Tortuga Island, Costa Rica, February 2017

Packing for Costa Rica- what to bring and what to leave at home!

Our next trip to Costa Rica is swiftly approaching!! Carrie and I have already begun to plan for something that’s pretty important when you’re traveling outside the country: what to pack. I have found out the hard way that what you decide to pack and what you decide to leave at home can really make or break your trip. Live, and learn!

Packing Light

When Carrie and I go to Costa Rica, we really try to take into account what we’ll actually need. Getting to your destination in Costa Rica can be quite the journey. In addition to multiple flights, you might take buses, taxis, rental cars, and ferries- all in one day! Also, it might take you 20 or more hours to get there! It’s pretty miserable to have to drag a bunch of huge suitcases all day and in and out of several vehicles.

Backpacks that will carry all of our clothing for our 2 week stay

Our favorite thing to do is to pack all of our clothing within a back pack that we also carry on to the plane. A larger checked bag can carry toiletries, bulkier items, or things that you’re not allowed to carry on. Also be sure you’re paying attention to any weight restrictions your airline might have. We fly Spirit, and even checked bags have a weight limit of 40 lbs. We bought a little device that helps us weigh our bag at home, before we get to the airport. You can also usually find scales by the ticket counters at the airport.

So what doesn’t make the cut and gets left at home?


  • Jeans, or anything denim, for that matter. During the summer time, I do love me a pair of capri length jeans. But when we go to Costa Rica, I leave those at home. For one, it’s hot there, and jeans don’t breathe very well. Our trips to Costa Rica tend to also be very physically active.  I find that jeans don’t allow me the freedom of movement that I want when we’re hiking or doing other more strenuous activities. Last, if they get wet, they seem to stay wet FOREVER. I mention this because it is uncommon to find clothes dryers in Costa Rica. Even hotels will use clotheslines to dry their laundry. So I leave my jeans at home.
  • Shoes that are purely decorative get left at home. Our trips to Costa Rica involve A LOT of walking. Anything that will hurt my feet, or cause me to potentially turn an ankle gets left behind. Also keep in mind that most (all?) rural areas do not have sidewalks. Most rural roads are also dirt. Pretty shoes just don’t belong.
Typical dirt road in rural Costa Rica
  •  Dressy clothes get left in my closet. I don’t own a ton of dressy clothes anyway, but what I do have does not make the cut. We’re too busy getting dirty out in the rain forest or snorkeling and lounging at the beach to get dressed up. Most eateries are casual as well, so there’s just no need.
  • Heavy winter clothing or outerwear. While there are parts of Costa Rica that can be on the cooler side due to elevation, you won’t need anything as heavy as a winter coat. Leave those at home, you’re on your way to the tropics!
  • Too many clothes. Again, it’s best to pack light. I have brought as few as 5 tops and 3 pairs of shorts or pants for a 2-week long trip. With a little hand washing now and then, it worked just fine.

What TO pack

So we know what to leave at home. But what are the things that I recommend that everyone make sure to bring with them?

  • Clothing that can get dirty! I also like fabrics that will dry pretty quickly, for two reasons. One, I like to pack super light and then hand wash garments occasionally, hanging them to dry. Second, it’s pretty miserable to get hot and sweaty on a hike and be wearing clothing that stays wet and heavy.
  • Rugged sandals! Like I mentioned, sidewalks are few and far in-between, and a lot of roads are dirt. Additionally, some beaches can be rocky. If you’ll be exploring any of those, you’ll want to have something on your feet that is protective.
  • Any medications that you take with some regularity. This includes, of course, prescriptions, but don’t forget about any over the counter medications that you rely on. I learned this the hard way on our first visit when I got a migraine, and could not find ibuprofen there.
  • Let’s talk about anti-diahrreals, for a second. I do make sure to bring a few pills with me, just in case. I’ve only ever had a problem one time, but of course, I did not have anything with me and wished I did! If gastrointestinal distress tends to be an issue for you, I’d recommend bringing something to treat it, just in case.
  • A few basic first aid supplies! I’m telling you what, I learned a lot of lessons the hard way on our first trip last February! We went hiking one day, and the newer sandals I was wearing rubbed two enormous blisters on the bottoms of my feet. They both broke wide open, leaving huge seeping wounds on an area of my body that was very vulnerable to germs and therefore, infection. We were in a very rural area, and the stores really did not have the supplies I was looking for. I made due with what we had, and luckily, I did not get an infection. Now, I make sure to pack a small supply of bandages, antiseptic wipes, and antibiotic ointment.
  • Anti-motion sickness or anti-nausea medication. Unfortunately, both Carrie and I can get easily motion-sick, whether it’s on a plane, car, bus, or boat. I’m most likely to have a problem only on small boats, but sometimes nausea can strike Carrie unannounced, at any time! There is quite a bit of traveling by boat in Costa Rica, so if you’re prone to getting seasick, plan ahead.
  • Sunscreen! Be sure that you pack it in your checked baggage, though. We made the mistake of accidentally packing our sunscreen in a carry on bag one time, and of course, it was confiscated at airport security. This meant we had to purchase sunscreen in Costa Rica where it is extremely expensive, since it’s mainly only something tourists use.
  • Insect repellant is a good idea, especially if you’ll be out hiking.
  • A good water bottle! Just remember to fill it up AFTER you’ve gone through security. I’ve read mixed things about the water quality in Costa Rica. My own personal experience is this: water quality and my tolerance of it varies quite a bit from area to area. If you’re unsure, or you know that you are sensitive, don’t risk it and drink only bottled water. Having a good quality, refillable bottle with you will allow you to carry water with you. This comes in handy if you’ll be hiking or driving for hours through areas that are largely uninhabited. Since the climate is hot, it is important to stay hydrated!
  • Light layers. If you’ll be in the central area of the country where it’s pretty mountainous, or by Arenal, it can get kind of cool and sometimes windy. I’ve been glad to have something light I could throw over my tank top.
  • One of our favorite activities is snorkeling. Since there are plenty of places that you can do this from shore yourself, we like to bring our own snorkels and masks. Yes, they’re a little bulky and can take up some room in your checked bag, but we think it’s worth it to have our own equipment handy.


What are some things that your family always makes sure to bring when traveling?




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