If you’re headed to Central America, then congratulations, you’re about to visit my favorite region on earth! One of the reasons I love Central America so much is because of its diversity – from Caribbean beaches to volcanic lakes, tropical jungles, and colonial cities, this region packs a mean punch.
However, with this huge range of climates, landscape and things to do, also comes with somewhat of a packing nightmare – how to cater for so many different temperatures and activities with a limited wardrobe?!
Well, here to help you out, is my complete Central America packing list, so that you know you’ll be perfectly ready for anything this amazing part of the world might throw at you.
The Ultimate Central America Packing list
Central America Packing List: The Essentials
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time in the sun in Central America. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. It’s a brand name you’ll see a lot in the Central America, in surf towns, as it’s popular with surfers — and ski bums like us.
Grayl Ultralight Water Bottle
Some of Central America has great water quality with an abundance of rainfall. However, we like to travel with a water bottle that purifies water when traveling in Central and South America.
The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters which removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses.
Quick Dry Travel Towel
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 ocean before drying off and heading to one of Central America’s many surf town spots for fish tacos or an Imperial (local beer). They’re also tremendous when you hike to any one of Central America’s numerous waterfalls as the towels are small enough to throw in your daypack and leave room for additional items.
The biggest complaint about travel towels is that they often feel nothing like the plush cotton towels we are accustomed to at home and in hotels. However, with the PackTowl you can forget about all of that because they set out to create a towel that mimics its cotton counterparts with the technical features of a travel towel. It comes pretty close to the real thing.
T-Shirt or V Neck
vA classic tee will never go out of style. We suggest sticking with solid colors like black, white, or grey. There’s also the option of a v neck for a more stylish look, but it all depends on personal preference.
Cameron prefers the grey as it’s super easy to stain the white ones. T-shirts are cheap and we like order a new pack before each trip as old shirts look slobbish.
Long Sleeve Technical Shirt
There’s a lot of little critters around the Central America, and you’ll be walking around almost every day of your trip. The shirt looks sharp with clean lines and a flattering cut. Design built for anglers, but that makes it a perfect fit for walking around the rainforest or out on boat. The shirt offers UV protection, it’s lightweight, quick drying, it has a vented back, and front pockets.
Loaded with features such omni-wick moisture management, antimicrobial treatment, and strategic mesh vented panels this shirt perfect for Central America. Columbia is one of our favorites when it comes to shirts as they make affordable and well designed clothes. You can check out more technical long sleeve shirts in our post about safari shirts.
This all depends on where you are traveling, but you might be surprised to find parts of Central America are cool in the evenings.
Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap T Pullover fleece is the best fleeces for the travel in our opinion. The fleece has a classic relaxed cut that has a timeless look for a walk on the beach or 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.
In case you didn’t know, Central America has something called the rainforest. It’s a safe bet that you’ll be caught in one of the countries many thunderstorms. If you are traveling Central America in 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 Arcteryx and Patagonia. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. Any rain jacket will do, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
I have to admit we travel a lot in rainy environments so we’ve invested in top of line Gore-Tex shell jackets. If you’re looking for a more affordable jacket we’re big fans of Columbia’s outdoor wear for a good value.
We pretty much live in loose pants when at the beach. After wearing several different pants we’ve landed on prAna for the companies commitment to sustainability and the awesome pants that they produce.
Their women’s Summit Pant is made out of hemp and recycled polyester while 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 literally live in these pants if it were acceptable to wear them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. While in the Central America, they were a wardrobe staple for nighttime as they are appropriate to wear barefoot out to a restaurant or bar while covering our legs from the pesky mosquitos.
Something to keep in mind for men, most Ticos wear long pants so it’s a good way to blend without feeling too hot in a pair of jeans.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Central America as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos.
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Central America as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
Central America is definitely 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 a pair of ankle high hiking boots.
Seriously, bring proper footwear because there are a lot of critters roaming around. I’m still having 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.
