Two small backpacks and pairs of hiking shoes in Costa Rica

A Complete Packing List for Backpacking in Costa Rica

Whether you’re laying back on the pristine beaches of the Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast or spending your days surfing the waves of the pacific, making sure you pack well for your trip can make or break your trip to Costa Rica.

I’m a list-maker, through and through, so I always know exactly what’s going into my backpack before I leave. I get it, I get it, not everyone is as incessant as I am, but either way it’s a good idea to know the kind of things you’ll need, especially if it’s your first time visiting Costa Rica.

This list is broken down into sections, so you can tailor what you need based on the time of year you’re going!

What Kind of Backpack to Take to Costa Rica

I’ve got a lot to say about backpacks – I’ve had my fair share over the years! Because I travel a lot, I’m quite committed to finding the perfect one (and I definitely haven’t… yet), and for me it’s the most important thing on my list. I’ll write a full article on this soon, but for now, here are the basics:

  • If you’re going in rainy season, make sure it’s either waterproof or has a cover
  • Make sure you get the right size for you (usually you’ll need a little more space than you think, plus space for souvenirs, of course!)
  • Consider if you’ll check it on your flights, or if you’ll take it as hand luggage

Must-have Items to Pack for Costa Rica

A day pack or small rucksack

For Costa Rica, as well as any other especially adventurous locations, it’s important to have a bag you can take with you on day trips. You’ll probably want to take a little more than what’s in your purse/bumbag! I’d recommend a bag around 20L. On my last trip I ended up with a 10L bag (don’t ask), and it was just a tiny bit too small.

It’s also important to consider if you’ll be travelling by bus in Costa Rica. You might have to put your bag in hold, in which case you’ll want a smaller rucksack to take your valuables on board with you. It’s not common to have your backpack stolen, but it’s good to be prepared!

Bum bag

I swear by this, and I’m pretty sure I had a bum bag before it was cool. It really is the most practical thing to keep all of your valuables together, and strapped to your body, in sight, really is the safest place for things like money, credit cards, etc.


So, most likely, these things will be inside your bum bag or money belt, but if you’re creating a packing list then make sure you add these things to it! I recommend taking two debit cards and your credit card if you have it, plus all of your travel documents including passport, flight details, health insurance information, and an emergency stash of cash.


Wherever I travel, I usually take US dollars rather than the local currency, because the local currency can be hard to get hold of before you arrive. But, one better, you can spend US dollars almost everywhere in Costa Rica! Click here for more information on money, currencies and paying on card in Costa Rica.

​Battery pack

Again, I take a battery pack every time I travel. Who wants a dead cell phone?

Reusable water bottle

A reusable water bottle is especially important in Costa Rica because the tap water is drinkable almost everywhere (and where it’s not, you’ll be provided with access to drinking water). So, make sure to ask before you fill up, but there’s no need to buy single-use bottles of water.


I’m a bit of a towel princess when I travel! I always take two with me (but on my last trip I’d lost them both by my fourth country, doh): one for showering, and one for the beach. When you’re travelling in Costa Rica I’d recommend doing the same, because of the humidity (which means it will take an eternity for your towel to dry), and the number of times you’ll want to hit the beach!

Small first aid kit

I always make sure I’m travelling with some first aid essentials, like plasters, painkillers and cream to put on bug bites. But, that’s just me; you can pick all of these things up along the way so they’re not a necessity to pack. I like to take them with me because I like to know exactly how much room will be in my bag!

Toiletries bag

Like I always say, what you put in your toiletries bag is up to you (and most likely won’t change based on whether you’re going to Costa Rica or somewhere else!). Something you will absolutely need is insect repellent / bug spray but, just like first aid items, you can buy them when you arrive if necessary. I’d recommend taking a good sunscreen with you because buying sunscreen in Costa Rica (or anywhere else in Central America) will cost you a small fortune. (And no, I’m not joking, we’re talking like $30!)


Again… underwear is a pretty personal thing, but don’t forget to pack it ;). 

For underpants, always take twice as many as you need. I usually go through socks really quickly, too, because I’m not a fan of sandals, but if you’re travelling mostly with sandals, flip flops or crocs then you might not need as many as you think!

If you’re a person with boobs, I always recommend a mixture of regular bras, sports bras and tops-that-you-don’t-need-a-bra-for. 


