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!
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Psst: Looking for more travel tips? Check out some of our other helpful posts!
Costa Rica At-a-Glance 🐒
Here’s a bite-sized snapshot of everything you need to know to plan your trip!
- When to Go: The ideal time is June & July, aka “green season,” when prices are low and the rain takes a break.
- Where to Stay: Hostel Plinio near Manuel Antonio NP is an amazing, budget-friendly hostel. Aguila de Osa Rainforest Lodge near Corcovado NP is an incredible, sustainble eco-lodge in the rainforest overlooking the ocean – basically, paradise!
- How to Get Around: Public transportation is excellent in Costa Rica. Buses will get you everywhere you need to go!
- Top 3 Highlights: Ziplining & hanging bridges through the cloud forest canopy in Monteverde, snorkelling in Corcovado National Park, white water rafting in La Fortuna.
- Before You Go: Book travel insurance!
DESTINATION At-a-Glance ✍
Here’s a bite-sized snapshot of everything you need to know to plan your trip!
What to Pack for Costa Rica
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!
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.
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!
Essential Toiletries for Costa Rica
There’s a certain glow that we get in Costa Rica, and it’s not just because we’re sweaty and well-moisturized. Maybe it’s something about waking up early, or eating fruit all day, or breathing in the humid tropical air – ah, no, that’s it. Humidity: something we don’t have in California!
The minute we disembark into the warm air of Costa Rica, my hair gets curlier, my skin feels smoother, and I lose any desire to wear makeup for the duration of our trip. (And that’s coming from me, who once wore a full face of makeup in the arctic.)
But you’ll still need to bring along a few things to keep you clean and feelin’ fresh!
Here are our tips for doing your laundry on the go, staying fresh ~down there, and everything else you’ll need to not look like a hot mess.
- Travel Toilet Paper Roll & Hand Sanitizer: I know, this is a weird one- but the thing is, toilet paper and soap aren’t always available and they aren’t always free. So I always have an emergency roll on me. You can bring a regular sized roll and stuff it into your bag, or you can just get a little travel sized dispenser that’s much smaller and easier to use on the go. Also, always bring some hand sanitizer with you – you can bring soap too, but hand sanitizer is much easier to carry around than a wet bar of soap.
- Face Wash & Moisturizer: Travel is really hard on your skin! It’s important to wash off a full day of sweat, salt, sand, fumes, dirt, and whatever else you’ve got going on every night before you go to sleep, and then moisturize to replenish your skin’s natural barrier. (If all else fails, at least bring along some baby wipes, which was the entirety of my skincare routine right up until I turned 30.)
- Shampoo & Conditioner: Bring your own shampoo & condtioner in travel-sized bottles to save money, cut down on plastic waste from those little hotel-sized samples, and protect your hair. We love using solid shampoo and conditioner bars: they’re super travel friendly, good for the environment (no plastic waste!) and won’t ever spill all over your stuff.
- Menstrual Cup: Yup, vag things. Skip this paragraph if natural processes of women’s bodies make you uncomfortable. Pads and tampons are hard to come by when you’re traveling, and they’re often expensive. Plus they take up a bunch of space… not to mention they’re not environmentally friendly. So I’ve given up entirely on pads and tampons and fully embraced cup life. And it’s fantastic! No more leakage, which means less sink laundry. I can leave the cup in for a full day (or more) without having to worry about toxic shock syndrome or whatever. And keeping your cup clean is easy: just wash the cup with regular soap and water. I spritz it with a little apple cider vinegar as well, and some ladies boil theirs every few months. I keep mine in a little drawstring bag tucked into my toiletry bag – no fuss, no mess, no environmentally harmful waste. Oh, and don’t worry, they’re actually really easy to put in. If you’re considering making the switch, do it!
- Laundry Soap: Honestly, most hostels we’ve stayed in offer laundry service. But we still like having the option to do our own laundry whenever
we need towe run out of underwear (ahem). You don’t really need special soap; regular strong castile soap works great. We like Dr. Bronner’s or biodegradable laundry wash. Just soap your stuff up in the sink or in the shower and hang it up in the sun to dry!