On top of that due to the abundance of rain that falls in Central America trails are often very muddy with standing water. A good pair of hiking boots will come in handy if you have plans to explore. We love the Merrel Moabs II that come in both women’s and men’s versions.
Flip-flops are never a bad idea at beach destinations and should be on every traveler’s Central America packing list. Our favorite brand is Rainbow Sandals as they last forever and are super comfortable once the leather forms to your foot.
These used to be super hokey and ugly. No longer as there are a number of manufactures and shoe companies who have created water shoes that are stylish. They look more like traditional shoes, but are breathable and made with waterproof materials. Seriously if you plan on spending time around the waterfalls and going in the water it’s worth it to pick up a pair. They will help you grip the slippery rocks and protect your feet from cuts.
Water shoes are great if you will be doing any walking around rocks, cliffs, or waterfalls in Central America. I’ve been caught a few times without them and my feet have paid dearly for my mistake. The other option would be to bring along a pair of hiking sandals that hold better than traditional sandals.
Women’s Central America Packing List
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. It’s even possible to take easy hikes in the dress, like in Waimea Canyon on Kauai.
Cute Summer Dress
For stylish looks in Central America!
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 with everything. They’re super functional clothes that can be worn under a blouse or alone with a pair of jeans or capris.
I always love to have a loose blouse for those warm Central American days. It’s comfortable and stylish you can’t go wrong with this look when in tropical destinations.
Rompers are probably one of my favorite travel outfits because they’re stylish, comfortable, practical, and keep me cool in the summer. You really can’t go wrong here and I’d suggest throwing at least one or two rompers in your suitcase for Greece.
You aren’t going to need pants too much so make sure to pack a few pairs of cute shorts. I like a loose cute with a cute print or light color.
Central America is a destination for the 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 evenings.
I typically have at least two pairs of yoga pants in my suitcase. For more a more fun design on yoga pants check out Yoga Democracy. They make their pants out of recycled nets that they find in the ocean! Use the code TWP20 for 20% off your purchase.
You’re heading to Central America so you will probably hit up a few of their splendid beaches. When I travel I always bring at least two suits so that I have a dry one to always change into. For all of that, you’re going to need a bathing suit.
One of my favorite brands for swimsuits is prAna. prAna makes high-quality swimsuits for active women. Many of their pieces are stylish, yet supportive. So if you’re planning to go surfing, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, or play beach volleyball and want to make sure your ta-tas stay intact these swimsuits are for you.
I absolutely love Handful’s leggings and their sports bras are no different. They fit incredibly well and have removable pads, can be worn multiple ways, and are smooth, non-chafing, and quick drying. Seriously, they are the best sports bras I’ve ever owned!
It gets sunny in Central America, and you’re going to spend most of your time outside. Make sure to protect your face with a nice sun hat.
Interestingly enough Panama Hat’s 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.
My other favorite, more fashionable sandals for women at the beach are Plaka. Plaka sandals are handwoven women’s sandals with a hard rubber sole that is good to wear anywhere in the summer. All of these sandals are hand-made and water resistant and can really dress up a beach casual look. I have a pair in almost all of their styles! (Psst here is a code for 20% of your next pair on Amazon: PLAKAS18)
Men’s Central America Packing List
I’m normally advise travelers to avoid the baseball cap except 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!
When we’re traveling in foreign countries I avoid graphic t-shirts for the most part. However, in Central America they’re perfectly intertwined with surfing culture and the laid back vibes.
Short Sleeve Button
A short sleeve button down is a great option to beach casual while avoiding the tee shirt look. I like to go for the linen as it has a more relaxed beach look and it hold 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 these shorts as they are super comfortable and durable. I have several pairs of the Vaha Pant both shorts and pants.
The material dries fast and hold up to any activities and show little sign of wear. I like to wear them when working out, heading to the lunch, or relaxing around the house. They look great anywhere you can get away with casual attire, which means almost anywhere in Central America.
