The Ultimate Central America Packing List

Central America packs a punch of natural diversity, fascinating cities, wildlife, and intriguing cultures. It’s hard not to be enamored by its volcanic peaks, sandy beaches, and tropical rainforests. However, the huge range of climates, landscapes, and things to do can make it difficult to pack.

We find it a fairly easy destination to pack with several strategies and smart products. While temperatures fluctuate across Central America, it’s largely a hot and humid destination, so hot-weather clothing that can fight against bacteria will be your greatest asset. A healthy annual rainfall feeds all the greenery, so a good rain jacket is always necessary. We’ve got more suggestions below.


Central America Packing list


The Essentials


Sunglasses

Natasha In Front Of Guatemalan Door With Quetzal

Protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time in the sun in Central America. There are many options for sunglasses, and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to ensure they have UV protection for the health of your eyes.


Water Purifier

Some parts of Central America have great water quality due to abundant rainfall. However, not every country/region has reliable public water quality. We like to travel with a water bottle that purifies water when traveling in Central America. The Grayl Water Bottle purifies water rather than filters, removing viruses and virtually eliminating all threats of waterborne illnesses. It allows us to have clean and safe drinking water without the waste of plastic water bottles.


Quick Dry Travel Towel

Natasha Alden on Beach In Costa Rica

We always recommend bringing a travel towel for just about every destination. Quick-dry towels are great when you’re out exploring Central America. You can make an impromptu dip in the ocean before drying off and heading for fish tacos. They’re also tremendous when you hike to any of the numerous waterfalls, as the towels are small enough to throw in your daypack and leave room for additional items.


T-Shirt or V Neck

A classic tee will never go out of style. We suggest sticking with solid colors like black, white, or grey. There’s also a v-neck option for a more stylish look, but it all depends on personal preference. Cameron prefers the grey as it’s easy to stain the white ones. T-shirts are cheap, and we like to order a new pack before each trip, as old shirts look slobbish.


Long Sleeve Technical Shirt

There are a lot of little critters around Central America, and you’ll be walking around almost every day of your trip.


Warm Fleece

Natasha Sits By Pool In Costa Rican Lodge

This depends on where you are traveling, but you might be surprised that parts of Central America are cool in the evenings. The fleece has a classic, relaxed cut with a timeless look for a walk on the beach or a cozy evening after a long day. It’s a double-sided fleece that provides plenty of warmth while remaining soft and comfortable. They also make a great gift for travelers as they’re a wardrobe staple.


Rain Jacket

Natasha Walks Through Cloud Forest In Rain Jacket

In case you didn’t know, Central America has a rainforest. It’s a safe bet that you’ll be caught in one of the country’s many thunderstorms. If you are traveling to Central America during the wet season, a rain jacket is essential, but I would bring one any time of year just to be safe. The rain is typically short-lived, but you won’t want to get soaked during that time.

We both have rain jackets made by Arc’teryx and Patagonia. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. Any rain jacket will do, but the top-dollar ones will hold up and help in inclement weather. If you’re looking for a more affordable jacket, we’re big fans of Columbia’s outdoor wear for good value.


Loose Pants

We pretty much live in loose pants when at the beach. After wearing several different pants, we’ve landed on prAna for the company’s commitment to sustainability and the awesome pants that they produce. Their women’s Summit Pant is made of hemp and recycled polyester, offering 50+ UPF protection. They are perfect for beach destinations, especially if you find yourself in more conservative areas.

These men’s Vaha pants are lightweight and weigh nothing in a carry-on bag. I could live in these pants if wearing them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner were acceptable. In Central America, they were a wardrobe staple for nighttime, as they were appropriate for wearing barefoot out to a restaurant or bar while covering our legs from the pesky mosquitos.


