What to Pack

Everything you need to know about packing for your trip to Costa Rica.

What to Pack When Traveling to Costa Rica

With temperatures hovering around freezing and strong winds lashing the cold against your exposed skin, the gorgeous alpine view at the summit of Chirripó is wasted. I should have packed a sweatshirt, you say. You wonder: isn’t Costa Rica a tropical country?

It is. But you have to plan accordingly. Climates change quickly with geographic area, elevation and time of year. If you’re coming to Costa Rica, here’s what to bring.

1) Think layers. T-shirts, fast-drying cotton pants (as opposed to jeans), and a light button-up shirt should keep you comfortable in just about any climate situation in Costa Rica. Some people like to pack one nice outfit for evening out on the town.

2) Old standards. Everybody should take comfortable hiking shoes or boots (make sure you’ve broken them in before your trip), and sandals are nice for the beach. Other essentials include camera gear, daypack with water bottle, prescription drugs and prescriptions (although many drugs can be bought inexpensively over the counter), sun hat, sunscreen (the sun’s rays are much more direct here, and even those with a dark complexion will need protection), and a bathing suit.

3) Rain or shine. With two distinct seasons, packing for travel in Costa Rica depends on the time of year. May through November brings daily showers, with occasional downpours of biblical proportions. Bring a portable umbrella; some will like a water-resistant jacket while hiking. During the dry season temperatures drop, so bring a sweater and long pants if you’ll be in the highlands. Hint: Small plastic garbage bags can keep your books and camera gear dry in a pinch, and they can be used to keep your dirty clothes separate from the rest of your stuff.

4) Map it out. Temperature and climate vary substantially depending on the region and elevation. If you’re climbing Chirripó, where temperatures can reach freezing at the peak, you’ll need different gear than if you’re on the steamy beaches and rainforests in the Osa Peninsula. Know your itinerary before you go, and pack accordingly.

5) Less is more. Travel as lightly as possible. Once you’ve decided what you want to bring, lay everything out on your bed. Then put half of it back in the closet. Do you really need that velvet thong? Work to eliminate excess baggage. Hint: If you find that you’ve left something essential at home, don’t fret; just about everything is available in San José.

6) Carry on. In case you should lose a checked bag, take the essentials in a carry-on bag: passport, a change of clothes, medications, money and other important documents.

Of course, your itinerary and length of stay will dictate much of what you bring, but if you follow these general guidelines you’ll be comfortable, you’ll leave the kitchen sink at home and you’ll even have room to bring home some souvenirs.