To keep packing to a minimum, I usually just take one bikini and call it a day. I have certain loose clothes that I know I can throw on after a day at the beach, but I don’t often take beach-specific clothes. If you’re planning on doing active water sports beyond a bit of paddleboarding I’d recommend a full one-piece swimming costume for, err, support.


At least one pair of closed-toe shoes is an absolute essential; there are some places in Costa Rica where you just don’t want to get caught with your toes out. If you’re doing a lot of hiking and on-land activities, you will probably need a pair of hiking boots/shoes and a pair of regular shoes or trainers. Flip flops are a good option for saving space, but sandals or crocs are probably more ideal in Costa Rica because of the uneven roads and forestry you undoubtedly end up clambering through on your way to the beach!


At least one pair of long pants or trousers of thin material is essential if you’re going to high-humidity places, like the beach, or into the jungle, because of all the bugs! You’ll mostly wear these at nighttime though, because it’s often too hot during the day (but that depends on where in Costa Rica you are). If you’re spending more time in higher spots and San Jose, a pair of warmer trousers is probably a good idea too.


Stock up on thin, loose shorts for warmer days by the beach – you’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll get through them!


A mix of long-sleeved shirts, t-shirts and tank tops are ideal for this kind of trip because you’re probably going to see a range of climates if you’re going to more than one place in Costa Rica. Of course, always take a jacket too!

Read more about Costa Rica: Everything you need to know about going to Costa Rica in January

Add these things if you’re going on hikes


Layers are essential for most hikes, but in Costa Rica it’s likely that you’ll be going from hot to cold if you’re climbing to any kind of altitude.

Head torch

Taking a head torch is something I always recommend for overnight hikes; if you’re just planning to do hikes during the day you probably won’t need one, but if you’re camping then you’ll thank me when you’re not stumbling to the bathroom outside at night with no way to see!

Add these things if you’re going to the jungle/rainforest

Mosquito repellent

Although I have already mentioned bug spray, this is a real must if you’re going to the jungle or rainforest on your Costa Rica adventure.

Waterproof jacket

No matter whether you go in the dry season or rainy season, there’s always a chance of rain when you’re visiting a tropical climate or cloud forest. If you’re going in the dry season then you can probably get by with a thin, packable waterproof jacket, but if you’re going in the rainy season take something a bit more sturdy!

Read more about Costa Rica: Everything you need to know about going to Costa Rica in February

Add these things if you’re going in the rainy season

A light jacket

A packable waterproof jacket probably won’t cut it if you’re heading to Costa Rica in the rainy season. Although it’s still warm in their rainy season, rainfall can get pretty torrential so you will need a jacket that is completely waterproof (and not just water resistant!).

A rain poncho

For outdoor adventures, I always recommend taking a rain poncho in the rainy season. Even if you have a waterproof jacket, you can whip out a rain poncho at any time and – crucially – put it on over your day pack, to keep your belongings dry. It will serve you especially well for hikes in one of Costa Rica’s many national parks, where there’s unlikely to be regular shade from the rain.

A cap

Alongside a rain poncho, I also always recommend a cap to keep the rain off of your face whilst you’re walking.

Add these things if you’re doing water activities or natural hot springs

A dry bag

If you’re planning to do a lot of outdoor activities, it’s actually a great idea to take a dry bag as your day pack. That way you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain… or dropping it off the side of a boat.

A ziplock bag for your passport

Since my adventure through the San Blas Island (content coming soon), I have always kept my passport in a ziplock bag if it’s leaving the safe confines of my locker. It adds practically no weight to your backpack but can become a total life saver!

Plastic Bags

This isn’t absolutely necessary, but again comes from fond(ish) memories of my trip through Guna Yala. We had to waterproof absolutely everything, and I even kept my laptop in a huge ziplock bag. The next time I take a trip I’ll be packing a couple of these to waterproof my essentials.

Water shoes

For watersports like white water rafting, kayaking and paddleboarding, water shoes can be a great idea to protect your feet in the water. Other water-safe shoes like flip flops or sandals are likely to fall off if you end up in the water.

Waterproof phone case

If your phone isn’t waterproof, you can also get cases or pouches specifically to protect your phone, which generally come with a strap (which is useful for someone like me, who does have a waterproof phone but is prone to dropping things…)

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