Are you wondering what to wear in Costa Rica? We were too before we landed in San Jose in the middle of the night. The good news is that Costa Rica is an accessible destination to pack for a vacation with a bit of strategy.
Costa Rica may look like a small country, but it’s a land of varying climates, terrains, and temperatures. The environments vary a lot, from the steamy jungles of the Osa Peninsula in the South to the cool cloud forests of Monteverde or the arid beaches of Guanacaste.
With this Costa Rica packing list, you’ll be able to pack the right things in your suitcase, so you don’t end up with unnecessary items, or worse, finding you forgot something important.
How to Dress in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a casual destination, and there is no dress code in the country. Most touristic destinations are along the coast, so the average outfit consists of shorts, a shirt/tank top, and sandals.
Towards the country’s center, temperatures are cooler, so we recommend you wear close-toe shoes, long pants, and a light jacket. If you plan to visit higher elevation destinations like Monteverde or Arenal, you’ll want to pack a jacket and long pants.
Locals in Costa Rica are pretty casual, but it’s most common to wear pants in cities. It goes for both men and women. It’s also somewhat unusual for locals to wear legging or yoga pants, so women, you might get some looks if you wear them.
Costa Rica Packing List
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time in the sun in Costa Rica. 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 Costa Rica, in surf towns, as it’s popular with surfers — and ski bums like us.
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Grayl Ultralight Water Bottle
Costa Rica has excellent water quality with an abundance of rainfall. However, we like to travel with a water bottle that purifies water in Central and South America. The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters. A purifier removes viruses and virtually removes all threats of waterborne illnesses.
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Quick Dry Travel Towel
We always recommend you pack a travel towel for just about every destination. Quick-dry towels are great when you’re out exploring Costa Rica. You can take an impromptu dip in the ocean, dry off, and head for before some fish tacos and an Imperial (local beer).
A towel is also tremendous when you hike to one of Costa Rica’s numerous waterfalls, as the towels are small enough to throw in your daypack and leave room for additional items. Most hotels don’t appreciate you taking their towels along for day trips.
The biggest complaint about travel towels is that they often feel nothing like the plush cotton towels at home. 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’s pretty sweet, and we highly recommend the towel!
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A smartwatch is often an overlooked travel staple, 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.
Costa Rica is a vibrant destination as two of the most popular activities are surfing and hiking. A smartwatch can track your fitness and help monitor your health vitals. We got our watches before a trip, and they’ve become a part of everyday life. I use and love the Garmin Instinct.
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A 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.
T-shirts are cheap, and we like to order a new pack before each trip as old shirts look slobbish. In foreign countries, it’s best to avoid graphic t-shirts. However, in Costa Rica, they’re perfectly intertwined with surfing culture and the laid-back vibes. If you have a cool surf shirt, throw it in your bag.
A handful of regular cotton tees are great to have, but for a humid destination, pack a few athletic shirts too. Thanks to antimicrobial properties, synthetic shirts do a much better job drying in damp environments and avoid getting funky. Our absolute favorite technical shirts are the Echo line from Outdoor Research. They come in a wide range of cuts that include tank tops and long sleeves perfect for sun protection.
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Long Sleeve Technical Shirt
There’s a lot of little critters in the jungles of Costa Rica. If you plan on hiking in the jungles or cloud forests, we highly recommend you pack a long sleeve technical shirt. The long sleeve Echo is a great choice. Or you can opt for a classic technical shirt like the Columbia Tamiami II.
The Tamiami II offers UV protection, and it’s lightweight, quick-drying, and rugged. It has excellent features such as a vented back, front pockets, antimicrobial treatment, and mesh panels that make the shirt perfect for Costa Rica. Columbia is one of our favorites when it comes to shirts as they make affordable and well-designed clothes. You can check out more recommendations in our post about safari shirts.
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In case you didn’t know, Costa Rica has something called the rainforest. It’s a safe bet that you’ll see one of the countries many showers. If you are traveling to Costa Rica in the wet season (May-December), a rain jacket is essential, but I would bring one any time of year to be safe. The rain is typically short-lived, but you won’t want to get soaked during that time.
We like to travel with shell jackets designed for hiking. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. Any rain jacket will do, but the top-dollar ones will hold up and hold up in inclement weather.
