Packing for a Costa Rica vacation can be challenging. The Costa Rica climate is as varied as any national climate in the world, with some regions seeing extreme heat or cold, and both very wet or very dry weather, sometimes in the same day or week. Rain forests are named as such for good reason, while the high plains regions tend to be dry and temperate during much of the year. Coastal areas require typical resort and beachwear and can be quite hot.
The amount of rain you are likely to encounter in Costa Rica depends on the season (some areas have a dry season and a rainy season), and the temperature also varies according to elevation. Costa Rica is home to several mountain ranges and volcanic National Parks, so you are as likely to be cold and wet as overheated. Proper attire depends on the day’s itinerary, and the weather is not always predictable.
When packing for Costa Rica, the best course is to focus on easy to carry permanent press or knit layers. Lightweight fabrics designed to wick away moisture from the skin while staying dry are especially good choices. Many clothes of this type can be purchased at sporting goods and outdoor supply stores. Let the staff know that you are planning a Costa Rica vacation and that you are looking for lightweight, versatile clothing made for the outdoors. They will direct you to lots of items that pack well, don’t wrinkly, and are easy to wash.
Don’t over-pack! Most new travelers take way too many items of clothing their first time out, and discover quickly after arrival that they only wear five or six basic pieces over and over again. A good rule of thumb is this: Anything that can’t be rolled up and kept in a suitcase without ruining it is inappropriate. Don’t take it.
The following pieces are especially functional for a Costa Rica vacation:
- Convertible hiking pants. Made of lightweight, weatherproof fabric, these pants zip off just above the knees and turn into shorts at a moment’s notice. They are made with lots of pockets and inside compartments, so you don’t have to carry a bag. They don’t wrinkle, dry rapidly, and come in lots of attractive colors and neutrals. Two or three pairs will get you through a wide variety of Costa Rica vacation activities.
- Knit tops. Think in layers, and choose excellent fabrics that dry rapidly and pack well. Look for tees, long sleeve shirts, and a few tanks, and then layer them so you can take off or add clothing as necessary throughout the day.
- A basic knit dress or skirt. Women will want a dressy item or two, but resist the temptation to take along that favorite sequined cocktail dress, and go for a simple knit sheath that can be rolled up and washed in a hotel sink if necessary. Plan on accessorizing it to dress it up or down.
- Lightweight sweater. A lightweight wool or wool blend cardigan is easy to carry and will serve you well when the weather turns chilly.
- Lightweight rainproof poncho or hooded jacket. Rainproof outerwear is available that folds up into a little pouch without wrinkling. This kind of fabric is ideal. Don’t take a heavy coat to Costa Rica. Instead take lots of basic layers and top them off with a light weatherproof wrap.
- Comfortable shoes, socks, and sandals. You are going to be walking a lot, so now is not the time to break in new heels. Look for high quality hiking socks that dry quickly and have padded soles.
- A collapsible travel umbrella. Make sure your umbrella is small enough to cart around everywhere. You will definitely use it!
- A rainproof hat. If you’ve never worn a hat, now is the time to try one out. Hats keep sun off your face and bugs out of your hair.
Keep in mind that watches and items of jewelry that made overseas may be subject to duty charges when you re-enter the U.S. even if you brought them with you from home. You can avoid this unpleasant fate by registering all such items with Customs before packing for Costa Rica and getting on the plane. You will be issued a sticker for each registered item that will announce to Customs that you own that item and do not owe duty on it when you return.
Finally, don’t forget to bring a lightweight collapsible duffle or bag so you can bring back clothing and other items as souvenirs of your trip. When traveling overseas, especially to a nation with a climate as varied as Costa Rica’s, less is definitely more.