For more details and suggestions, such as my curly hair travel routine, my favorite skincare stuff, and the best lipstick for
the arctic travel, head over to my makeup & beauty for travel guide!
Swimming & Snorkeling Essentials for Costa Rica
Let me just get this out of the way: the water in Costa Rica is PERFECT and bathwater-warm on BOTH coasts. Coming to Costa Rica from Northern California, I’m always so offended that this is the same Pacific Ocean that we can’t even go surfing in without a full wetsuit. But I digress.
Whether you’re spotting tropical fish on a snorkeling trip or just listening to macaws cry to one another (fwiw, this is what macaws sounds like: WHAAAAAT?) you’re gonna want to go in the water in Costa Rica, like, as much as humanly possible.
There are a few essential pieces of gear you’ll want to bring to keep yourself – and your underwater friends – safe and happy.
Here’s what to pack for swimming and snorkeling:
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Going into the ocean? You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. Unless you hate coral, fish, and also all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm ocean life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! Note that although reef-safe sunscreen is always mineral, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe. Sunscreen must use “non-nano zinc oxide” particles to be reef safe(more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen on my face.
- Rash Guard/Swim Shirt: I’m gonna be honest with you: reef safe sunscreen is not the easiest to apply. It’s thick and doesn’t soak in easily. But like, I love animals and the environment. So my solution is actually to cover up my skin as much as possible so I don’t HAVE to wear sunscreen. Win/win! Sure, you may want to show off your super cute swimsuit, but after enough awful sunburns after hours of happy swimming or snorkeling, I’ve learned my lesson. I highly recommend bringing along a long-sleeved rash guard, which is specially designed for swimming in salt water. It feels the same as swimsuit material, dries quickly, and gives you plenty of sun protection (also protection from stinging bits of jellyfish floating by in the water. Yup, I speak from experience).
- Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m snorkeling. But swim leggings provide full-coverage sun protection while letting you move underwater without restriction. Quick-drying swim leggings are designed to hold up in saltwater and chlorine and dry quickly once you’re out of the water (they are also incredibly comfortable to walk in, and prevent the dreaded post-swim chub rub). I love Waterlust’s swim leggings line because the brand is super sustainable and supports conservation and anti-racism initiatives, plus their leggings are 100% chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials. Oh, and their leggings have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL. For more details, head over to the full review of my swim leggings!
- Snorkel Mask & Fins: For years whenever we traveled to a snorkel-tastic destination, we always wished we’d brought our own snorkel gear. We were so envious of those people who rolled up to the boat like “oh, we don’t need rental gear, we have our own.” Every time I met someone with their own gear on a tour I was like oh, you must be an expert – here, you go first. They probably got better pictures just because we were intimidated. Snorkels equal power. Anyway, then we bought our own gear, and I was like … why did we wait so long to do this?! Sure, my snorkel mask may look ridiculous, but I guarentee you it’s better than anything you’re going to get from a tour company!
- Anti-Fog Spray: Even if you don’t bring your own snorkel gear, at least bring your own anti-fog solution. Every time we rent snorkel gear, we end up surfacing to furiously spit in our masks ever 10 minutes. So annoying! A little bottle of this will save you a LOT of irritation.
- Water Shoes: For every minute that you’re not wearing flippers, you’ll want to be wearing water shoes. I swear by my trusty leather Tevas, and Jeremy also likes classic close-toed water shoes.
- Dry Bag: Don’t set foot on a boat without putting your stuff in a dry bag, just in case. You never know when a wave/rogue sea lion is going to splash your sh*t. This one is excellent, with a mesh section in the front that we use for wet bathing suits or towels. Plus, it comes with a phone protector too, so you can wear & use your phone safely while white-water rafting, kayaking, or snorkeling!
- Travel Towel: Towels are not typically provided on snorkelling tours, so we always bring our own full-sized, quick-drying travel towel.
