These are the essential items for your Costa Rica packing list: lightweight dry fast clothes, comfortable sandals, swimwear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen SPF 30+, hiking shoes/trail running shoes or closed toed hiking sandals, sunglasses, a hat, battery pack, medical kit, waterproof phone case, camera, day pack, rain jacket and an insulated water bottle.
Costa Rica doesn’t have a strict dress code so comfortable and casual is best for pretty much the entire country. At the beach where daytime temperatures reach up to 95 F (35 C) with high humidity, your wardrobe will consist of shorts, tank tops, tshirts and flip flops. In the city where daytime temperatures are around 78 F (25 C), we recommend closed toed shoes, long pants and a light jacket or sweater. If you’re visiting higher elevation areas (Monteverde, Bajos del Toro, Vara Blanca, Poas, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Gerardo de Dota, San Jose, Heredia, etc.), then long pants, a warm sweater, long socks and a jacket are necessary.
For women, there is no real dress code. You can perfectly wear tank tops and show your shoulders. It is not common for local women to wear leggings as daily wear though. As for the men, no board shorts or short shorts in the city.
Our recommendations: For Costa Rica, clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture are the best. In the city, normal city wear is fine (no beach clothes or just swim suits). For hiking, as a woman, I personally prefer hiking pants rather than leggings due to the intense humidity and mosquitoes. Our closet is full of Columbia, REI, prAna, Nike, North Face and Eddie Bauer with lots of lightweight, moisture wicking clothes for our life on the North Pacific coast.
If you’re doing any activities, hiking shoes/sandals (with straps), sneakers, trail running shoes or hiking shoes are necessary. For the beach, flip flops are necessary. Whenever we travel around Costa Rica, I normally bring one pair of flip flops and one pair of sneakers/hiking shoes or closed toed hiking sandals depending on what we’re doing.
Yeison usually brings a pair of flip flops and his trail running shoes or closed toed hiking sandals. If we’re doing long hikes, he wears waterproof Salomon trail running shoes. I usually bring a pair of flip flops and my KEEN hiking sandals. For hikes, I also have a pair of Salomon hiking shoes.
Our recommendations: We love closed toed hiking sandals. They are amazing for all sorts of light outdoor activities that go from land to water. They dry fast, don’t smell, your feet can breathe and are much more comfortable than stuffy shoes and socks. Waterproof trail running shoes are also amazing for Costa Rica for more intense hikes. If you don’t want to purchase closed toed hiking sandals, a pair of sneakers + water shoes will be great for light activities like ziplining, rafting, tubing, snorkeling, boating.
You have to bring mosquito repellent for Costa Rica as they are present all year round. The coasts are the worst places for mosquitoes and there are a few serious diseases you can catch like dengue fever. There are also other annoying little bugs that bite like gnats. Mosquitoes are not really found in high elevations above 1500 meters (4900 feet) or so however.
Our recommendations: You can find mosquito repellent in the supermarkets but we recommend bringing your own as it is a bit more expensive here. Additionally, there aren’t a ton of natural or non-DEET options. We like this OFF! 20% Picardin and also Avon skin so soft which is DEET free and has SPF.
Repel is another excellent brand that we use a lot (especially me, as non DEET products don’t work great for me and I’m a mosquito magnet). You can read about our favorite mosquito repellent products in this Costa Rica mosquitoes post.
Sunscreen is also a must and bring at least SPF 30. If you burn easily, SPF 50-70 is best and do not forget to reapply! Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator so the sun is strong! Additionally, after sun care is very important in case you (probably will) burn.
Our recommendations: If you are going to be going in the ocean, we encourage you to buy reef safe mineral sunscreen. We personally love Raw Elements, SunBum and Bare Republic. If you can, bring sunscreen. If you can’t, you can get sunscreen at any supermarket or pharmacy but it is a bit more expensive with limited options. Don’t forget chapstick with SPF! Also if you’re surfing, make sure you get sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide/Zinc Oxide and wear a rash guard with SPF. Headhunter is our preferred surfing sunscreen.
Best Time To Visit Costa Rica
While you may think of Costa Rica as hot, hot, hot, it can be surprisingly cool in some areas, especially in the mountains and cloud forests. With two coasts and several microclimates, weather is extremely varied. The Pacific Coast is driest December to April, while the Caribbean’s dry season falls between March and September. It’s a tropical country though, so whenever you decide to go, prepare for rain; it’s part of what makes this destination extra special!
In terms of temperatures, you’re looking at highs around 32, and lows around 15 degrees. It’s can be quite humid, so while it wasn’t always boiling hot, I felt sweaty a lot of the time. Yes, it’s one of those places you wander around with a slightly wet, shiny face!
What To Wear In Costa Rica
Costa Ricans tend to be casual in their style. There’s not a huge etiquette; most people dress casually in jeans, shorts, t-shirts and trainers. It’s definitely not somewhere to ‘dress up’ and baring flesh isn’t frowned upon. A lot of tourists dress for the activities they’re doing, (mostly based around nature) so sportswear and comfortable, lightweight items are best.
What To Wear In Costa Rica: Women’s Clothes
In order to plan what to pack for a trip to Costa Rica, be sure to research exactly where you’re going. Not only do the temperatures vary, but the weather conditions too. It’s a country where rain is frequent, so bear that in mind.
In general, I wore shorts or a midi skirt with a t-shirt or vest top during the day. This was suitable for most activities – from exploring beaches to adventures in the rainforests. I wore short, but comfortable dresses for exploring towns and cities or relaxing at the hotel. For more adventurous hikes I wore leggings with a sports bra and sports vest.
In the evenings I wore jeans or a long skirt with a t-shirt or jumper. As mentioned, there were a few places where I really noticed the cold, so I’d recommend packing a few warmer items. If you’re visiting numerous places in Costa Rica over a few weeks, the key is to pack LAYERS!
Costa Rica has plenty of incredible beaches, so don’t forget to pack swimwear. You might also get the chance to take a dip in the cooling waters of one of the country’s spectacular waterfalls like La Fortuna, or the hot springs in Arenal or Orosi.