Knowing exactly what to pack for Costa Rica can be tricky due to myriad microclimates that create diverse weather conditions across the country. From the tropical volcanic landscapes to the thick veil of cloud forests to the warmth of the coastal regions, the weather changes frequently by region throughout the year, despite the general wet and dry seasons the country has.
And with an abundance of wildlife secreted in vast ecosystems and natural wonders at the end of hiking trails, packing a pair of flip flops and a swimsuit will not suffice. From spotting sloths to howler monkeys to traversing dense virgin rainforests and kayaking down emerald rivers, you’re going to need to pack for every eventuality.
Lightweight and fast drying clothes are an essential, whether you’re travelling solo or on a group solo travel trip to Costa Rica, as are comfortable shoes for exploring, a waterproof and a good hat to protect against the glorious rays that peak through regardless of clouds.
Here’s your essential Costa Rica packing list to ensure you have everything you need for your adventure to Central America’s marvellous ‘Eden’ covered…
What to pack for Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s wealth of landscapes and adventurous nature means that simply resting on the beach for two weeks is unlikely. With so much to see, you’ll have itchy feet and an urge to see what’s on offer. So, whether you are looking to explore the rainforests, hike around volcanoes, bathe in waterfalls or bask on the beach, you’ll need to have the essentials packed. Here’s what you need to ensure you have on your packing list for a truly Costa Rican adventure…
What to pack for Costa Rica – essentials
A key element to traveling to Costa Rica is that you must be able to show an onward or return ticket upon arrival. Without, you may be refused entry.
Passport criteria varies depending on your home country so always check your government website for specifics. For example, for UK citizens, your passport should have at least one day’s validity from the date you are leaving Costa Rica. For those traveling from the US, it only needs to be valid for the duration of your stay.
There are no visa requirements for Costa Rica if you’re visiting as a tourist from the EU, UK, USA, Australia or Canada but, from other countries, it’s always advisable to check with your local embassy.
Routine vaccinations are recommended from most countries and include such things as Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Polio and the HPV vaccine. If traveling from South America or African countries, you may also need proof of yellow fever. As with all travel, check with your country’s relevant government or medical organizations.
Visitors from all countries must arrive in Costa Rica with proof of onward travel, whether that’s a return ticket or an outbound ticket, whether that’s a flight or bus journey, to another destination. Without, you may be refused entry.
What to pack for Costa Rica – clothes
With the varying weather conditions, it’s important to know what the climate is like in the specific areas you’re visiting at the time of your travel to ensure you have the right gear.
In the volcanic regions in the north and Central Highlands, activity over the years has added to the richness of the soil and lots of the volcanoes are surrounded by lush green forests dotted with wildlife. In these areas you’ll need a good pair of hiking shoes, a waterproof jacket and sunscreen.
The enchanting cloud forest ecosystems are usually covered in swirling mists, which means the temperature in these areas and at a higher altitude is often cooler than in others. It’s essential to have comfortable shoes for the trains, moisture-wicking clothes to keep you dry, and a light jacket or jumper for when the climate cools.
On Costa Rica’s golden beaches, you’ll need a good sunscreen, sun hat and swimwear. The Caribbean Coast enjoys its own microclimate and can be hot and humid. Along the Pacific Coast, the warm temperatures continue and the water is ideal for a dip.
Around the various waterfalls and rivers, bring swimwear, a quick drying towel and some good waterproof shoes for walking in the pools. A waterproof phone case is also useful for capturing the natural beauty without worrying about dropping your phone.
What to pack for Costa Rica – accessories
Whether you’re kayaking through Tortuguero National Park, trekking the Arenal Volcano or white water rafting on the Pacuare River, it’s imperative that you bring the right accessories for your adventure.
Pack Leader, Joe Bernini, says, “Appropriate footwear is key to an active trip, so packing comfortable trainers or hiking shoes, and waterproof shoes with a good grip for all terrains, especially muddy trails and slippery pebbles or rocks when crossing rivers or waterfalls in the rainforest. I tend to find European Flashpackers prefer hiking boots, while those from the US like a good pair of sneakers.”
A dry bag is useful when traversing through water, as is a poncho for anyone visiting in the wet season which falls between May and late November. Flip flops are ideal for the beach areas, as is a good pair of UV sunglasses and a quick drying towel. And, of course, don’t forget a camera of sorts. Costa Rica’s scenery is varied and spectacular.