If you have plans for a night out at a resort then plan to have dress pants like chinos. It’s a classic look that when combined with a dress shirt has a classic look. 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 be spending your time in Central America. Otherwise, it’s best to leave them at home as surf towns are very casual.
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.
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.
Trail Running Shoes
If you like to run on the beach or in the jungle. We both picked up the Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 2 before our trip to Central America and had a great time on the trails. They’re pretty heavily cushioned so they protect your feet from uneven or rough surfaces and can even double for hiking shoes.
Central America Packing List Accessories
Central America has year round warm weather and lots of rain so in other words, breeding ground for mosquitos. They love to hand around forests, ponds, lagoons, or anywhere with still water. We’d recommend to pack a bottle of insect repellant that has DEET in it so you’ll scare away those annoying biting demons. And in a worst case scenario and it reduces the chances of Dengue Fever — although it’s rare in Central America. Just keep in mind that DEET can destroy plastics so mind your sunglasses or camera when applying.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling to the around Central America as you’re close to the Equator. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will find much higher prices in Central America.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re 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 run off often still ends in our oceans.
Walking around and taking part in everyday activities in Central America can get pretty dirty. It became a reoccurring 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.
If you’re going on a jungle trek in Manuel Antonio or Corcovado National Park a pair of binoculars will certainly help you see wildlife better. Binoculars offer you the chance to view wildlife much better than your bare eye – and you’ll likely be seeing lots of wildlife in Central America.
Manduka makes a lightweight travel yoga that we now use for travel. 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.
Central America is certainly an easy place to lounge around and do nothing. A travel hammock that you can string up between trees or railings is great for those times when you want to relax. It’s perfect for those times when you want to relax in nature.
The ENO hammock was the original producer. Now, you can find a multitude of cheap ones online as they’re easy to manufacture in China and people love to buy and sell them on Amazon. Personally, I’d just stick with the original.
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 bags are great if you’re going to be 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.
If you’re staying at a lodge or guesthouse they may have extra rubber boots for you to borrow. We found this at a couple places but obviously, this isn’t guaranteed. These are also super specific, but if you’re chasing nature like in the Osa Peninsuila like us or some of the cloud forests they will come in handy.
Most likely it’s not worth the hassle of traveling with these bulky boots. Don’t forget a tall pair of socks for those jungle treks if you do bring them!
Every day we were chasing a new waterfall, hiking through the rainforest, or enjoying the beach. For all our excursions we had the Osprey Daylite to carry our knick knacks and snacks for the day. You can also get a cheap foldable backpack that will do a good job at securing your things too.
It doesn’t hurt to practice your Spanish while in Central America. Here’s a small pocket sized one.
Central America Packing List Electronics
A high-quality camera is an important packing item for Central America if you want some great shots while on your vacation We travel with a bunch of cameras, but the one we universally recommend is the RX 100.
They make a number of models at different price points, but it’s a simple to use point-and-shoot camera that anyone can operate. It also takes superb images with a 20mp resolution and full manual controls.
This is the perfect camera to bring to Central America and you’ll see them everywhere. Central America has plenty of adventures from surfing to hiking or ATV Tours to Snorkeling. GoPros are made for all of that!
Don’t risk bringing a fancy camera to the beach and getting sand in it. Or even worse, water. We just picked up the GoPro Hero 8 and love it so far. The Hypersmooth motion capture is a total game-changer. Just make sure to attach it to a wrist strap so it doesn’t get lost!
I love traveling with a power bank to make sure my phone never dies. The majority of the time I don’t need to use it on long flights as some of the 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 in the ass.
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.
You Need This to Travel to Central America
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About the Author: Stephanie Parker is a travel addict and creator of the budget travel blog Big World Small Pockets who lived on the Corn Islands, I wore almost nothing else!. Never one for staying still, she’s always had to travel cheaply to maintain her nomadic lifestyle … even into her 30’s! Originally from the UK, Stephanie likes nothing more than backpacking the world on a shoestring collecting stories she shares with a smile.