I have to admit we spend a lot of time hiking and mountaineering, so we have top-of-line Gore-Tex shell jackets. If you’re looking for a more affordable jacket, we’re big fans of Marmot’s PreCip Eco-Rain Jacket as it’s a great value. We break down our favorite packable rain jackets in this post.
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A fleece depends on where you are traveling, but you might be surprised to find parts of Costa Rica are cool in the evenings. Many areas are very popular with tourists, such as Monteverde, San Jose, and Arenal. San Jose even sees the rare freezing nighttime temperature.
It never hurts to have a comfy fleece for the plane that will also double as an extra layer of warmth when the temperature drops. Fleece is an excellent option for this as you don’t need a winter jacket for Costa Rica.
We both love Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap T Pullover and think it’s one of the best fleeces for travel. The fleece has a classic relaxed cut, perfect for walking on the beach or a cozy evening. They also make a great gift for travelers as they’re a wardrobe staple.
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We pretty much live in relaxed pants when at the beach. After wearing several different pants, we both landed on pants from prAna. Not only are the pants awesome, but we love the company’s commitment to sustainable practices.
Their women’s Summit Pant is made out of hemp and recycled polyester and offers 50+ UPF protection. They are perfect for beach destinations, especially if you find yourself in more conservative areas.
The men’s Vaha pants are lightweight and weigh nothing in a carry-on bag. They are a wardrobe staple for nighttime as they are appropriate for a restaurant and protect legs from pesky mosquitos. Something to keep in mind for men, most Ticos wear long pants, so it’s an excellent way to blend without feeling too hot in a pair of jeans.
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Hiking Pants & Shorts
Lightweight pants that are from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling between destinations in Costa Rica 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 helpful beyond Costa Rica as they are a travel staple, and we pack a pair everywhere we travel. For an excellent hiking pant that is super comfortable, check out the trailhead pant from Coalatree.
Of course, you can’t spend every day in pants! It’s a great idea to pack some of your favorite shorts for Costa Rica as the weather is warm and humid. Ticos aren’t adverse to shorts either.
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You’re heading to Costa Rica, so you will probably hit up a few of their splendid beaches. I always bring at least two suits to have a dry one to change into when I travel. For all of that, you’re going to need a bathing suit.
One of my favorite brands for swimsuits is Andies Swim. Andies Swim 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.
For men, the Quicksilver’s Amphibian shorts are a fantastic pair of board shorts. The material looks like heavy cotton, but they’re super lightweight and durable. Best of all, they look great on the beach or in town.
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Flip-flops are never a bad idea at beach destinations and should be on every traveler’s Costa Rica packing list. Our favorite brand is Rainbow Sandals, as they last forever and are super comfortable once the leather forms to your foot. Another attractive option is for women is the Yoga Sling 2 from Sanuk.
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Costa Rica 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 a pair of ankle-high hiking shoes or 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 ankle protection was good to have in footwear.
On top of that, due to the abundance of rain that falls in Costa Rica, 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 comes in both women’s and men’s versions.
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These used to be super hokey and ugly. No longer as there are several manufactures and shoe companies who have created stylish water shoes. They look more like traditional shoes but are breathable and made with waterproof materials.
If you plan on many visits to waterfalls and it’s worth it to pick up a pair. They will help you grip the slippery rocks and protect your feet from cuts. Check out Tropicfeels for a couple of travel shoes that double as water shoes.
Water shoes are great if you walk around rocks, cliffs, or waterfalls in Costa Rica. 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.
Awesome Water Shoes
Women’s Costa Rica Packing List
Cute Summer Dress
When you’re walking around the islands or cute seaside towns, a loose-flowing dress is a great wardrobe choice. I’d leave the jeans behind as they’re heavy, restrictive, and hot in the sun.
I love to wear a cute summer dress in Costa Rica. Choose a classic dress like an exposed shoulder top or a slip dress and go with light colors for a classic look. You can also opt for a more bohemian beach style which I love! My favorite dresses come from Salty Crush.
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Beach Cover Up
A beach cover-up or sarong is excellent to have in Costa Rica. Most of my cover-ups come from Pitusa. Pitusa only uses Peruvian and Indian cotton and employs women from Peru, Bali, and India to make the products.