Beach Essentials for Costa Rica
From the white sand in Manuel Antonio National Park to volcanic rocks on the Osa Peninsula and the dark sand beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica has plenty of beaches to frolic on, lapped by wonderfully warm water. And there’s usually a turtle or macaw nearby, too, because Costa Rica is basically paradise.
Here’s what to pack in your luggage to bring with you to the beach:
- Several Swimsuits: There’s a good chance you’ll be jumping into the water every day, so you’ll want to bring along multiple pairs of swimsuits so you always have something dry to put on! I’m a size 16/18, and my favorite swimsuit is this one, which I literally have in 3 different colors. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s a freakin’ steal! I also love this suit, and this is my favorite one piece. For more swimsuit picks, check out my guide to swimsuits for curvy girls.
- Travel Towel: There is absolutely no guarantee that the towels at your accomodation are going to fit around your waist. Frankly, they rarely fit around my left thigh. Plus, they’re heavy and bulky and you can get in trouble for bringing them out of the hotel. So just to be safe, I always bring my own travel-friendly, lightweight, quick-drying travel towel!
- Travel Clothesline: Newsflash: your hotel’s moist, dark bathroom is the absolute WORST place to hang your clothing up to dry. Instead, hang this tiny travel clothesline up somewhere that gets plenty of airflow and sun, like on a curtain rod in front of the window! Your wet swimsuit and travel towel will be dry in no time.
- Sand Repelling Beach Mat: I hate sand SO MUCH and this mat is made with magical sand-repelling qualities. If sand doesn’t make you want to go live in an igloo forever, you can always just use your towel as a mat instead!
On beach days, we pack up our day bag with all of our beach gear and a full bottle of cold water to stay hydrated (our insulated water bottle keeps water cold for an unbelievably long time). And of course, lots and lot of sunscreen – don’t forget to re-apply!
For more beachy packing tips and curvy-girl specific suggestions (ahem: do you have chafe balm yet??) head over to our beach vacation packing guide!
What to Pack for the Sun in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is just 675 miles north of the equator, which means the sun is probably a LOT stronger than you’re used to back home! So sun protection is really, REALLY important to protect your skin. You’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run, and besides – bad sunburns are vacation ruining.
Here are the essentials to bring with you on your trip to protect you from the sun:
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Going into the ocean? You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. Unless you hate coral, fish, and also all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm ocean life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! As a fun bonus incentive, it’s actually required by law in Hawai‘i. Although reef-safe sunscreen is always mineral, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe! Sunscreen must use “non-nano zinc oxide” particles to be reef safe (more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen from Sephora on my face.
- Mineral Sunscreen: This is the least harmful type of sunscreen, according to science. Mineral sunscreens use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. They basically simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by physically reflecting away UV rays, like tiny little mirrors. Meanwhile, regular chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and ends up in your bloodstream (and breast milk, according to this study) which squicks me out. Mineral sunscreens do not soak into your skin (according to this study). So even though mineral sunscreens can feel a bit heavier than chemical sunscreens, I prefer to use them anyway! I use this one for my body, and for my face (which is more sensitive) I use this lightweight mineral sunscreen.
- Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm: Don’t forget to protect the delicate skin on your lips from sunburn, too!
- Sun Hat: Who says sun protection isn’t cute? This comfortable hat protects your face, neck, and chest from the sun and goes with every outfit. The adjustable band around the rim guarantees that this hat will fit your head perfectly, and the neck cord means you can wear it even when it’s windy! This is my go-to everyday hat.
In addition to everyday sun protection, you’ll want to take extra care on days you’ll be spending more time than usual out on the water, like on a snorkeling or kayaking tour or even just when you’ll be swimming in the heat of the afternoon sun.
I’m a huge fan of wearing swim clothes to protect your skin and cut down on the amount of sunscreen you’ll need to use! I highly recommend bringing along a long-sleeved rash guard and a pair of swim leggings for sun protection during water sports.
Remember: the more your body is covered, the better you’ll be protected from the sun, and the more environmentally friendly your beach vacation will be! Psst: For more eco-friendly and responsible travel tips, head over to our Ethical Travel Guide.