Hiking Pants

Antiqua Park On A Sunny Day

Lightweight synthetic pants are tremendous to have in your pack. We wear them most days when traveling around Central America because they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos. We recommend neutral-colored pants, which are great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Central America. They are a travel staple, and we pack a pair everywhere. I love the Trailhead pants from Coalatree, while the Kuhl Renegade pants are a tremendous pair of hiking pants for men.


Hiking Boots

Costa Rica Packing List

Central America is a destination worth a walk in the jungle. We went on many hikes to waterfalls, through the forest, and sloth-searching. There is nothing else I would rather be in these environments than in a pair of ankle-high hiking boots.

Seriously, bring proper footwear because many critters roam around. I still have nightmares about getting attacked by fierce jungle ants when I mistakenly walked on a trail in my flip-flops. We also saw multiple venomous snakes on hiking trails in the Osa Peninsula, so the added layer of protection was much appreciated.

In addition, due to the abundance of rain in Central America, trails are often very muddy with standing water. A good pair of hiking boots will come in handy if you plan to explore. We love the Merrel Moabs II, which comes in both women’s and men’s versions.


Sandals

Natasha With A Coffee In Quepos Costa Rica

Sandals are never bad at beach destinations and should be on every traveler’s Central America packing list. Our favorite brand is Olukai, as they last forever and are super comfortable once the leather forms on your foot.


Women’s Central America Packing List


Sundress

It’s a tremendous idea to have a comfortable sundress. Not only is it more comfortable, but it’s also cute. Tasha got the Cantine Dress from prAna this year and has loved the sundress. It has built-in support and sturdy straps, so you can be active in this dress.


Cute Summer Dress

For stylish looks in Central America!


Tank Tops

Natasha Walks Down City Streets In Antigua Gautemala

A few comfortable tank tops and shirts are always in my bag, and they’re perfect for Central America. I typically pack solid colors so that they can go with everything. They’re super functional clothes that can be worn under a blouse or alone with jeans or capris.


Blouse

I always love to have a loose blouse for those warm Central American days. It’s comfortable and stylish, and you can’t go wrong with this look in tropical destinations.


Romper/Playsuit

Rompers are probably one of my favorite travel outfits because they’re stylish, comfortable, practical, and keep me cool in the summer. You can’t go wrong here, and I’d suggest throwing at least one or two rompers in your suitcase.


Shorts

You won’t need pants much, so make sure to pack a few pairs of cute shorts. I like loose shorts with a pretty print or light color.


Yoga Pants

Central America is a destination for health-conscious people, and with that, yoga is all over the islands. Most of the big resorts even offer yoga classes in the morning or evening. I typically have at least two pairs of yoga pants in my suitcase.


Bathing Suits

Natasha Alden Looking Phenomenal On A Beach In Costa Rica

You’re heading to Central America, so you will probably hit a few of its splendid beaches. When I travel, I always bring at least two suits to have a dry one to change into. For all of that, you’re going to need a bathing suit.


Sun Hat

It gets sunny in Central America, and you’ll spend most of your time outside. Make sure to protect your face with a nice sun hat. Interestingly, Panama hats are not from Panama, but they originate from Ecuador. I picked mine up in Quito, but you can find plenty of cheap ones online that are perfect for the beach.


Men’s Central America Packing List

Cameron On Beach In Costa Rica

Baseball Cap

I normally advise travelers to avoid the baseball cap, but there are a few locations where that is an exception, like in Costa Rica. I love to wear hats, as they help keep the sweat and sun out of my eyes on a hot, sunny day. You’ll, at the very least, experience some hot and humid weather while in Central America!


Graphic Tees

When we travel in foreign countries, I generally avoid graphic T-shirts. However, in Central America, they’re perfectly intertwined with surfing culture and laid-back vibes.


Short Sleeve Button

A short-sleeve button-down is a great option for beach casual while avoiding the tee-shirt look. I like to go for linen, as it has a more relaxed beach look and holds up better in the heat than a cotton shirt. The one above is from prAna.


prAna Vaha Short

These shorts from prAna are fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about them; they are super comfortable and durable. I have several pairs of Vaha pants, both shorts and pants. The material dries fast, holds up to any activities, and shows little sign of wear. They look great anywhere you can get away with casual attire, almost anywhere in Central America.