As a fan of fair trade, I love that they come from ethical work environments. These Pitusa dresses are also so beautiful they double as a night-out dress (but are sheer, so wear something underneath).
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Costa Rica 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.
Pack at least two pairs of yoga pants in your suitcase. For 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.
Men’s Costa Rica Packing List
It’s our favorite item to wear when we travel. Linen is as practical as it is stylish. It’s great as it tends to dry faster, feel lighter, and cope with sweat better than its cotton counterparts. Pair a linen shirt with sandals, shorts, jeans, shoes, or even go barefoot. It will always work.
A versatile piece of clothing that looks good for both sexes and works at the beach or a restaurant. It’s perfect for excellent resort wear, but you won’t feel out of place walking around a sleepy surf town. It’s tough to find decent linen shirts online, but I love the quality of J. Crew’s linen shirts.
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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 Costa Rica. Otherwise, it’s best to leave them at home as surf towns are very casual.
Bluffworks specializes in men’s travel clothes and makes some awesome pants, shirts, and blazers. Their travel clothes are all comfortable, wrinkle-resistant, and stain-resistant. Amazing for travel!
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I usually 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 Costa Rica!
Costa Rica Packing List Accessories
Costa Rica has year-round warm weather and lots of rain, so in other words, a breeding ground for mosquitos. They love to hand around forests, ponds, lagoons, or anywhere with still water. We’d recommend packing 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, it reduces the chances of Dengue Fever — although it’s rare in Costa Rica. Just keep in mind that DEET can destroy plastics, so mind your sunglasses or camera when applying.
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Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Costa Rica as you’re close to the Equator. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will find much higher prices in Costa Rica.
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, runoff often still ends in our oceans.
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Walking around and taking part in everyday activities in Costa Rica can get pretty dirty. While Costa Rica is one of the cleanest and greenest countries we’ve ever seen, there were still many local soda shops that lacked hand soap in the restroom.
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.
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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 Costa Rica.
In Costa Rica, you’ll hear the words “Pura Vida” many times. Pura Vida means Pure Life, and it is not just a saying but a way of being in the country. You’ll find many yoga studios around Costa Rica, and I would highly recommend going to a few. I brought a travel yoga mat, so it’s on our Costa Rica packing list so we can practice wherever.
Manduka has a lightweight travel yoga that we now use for travel. It’s not as robust as a regular yoga mat, so that it can be painful on hard surfaces. However, we like it on a soft carpet, the beach, a towel, or over a yoga studio’s public mats for a more hygienic experience.
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Costa Rica is undoubtedly an easy place to lounge around and do nothing. A travel hammock that you can string up between trees or railings is excellent 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 many cheap ones online as they’re easy to manufacture in China, and people love to buy and sell them on Amazon. I’d just stick with the original.
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After driving across Africa, we got in the habit 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 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 of places, but obviously, this isn’t guaranteed. These are also super specific, but if you’re chasing nature like in the Osa Peninsula or some 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. You can also get a cheap foldable backpack that will do an excellent job at securing your things too.
We found that most Ticos could speak English very well, but it doesn’t hurt to practice your Spanish while in Costa Rica. Here’s a small pocket-sized one.
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Costa Rica Packing List Electronics
A high-quality camera is a critical packing item for Costa Rica if you want some great shots during your vacation. The one camera we universally recommend is the Sony RX 100.
They make several models at different price points, but it’s simple to use a point-and-shoot camera that anyone can operate. It also takes superb images with a 20mp resolution and full manual controls.
A GoPro is the perfect camera to bring to Costa Rica, and you’ll see them everywhere. Costa Rica has plenty of adventures, from surfing to hiking or ATV Tours to Snorkeling.
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 10 and have loved 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!
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I love traveling with a power bank to make sure my phone never dies. Most of the time, I don’t need to use it on long flights as some of the more excellent 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 significant pain in the ass.
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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.
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You Need This to Travel to Costa Rica
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worrywart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers excellent flexibility and great plans!
You never know if the worse could happen while you’re abroad, and often your insurance plan at home will not cover medical emergencies abroad. Or, if you have lost luggage, delayed flights, or a canceled trip, travel insurance can step in to save the day. Having the peace of mind that we have a good backup plan helps us sleep at night.