- Travel Tip: In case you DO get sunburnt, a bottle of aloe vera will help. But an even better sunburn treatment? Apple cider vinegar! It smells terrible but it works miracles to take the sting out of a bad burn and speed up the healing process. Plus, it doesn’t feel sticky and gross on your skin. I bring a little spray bottle full of ACV on every beach trip.
What to Pack to Avoid Bug Bites in Costa Rica
Nothing ruins a trip like a sleepless night spent frantically trying to ignore your itchy legs. Or worse, mosquito-bite-induced Dengue fever, which Jeremy caught in Panama once (yeah, it sucked).
But where there are beautiful places waiting to be explored, there are bugs! So we’ve learned to make our peace with them – through the use of extremely effective bug repellants. We absolutely swear by these 2 essential bug repellants, and we rarely get bitten during our trip!
Here’s what you’ll need to tell mosquitos to back the f*** up during your trip:
- Permethrin Spray: Let me introduce you to our favorite thing ever, Permethrin Spray. It’s a bug repellent which adheres only to fabrics, leaves no smell or residue on clothes, and doesn’t harm human skin. Think of it like a magical, invisible armor on all of your clothes! We recommend stocking up on a few bottles before your trip and spending a couple of days spraying down all of your clothing, paying special attention to hems, cuffs, and socks (and extra-special attention to whatever you’ll be sleeping in). Make sure you do it outside, keep pets away, and wear a mask, because nobody wants to inhale chemicals (which, incidnetally, is why I hate aerosol bug sprays). Permethrin spray lasts for up to 6 machine washes, but … well, we don’t wash our clothes very often on vacation (ssh, don’t judge). Now you’ll only need to focus on covering your skin with bug repellant, which brings us to …
- Insect Repellant Lotion: Most insect repellents are not worth the unpleasant oily feeling you get after applying them, the icky hacking cough you develop after spraying them, or that skin-burning feeling you get after applying 100000% chemicals to your skin. There is, however, one insect repellant that avoids these pitfalls, and it’s this amazing lightweight Picaridin lotion. You rub it into your skin and it absorbs crazy fast with no oily residue. It lasts all day and the coverage is amazing. It doesn’t smell disgusting, leaves no sticky or oily residue, and it’s never made my skin burn. I love it, I swear by it, and yes, we definitely hoard it in 1-gallon jugs. This is one of our tried and tested travel essentials, and we typically get a LOT fewer bites than our travel companions! Pick up a couple of travel-sized 2oz bottles of lotion to take in your carry on luggage, or go all out on the quart or gallon-sized dispenser and fill up some empty bottles like us!
What to Pack to Stay Healthy in Costa Rica
Here’s the good news: Costa Rica has fantastic healthcare, which Lia was unfortunate enough to experience first hand. It’s also a very clean country: there are abundant sinks for hand-washing everywhere (thanks, pandemic, for that addition), tap water is drinkable in most of the country, you don’t really need to worry about food preparation, and you’re never very far from a pharmacia or doctor.
Every bathroom we’ve visited in Costa Rica has been clean and sanitary, and generally speaking it’s been pretty easy to stay healthy on all of our trips to Costa Rica. With one notable exception, which is that both Lia AND her dad got awful ear infections from river water – 20 years apart! The full story is in this post.
Here’s the not-as-good news: you’re still traveling, which means exposing your body to new things, some of which it may not like. Like, in Lia’s case, her ears (and her dad’s ears) REALLY don’t like the river water in Costa Rica!
Depending on where you’re visiting, you may also need to be slightly worried about malaria. And if you didn’t take our advice about bug repellants, you’ll want to worry about dengue fever, zika, and some other stuff – here’s the full list per the CDC. Most risks in Costa Rica are bug bite related, so scroll back up if you skipped that section!
But there honestly, Costa Rica is a pretty easy place to stay healthy! Just drink plenty of tropical fruit batidos, get lots of sleep, prevent bug bites, and relax. Pura vida!
