Smart packing can make a huge difference for your trip to Costa Rica. Having personally lived out of a backpack for months on end, there is one important lesson I have learned: how to pack effectively. It is important to note that packing effectively does not necessarily mean packing lightly!
If you have chosen Costa Rica as your next travel destination, you are likely visit a variety of diverse places: from national parks, to splendid volcanoes, misty cloud forests, beautiful cities, and magnificent beaches. But what should you pack? For a trip of at least 7 days, I have compiled a list of 7 different packing categories and the essentials to bring within each. These items will ensure that you are prepared for all types of adventures on your trip.
1. Luggage and Accessories
Before you depart on your adventure, you need to make sure that you have chosen the best luggage option for you. If you plan to travel around Costa Rica, I recommend you invest in a backpack. While a big suitcase on wheels can be extremely beneficial if you are sticking mainly to cities and paved roads, it can be detrimental on your off-road adventure. Imagine having to trek through a few feet of water, or a muddy trail. A large (yet comfortable) backpack is definitely the most practical way to go.
Here are some tips on how to pack your backpack:
The following luggage and accessories are essential for your trip:
- Day pack (for hiking and trekking, preferably one with a waist strap)
- Money belt or passport pendant (to keep your important documents close and safe!)
- Padlock locks (preferably TSA approved ones)
- PacSafe (a mesh cover securing your pack in public storage areas)
Bringing a day pack is crucial! You do not want to get stuck carrying your large luggage everywhere you go.
While it is important to have enough to wear during your Costa Rica vacation, I would recommend not bringing too many clothes, as most of the time they remain unworn anyway and just take up extra space. I would say that for this trip, less is more, and you should aim to carry a minimum amount of clothes. “Reuse” is a keyword here!
- 1 pair of hiking boots or trail shoes (great for hiking, walking or running)
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of sandals
- 3 long sleeved shirts
- 6 short sleeved shirts
- 1 sweater
- 1 light jacket
- 1 button-up shirt
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs of long pants
- 6 pairs of socks
- 10 pairs of underwear
- 2 hats
- 2 bathing suits
- 1 dress and/or skirt (optional for the ladies – in case you want to get dressed up for a night out on the town)
Remember that for trips longer than 1 week, you can then always wash your clothes, or even acquire some local finds along the way. Try bringing similar colors that mix and match easily. Make sure your shoes are broken in beforehand to avoid blisters!
There are various personal items you should take with you on your trip, to ensure you are prepared for all types of situations.
- Sunscreen (SPF 15/30)
- After-sun lotion or Aloe Vera gel
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Moisturizing cream
- Lip balm
- Nail clipper
- Ear plugs
- Sleep mask
- Razor (and shaving cream if applicable)
- Shampoo/conditioner (optional)
- Body wash and/or soap (optional)
- Hair ties and/or hair clips (optional for those with longer hair)
- Make up/make-up remover (for the ladies)
When it comes to personal items such as shampoo, body wash (or soap), and conditioner, you could also buy them locally if you need to save some weight in your checked bag. If you are staying at hotels, these items are furthermore often provided for you. Also remember that there are TSA restrictions on traveling with liquids. Before you board the plane, make sure you don’t have any bottles of liquid more than 100 ml (3.4 ounces), and that they all fit in a one quart-sized re-sealable plastic storage bag. The plastic bag is not only part of TSA restrictions, but it will also protect the other things in your bag in case the bottles leak or break due to the change in air pressure during the flight. This will make your travels much easier as you pass through security at the airport.
Keep in mind that the sun can be very strong in Costa Rica, especially for those who live in colder climates where sun exposure is minimal. I would recommend starting with a sunscreen that has SPF 30 and you could then slowly work your way to a weaker SPF. If you do get a sunburn, Aloe Vera gel is a great option for you!
4. Medicine Cabinet
When it comes to your medicine cabinet, try to make sure that you have at least the basics with you in case of an emergency. You could either bring a pre-packaged first aid kit, or just make your own. Be sure to include the following items:
- Insect repellent (very important regardless of your itinerary!)
- Anti-itch cream
- Polysporin (or other wound-care product)
- Any prescription medication you need
- A pain reliever (such as Advil or Tylenol)
- Imodium tabs (just in case your stomach doesn’t agree with the Gallo Pinto)
- Fiber tabs (to prevent constipation)
- Allergy medication
- Hand sanitizer
- Motion sickness medication
- Blister treatment (especially for adventure hiking trips)
- Contacts and contact solution (if applicable)
- Feminine products (if applicable)
If you have recurring allergies, make sure to be prepared for them! The pharmaceutical products sold in Costa Rica will differ from the ones you are used to.
Many hotels, hostels and restaurants in Costa Rica currently provide free Internet access. This can be extremely helpful and allow you to keep your friends and family up-to-date on your adventures.
The following electronics will be useful on your trip:
- Ipod or mp3 player
- Phone (preferably a smart phone for WiFi access, a translator, maps, currency conversion etc)
- Chargers for your electronics
- The right converter and adapter
- Laptop or tablet(optional)
Remember that a converter changes the current while an adapter allows plugs to fit into foreign outlets. Like the US, Costa Rica uses 110 volt and 60 cycle electricity. Electrical outlets are typically the standard 2-pronged plugs. If you have a device that requires a 3-pronged outlet, it might be a good idea to bring an adapter for it.
When it comes to laptops, they are less useful if you plan to trek, hike or travel around a lot. Last thing you want is to carry extra weight. Therefore, you might find it more practical to bring a tablet so that you can stay connected during your travels. With that being said, be careful not to flash your electronic valuables in unsecure public areas as they might bait a mischievous thief.
Make sure that your paperwork is up to date and in order before you embark on your adventure! Some items you will definitely need:
- Credit cards and money
- Insurance card
- Travel itinerary
- List of emergency contact numbers
- Driver’s license (optional)
- Photocopies of your credit cards, passport, drivers license (important!)
Bringing a driver’s license can be extremely useful as it serves as an identification card. No matter what you bring, you should make sure that you have copies of everything! If by the off chance anything is lost, having a photocopy will save you.
If you are traveling to Costa Rica, be aware of the copious amount of rain the country gets! It pretty much rains year round and you will need protection from it.
In addition to your essentials, I recommend bringing the following “extras”:
- Umbrella or rain poncho
- Mesh bag for wet clothes (especially important for hiking adventures)
- Eye glasses or contact lenses (if applicable)
- Watch (preferably water resistant)
- Reading books (or an e-book reader)
- Swiss army knife
- Duct tape (always comes in handy!)
- Playing cards
- Flashlight (excellent for camping trips)
- Sleeping bag (for camping trips)
- Sleeping pad (for camping trips)
- Bird watching guide (if your are a birder!)
- Binoculars (excellent for nature excursions)
Not traveling alone? Why not try splitting some items up with your travel buddy? Things such as guidebooks, toiletries, and cameras can easily be divided, and this will save space. If you are running low on space, one tip is to stuff items into your shoes when packing.
Can you think of any more crucial items to pack? Send us your comments! And remember, you can always contact us for a customized itinerary. Click “Go Discover” now.
Hendrika is Belgian but she considers herself a citizen of the world as she has lived in many different countries before moving to Peru. She fell in love with South America after her first visit to the continent in Bolivia, and has since then spent a lot of time traveling in the area. She especially enjoys Peru for its diversity, delicious food, and rich history.