What to pack for Costa Rica – useful extras
A lot of time in Costa Rica is spent deep in the jungle, rainforests or waters, so being prepared is essential.
Carrying electrolyte tablets that can be added to water is a useful pep for days when resources have been depleted by the heat or altitude. And a reusable water bottle is imperative for hydrating on the go, especially when hiking.
Carrying a mosquito spray will help stave off the bugs, and a small medical kit can be useful for basic ailments, such as blisters and cuts should you slip on a wet trail path.
Costa Rica packing tips from our pack leaders
Joe Bernini is an experienced and much loved Pack Leader for Flash Pack’s Costa Rican adventures – Costa Rica Wildlife and Beach Beauty and Untamed Costa Rica, and perfectly prepped to give advice on what to pack for the country’s wildly changing scenery and climates.
Firstly, pack appropriately. There’s no need to weigh your bag down with items you don’t need. “We don’t visit a single cold weather place during our trip so there is no need for heavy clothes. It’s always warm or a little cool so a light sweater or fleece will suffice,” Joe says
With lots of hiking and active adventures on Flash Pack trips, the right gear is essential to be comfortable and also to dry quickly should you get wet river rafting or hiking. Sports clothes are key attire to make light work of hikes and activities. You don’t want to be in heavy jeans when trekking through a forest. Joe says, “Any light, fast drying material is also ideal. As is two swimsuits. There isn’t always an opportunity to dry clothes on the trip.”
“It’s hot and humid with warm rain in the tropics so bringing a very light rainjacket is recommended,” he says.
Flashpackers’ tips on packing for Costa Rica
Who best to ask for Costa Rican packing tips than Flashpackers who have already enjoyed the adventure.
When Taylor from Arizona, US, traveled on Flash Pack’s Untamed Costa Rica trip, she found an unusual item was crucial. “The best tip I had for Costa Rica was to pack trash bags for my wet clothes. They were a lifesaver for my suitcase as nothing dried in the Costa Rican humidity. Also, I was glad I brought more than a few light sun dresses for the evenings. The hotels and restaurants we visited were all so nice and it was good to be able to dress up a little.”
Nat from Sussex, UK, also traveled on Flash Pack’s Untamed Costa Rica adventure. She says, “Take a decent pair of waterproof hiking sandals. For me, they were my key item. I used them most days.’
Packing for lots of different adventures can be tricky, but Vicki from Connecticut, US, has some great advice to ensure you have every eventuality covered. She says, “ I packed rash guards for several hours of white water rafting. It was much easier than having to keep applying sunscreen and then slipping and sliding in the raft. I also bought waterproof trainers to wear on both the raft and hikes. And, you need mosquito spray, especially at the lodge.”
Planning your trip to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is generally safe but as in most places, being aware of your surroundings is important. Always use official taxis, avoiding unofficial ones, known as ‘taxi piratas’. Don’t leave drinks unattended on nights out. If using public transport, keep a firm eye on bags as thieves have been known to operate. Use local guides when visiting particular areas, including jungle landscapes. If swimming in areas known for big waves, always take precautions, especially in areas there are no lifeguards.
Costa Ricans rarely tip so it’s never expected, although it’s always appreciated. If you do want to, 10% is acceptable. For more information, read our Costa Rica Solo Travel Guide.
Book your next adventure to Costa Rica
Now you’re armed with your packing list, it’s time to plan your next Costa Rican adventure.
Perhaps you want to raft down class III and IV rapids to a remote jungle lodge and stop off at a cacao farm to learn all about chocolate. Maybe you’ve always wanted to zipline, abseil and canyon down a mountain, or just relax in therapeutic hot springs. Or, you might like to sail on a private catamaran and enjoy a picnic on a secluded beach. Whatever you’re most excited about, you should now have everything you need to make sure you’re covered for every eventuality.
With Flash Pack, whatever trip you have in mind, you’ll meet a like-minded group of travelers, all in their 30s and 40s. And you’ll all have the opportunity to encounter local, epic and memorable experiences, together.
So, pack those hiking boots, light waterproofs and suncream ready for your wild and incredible adventure in Costa Rica.
Ready to explore Costa Rica adventure? Join Flash Pack for a solo group adventure with other like-minded travelers in their 30s and 40s.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveler like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.
Images: Flash Pack and Unsplash