Here are the essentials to pack to keep you feeling clean, healthy, and happy.
- Dramamine: Dramamine is our lifeline. Lia gets motion sick just by thinking too hard about it. So on travel days or anytime that we’ll be boarding a plane, train, bus, or boat, she pops a non-drowsy Dramamine and stays nausea free all day long!
- Vaccinations: You may need some vaccinations before you leave, like Yellow Fever and Tetanus. Always check the CDC recommendations for the specific areas you’ll be visiting to see what you might need before your trip, and make an appointment with your doctor (or visit a travel clinic) in advance!
- Anti-Diarheals: Traveler’s diarrhea is, annoyingly, very common. Imodium is essential to have on hand when traveling, and we also swear by DiaResQ. Most other basic first aid will probably be pretty easy to find if you need it!
- Stomach Enzymes: I have an easily upset stomach. My body doesn’t like dairy …or gluten …or corn… or salt … anything processed … anything delicious…. FML. But it’s really difficult to control what’s in your food while traveling, and sometimes the only thing that’s available is something that my stomach won’t like. So I always bring along my trusty stomach enzymes. They contain the things my stomach seems to lack to help it break down the elements in various foods and digest them. Since taking stomach enzymes I’ve greatly reduced instances of heartburn or indigestion, and seen a huge increase in my health from the more readily available nutrients that my stomach is now able to unpack and utilize! These are a lifesaver for me while traveling.
- Reusable Water Bottle: Hydration is crucial when traveling! But please don’t buy a plastic water bottle every day of your trip – that’s terrible for the environment! We recommend bringing along an insulated water bottle that keeps water cold all day long.
- Lifestraw Water Bottle: If you’ll be venturing to somewhere places where the tap water is a little iffy, you’ll want to bring along this water bottle with a built-in Lifestraw. It lets you drink water right from the tap, or a dirty puddle, or wherever else you feel like it – all perfectly filtered and safe.
- Ear Plugs: Lia has incredibly sensitive ears. Loud noises (like boat motors, or planes) give her tinnitus, and looking at river water the wrong way will give her an ear infection. So she always brings along
What to Pack to Stay Safe in Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is generally a pretty safe country to visit, you’ll want to take some basic precautions to keep yourself safe, particularly in a big city like San Jose.
We’re incredibly accident-prone, so we’re extra careful to keep ourselves safe and prevent theft – we’ve got a whole post about the safety precautions we always take when traveling: read it here.
One of the most important things we’ve learned is that traveler’s insurance is a must-have for travel safety! It protects you in case of a medical emergency, theft, and even covers the cost of your trip if you have to cancel it or end it early for a covered reason, like a death in your immediate family or sudden illness.
We use World Nomads travel insurance for every international trip and even includes extreme sports. We’ve had to file multiple claims with World Nomads and recommend them based on our experience. Be sure to read all details to make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for and how to use it in the case of an emergency (usually there’s a number to call or an email address to contact if you need help).
Now that you’re generally protected, here’s some of our favorite safety travel gear.
- Lightweight Combination Locks: These little locks are more of a deterrent than anything heavy-duty. But most casual thieves are looking for an easy mark: a pocket to slip their hands into quickly, a bag left unlocked on a bus, etc. We lock every zipper on all of our bags with these little locks and aside from someone running off with our entire day bag once (don’t worry! We got it back!) we never had anything stolen. Important side note: TSA-friendly travel locks are great for checked baggage, but for our day bags and non-checked luggage we actually prefer locks that AREN’T TSA friendly, because it’s super easy to manufacture the key that opens EVERY TSA lock. Ahhh!
- Travel Safe Wallet: One of the biggest mistakes you can make while traveling is carrying a wallet, especially in your back pocket. For any run-of-the-mill pickpocket, that’s the first place to look. Some people say put your wallet in your front pocket, but why risk it? Instead, we opt to wear two different kinds of travel safe wallets: a money belt for Jeremy and a bra pocket (AKA Brocket) for Lia. We also have a zippered passport pocket that can hold a phone too, which we only really needed on travel days. And we’ve each got an emergency stash of cash and cards that stays buried in our backpacks safe and sound in our hotel or hostel, in case we’re robbed while out and about.
