While Costa Rica is only a small country, packing for its many seasons and climates can be tricky for first time visitors.
If staying in one area with little sightseeing then adapt accordingly, but, if planning on seeing more of the country and visiting a few different locations here is a generalised packing list which you can adapt to your specific requirements.
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Except for a few higher end restaurants and attractions in the San Jose area the rest of the country is pretty casual. Leave the tux and ball gowns at home and pack light, comfy shorts and dresses instead.
When going out think dresses and skirts with sandals/flats for the ladies and dress shorts, polo shirts and sandals/flip flops for the blokes.
Anything lightweight and quick dry. Laundromats are few and far between in Costa Rica but mid to high end hotels will have laundry service for a price. If this doesn’t appeal then hand washing in the shower is always a cheaper option.
“Dry season” is also a loose term in places like Arenal, Monteverde, the southern part of the country and on the Caribbean side so be prepared for occasional rain and higher humidity.
2 pair bathers (Wear one, dry one)
Sundress/skirt and blouse or nice “going out” outfits
2-3 pair shorts (general use and dress shorts)
2 pair pants (one older pair to hike/sightsee in and another for around town or going out)
1-2 long sleeve shirts for sun & bug protection, cool evenings or hiking through higher elevations
3-5 short-sleeve shirts (nice shirts & t-shirts) (Tank tops are okay)
1 sweatshirt/light fleece
Flip Flops/Thongs or whatever you usually wear in Summer
Closed toe shoes for hiking (sneakers or lightweight hiking boots)
Sandals or dress shoes
Consider a pair of water shoes depending on sightseeing activities
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Bug spray & bug bite treatment like AfterBite or Spray Benadryl
Razors and shaving cream
Vitamins and/or prescribed medication
Feminine products (they have them there, but it is nice to have the kind you normally use)
Hairbrush / Hair Ties
Travel towel / Sarong (for beach and adventure activities; hotels provide bathroom & pool towels)
Hat & sunglasses
1-2 plastic bags / ziploc bags for wet cloths and/or shoes. Also handy for protecting electronics.
Electronics (camera, laptop, ipad, ipod, phone, chargers, travel adaptors, spare batteries, SD cards etc). Electrical outlets are the same as in the US.
Light backpack for day trips
Bandana / Buff
Jewelry (make sure it’s the “I don’t care if I lose it” kind)
Passport – and possibly visa, depending on your nationality.
Copy of your passport, drivers license & credit/bank cards
Money – everybody accepts the US dollar or you can exchange for Costa Rican Colones. $20 bills are best as larger denomination bills are rarely accepted
Credit or Bank card
Travel Insurance details
Emergency contact information of friends and/or family
Departure ticket – without it, you will not be allowed to enter the country
Spanish/English phrase book
Everyone has their own style and needs, so use this as it is intended, as a general packing list for Costa Rica. Take just the ideas that apply to you and disregard the rest. If you have any suggestions for what else should be included on this list, please comment below.
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