Chinos

If you have plans for a night out at a resort, then plan to wear dress pants like chinos. It’s a classic look that has a classic look when combined with a dress shirt. I always pack a pair of these pants in my bag! It’s a solid choice for resort wear if that’s where you’ll spend your time in Central America. Otherwise, it’s best to leave them at home as surf towns are very casual.


Board Shorts

For men, Cameron loves a good pair of board shorts from Billabong or Dakine. Both make great quality shorts that are lightweight and built for surfing, so they stretch and move with the body. When purchasing board shorts it’s best to stick with darker colors as they hold up longer and to get a shorter cut above the knee. As for material, a great blend of polyester and elastane is a solid choice as it’s lightweight and comfortable.


Sports Watch

This is a travel staple that’s often overlooked, but having a watch on the road has become a must for me. It helps keep me on time when I’m out in the water, on a hike, or catching the next plane on a layover.


Central America Packing List Accessories

Natasha Walks On To Beach In Costa Rica Sunny Weather

Insect Repellant

Central America has year-round warm weather and lots of rain, so it is a breeding ground for mosquitos. They love to hang around forests, ponds, lagoons, or anywhere with still water. We recommend packing a bottle of insect repellant with DEET in it so you’ll scare away those annoying biting demons. Remember that DEET can destroy plastics, so mind your sunglasses or camera when applying.


Sunscreen

Skin cancer is for real! Because Central America is close to the Equator, remember your SPF when traveling there. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house, as you will find much higher prices in Central America.

We highly recommend getting eco-friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. These creams are mineral-based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans. If you’re not going to swim in the ocean, just go with a reliable name brand—granted, runoff often still ends in our oceans.


Hand Sanitizer

Walking around and participating in everyday activities in Central America can get pretty dirty. It became a recurring theme to find hand soap nowhere. You can’t go wrong bringing some hand sanitizer and baby wipes in your bag—consider it a travel essential anywhere you go.


Binoculars

If you’re going on a jungle trek in Manuel Antonio or Corcovado National Park, a pair of binoculars will help you see wildlife better. Binoculars offer you the chance to view wildlife much better than your bare eye – and you’ll likely see lots of wildlife in Central America.


Yoga Mat

Manduka makes a lightweight travel yoga mat that we now use. It’s not as robust as a normal yoga mat, so it can be painful on hard surfaces. However, we like it on soft carpet, the beach, a towel, or over a yoga studio’s public mats for a more hygienic experience.


Headlamp

After camping in Africa we learned that a headlamp is never a bad idea. Our Petzl headlamp came in handy when we did night walks in the jungle searching for frogs and again when we were staying at a treehouse community off the grid and without power.


Dry bag

Dry bags are great if you’re spending time at the beach. They will protect your phone and any other electronics from the ocean, or more importantly if it starts to rain.


Daypack

Every day, we chased a new waterfall, hiked through the rainforest, or enjoyed the beach. For all our excursions, we had the Osprey Daylite to carry our knickknacks and snacks for the day. You can also get a cheap foldable backpack that will do a good job of securing your things.


Spanish Phrasebook

It doesn’t hurt to practice your Spanish while in Central America.


Central America Packing List Electronics

Cameron And Natasha At Laguna Lodge On Lake Atitlán

 Portable Charger

I love traveling with a power bank to ensure my phone never dies. Most of the time I don’t need to use it on long flights as some nicer airlines provide entertainment systems with USB ports! We also make sure to find a charging point during layovers, but getting to a new city without your hotel reservations and map can be a major pain.


Kindle Paperwhite

While I love having a perfect book when I sometimes travel, it’s just not practical because of the weight. I’ve recently switched to a Kindle Paperwhite which is small and compact, plus it has a backlight for reading at night without a harsh glare.


About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

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