Travel Tech to Pack for Costa Rica
As travel bloggers and part-time digital nomads, we bring a lot more gear than is necessary on trips (here’s what we actually bring, if you’re curious). The vast majority of people simply do not need to schlep along a tripod and two Macbook Pros!
There are a few techy travel essentials that we do recommend bringing along to keep you connected and … taking pictures and stuff. Here’s all the travel tech to bring with you on your trip:
- Binoculars: The handiest little tech gear you’ll ever forget to bring along! We’re notorious for leaving our binoculars at home and then spending our whole trip like “is that an animal? I can’t really tell from here …” Don’t be us! Stick some travel-friendly binoculars into your day-bag and just leave them there.
- External Battery: There’s no feeling worse than not knowing where you are or being able to speak the local language, and watching your phone battery fade into nothingness. Sure, travelers sans cellphones were probably hardier, but personally, I’m almost always lost (even at home). I RELY on my phone, and the detailed travel planning documents and offline maps I keep stored in it to help me orient myself. So bringing along a powerful external battery is a must whenever I travel. This one charges my phone like 5x before I need to recharge it, which is great because my goldfish memory is also bad at remembering to keep things charged! This smaller version is even more travel-friendly.
- Travel-Friendly Laptop: Our beloved little Chromebook was once our primary travel laptop. It’s capable of anything you need while on the road – yes, even managing a blog (so long as you don’t need complex stuff like Photoshop)! I actually started and ran the blog on this thing for a full year and a half. It’s super lightweight and incredibly fast. Sure, you need Wi-Fi for most of its capability, but we never have issues finding Wi-Fi (GOOD Wi-Fi was more of a challenge). Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive, so you don’t have to be as afraid of it getting broken or stolen – and if it does, all of your stuff is already safely backed up on the Cloud. I once had my Chromebook stolen (in the USA). The thief was so disappointed with it that they actually brought it back to where they’d taken it. I was thrilled – and I’d already added a new one to my Amazon cart!
- GoPro: You didn’t come all this way to NOT get underwater footage of yourself living your best mermaid life, did you?? You gotta have a GoPro! They’re hands down the best camera for capturing footage underwater. Just make sure you also pick up the Standard Housing, the waterproof case that you’ll definitely need before you go underwater! For a more budget-friendly option, this waterproof action camera will also do the trick.
- Travel Friendly Camera: Although our camera of choice is a hefty, professional level Sony A7R II, you don’t need all that to get great photos of your vacation. If you want to take things up a notch from your phone (or you’d rather keep your phone tucked safely away)we highly recommend bringing along a travel friendly pocket-sized Canon Powershot, which appears deceptively cheap and old-fashioned to potential thieves but actually takes AMAZING photos. This is what we used before we eventually upgraded to a pricey DSLR. For sweeping landscape shots, a GoPro (or this cheaper equivalant) is a great choice. Just make sure you bring along a memory card!
- Solar Powered Flashlight: This flashlight is awesome, and super handy for finding the bathroom or navigating at night. You’ll never need batteris and you’ll always have a little light when you need it. We keep ours clipped onto the outside of our backpacks so it’s charging whenever we’re outside. Environmentally friendly AND convenient!
- e-Reader or Kindle: There’s nothing better than spending a whole, luxurious afternoon laying in a hammock reading a really good book. But books are heavy and take up a lot of space in your luggage, so we prefer e-readers! Our Kindle Fire is our constant travel companion on planes and in hostels. (Except we only have one, so we’re constantly fighting over it.)
Whew, that’s everything! Do you have any questions about what to pack for Costa Rica? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more travel tips? Check out some of our other helpful posts!
Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
- Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
- Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly, vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO (they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record.) You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We’ve also used TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
- Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
- Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use Stasher or LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. On Stasher, you can use the code PW10 for 10% off your booking!
- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!