airport if possible: they charge $42 per person, PER stop (not per round-trip) for laying over in their airport. Apparently good airlines will cover the cost, but Volaris did not. We had bought tickets to layover in Guatemala, where they have a transfer agreement so our checked bag could be moved without us having to exit and go back through security, but Volaris changed our flight (without notification) and we were asked to pay the $42 ‘tax’ per leg, which is another $160+ that we did NOT agree to. They also were particularly difficult during the security process (we were ‘randomly’ chosen for advanced security checks) and we were forced to drink our entire water bottles rather than dump them out before going through the checkpoint. The worst airport experience we’ve had yet.
  • If a round-trip with one airline doesn’t work, consider splitting your trip into two airlines: Delta one way, American the next, for example. You’ll have a wider choice of times and prices.
  • Leave your jewelry at home. Wear just your basic every day necklace and earrings. This isn’t a security thing at all; it’s a comfort thing, you won’t need it.
  • Bring your eReader or tablet, but charge it in advance. Not all airlines have screens.
  • Keep copies of you and your companion’s passport on your person.

For our next trip, I’m going to live in nylon shorts and tanks. Two bathing suits, one or both will be two-piece. Maybe one dress, but probably not. My bag will weigh half what it did this time and I won’t need to send anything to the cleaners nor will I need to buy anything. I will also be sure to apply sunscreen more often — do not miss the tops of your thighs! Our one-hour jet ski tour was amazing, but it was more like 90 minutes at the end and the sun reflects so much, we weren’t prepared.

There’s the hat I bought inside the national park…and those neon green shorts!

As I said, Costa Rican days start earlier. The sun sets around 545 pm, and when we ate ‘late’ one day, around 7pm, most of the downtown shops were closed. There are bars and restaurants that stay open though! When you arrive, if you have time, stop at a store and grab a few snacks for your room. We also grabbed two bottles of wine, but only had one so we left the other in the room with our tips. (I don’t care if they gave it away, it was not a ‘tip’ but we just wanted someone to enjoy it!) Our driver from the San Jose Airport stopped off so we could run in.

Also: we highly recommend getting a private driver from the airport to your hotel and to return. There are a lot of buses that do cost less, but this experience is well worth the extra money. Our driver stopped off whenever we wanted, but also suggested a few really cool things, and he knew the best places for restroom breaks. Our round-trip was $300 cash and I’d hire Christian, the same driver, again. He made the three-hour drive enjoyable and we learned so much.

One last tip: like many other places in the US, you will pay more to use your credit card at many places in Costa Rica. Cash will save you a decent amount of money, and most places take US dollars. No need to change to colones EXCEPT you will need it for the local bus system. There aren’t Lyft or Uber drivers available, so plan on some sort of public transportation if you leave your resort area. Hotels can only exchange so much money at a time, so be prepared.

I hope you are planning a trip to Costa Rica in the near future! I promise, it is the destination that will surprise you. You may think of beautiful rainforests, monkeys and sloths in nearby trees and sunsets galore, but the people are the best thing. We’ve made a lifelong friend and we learned so much from the people in just one week. The pace of life is slower, you won’t honk and scream at other drivers, and relaxation comes easy. I wouldn’t recommend driving though, as most excursions will pick you up at your hotel or nearby; the streets can be confusing and terrain is different. It may be cheaper, or at least more convenient, to avoid the hassle. You may not really need it like you think.

Whatever you do though, GO TO COSTA RICA. Or don’t, because it’s not crowded and I like it that way. 😉

manuel antonio national park whale tail
This is the “whale tail” portion of the Manuel Antonio National Park. At that thin portion, you can see both sides of the shore and ocean. You can swim there, too. It’s beautiful!

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One Comment

  1. This Costa Rica packing list is incredibly helpful for anyone planning a trip to this beautiful destination! The detailed recommendations for clothing, footwear, and other essentials show that you’ve really thought through the diverse climates and activities Costa Rica has to offer. I especially appreciate the emphasis on practical items like bug spray and quick-drying clothes—crucial for navigating both the rainforest and coastal areas. The list is comprehensive yet concise, making it easy to follow and adapt for different types of travelers. Thanks for sharing these valuable tips; they will undoubtedly make packing a breeze and the trip more enjoyable!

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