Before you zipline through the rain forest canopy or tour a coffee plantation in Costa Rica, you’ll need to pack for a trip of a lifetime. I went to Costa Rica in February 2016, so I’ve compiled 10 tips for what to pack and prepare before you leave.
First Of All, Don’t Forget Your Passport!
Obviously, when heading to a foreign country, you’ll need your passport. Going to Costa Rica, your passport can’t be set to expire within six months of your travel dates though.
If you don’t feel comfortable carrying your passport around with you while traveling in Costa Rica, bring a paper copy of your passport in your daypack. You should also take a photo of the entry stamp in your passport on your phone in case of an inspection.
Arriving in Costa Rica, you must also have an onward ticket that shows you plan to leave the country. According to Lonely Planet, this law is “rarely and erratically enforced.”
For travelers from most Western European countries, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, Israel, Argentina, Chile, and Panama, you won’t need a visa for visits shorter than 90 days. Travelers visiting from other nations should check visa and passport requirements with the Costa Rican embassy or consulate before arrival.
Cash In Your Money For Colones
The local currency in Costa Rica is the colones. As of May 4, 2016, the exchange rate is about 536.06 colones to 1 USD, 619.60 colones to 1 Euro, and 789.11 colones to 1 British Pound.
Whether at the all-inclusive resort where I stayed, at the airport, or out in the city of Liberia, I was able to purchase goods and services using a credit card or American dollars. Even a street vendor sold me a coconut for $1. I was really impressed that every time I presented my American Express credit card in Costa Rica, it was accepted.
If you think you won’t need to use colones during your trip, at least have some singles in American money for little spur-of-the-moment purchases and giving tips to bellboys ($1-5), maids ($1-5/day), bartenders and waitstaff (not required, but a small tip of 10% is appreciated), tour guides ($5-15/day per person), and drivers (half of what you tip a guide) throughout your stay.
Be Smart About Your Smartphone
Before traveling to Costa Rica, there are a number of matters related to your phone to take into consideration.
Avoid International Data Usage Fees
One way to avoid fees is to keep your phone on airplane mode. By turning your cellular data off, you’ll keep apps from running when you are not connected to wi-fi.
You want access to your data on the go? No problem. One solution is to get a SIM card in Costa Rica.
If you don’t think you’ll have time to find a SIM card, you can do what I did. I contacted my service provider to purchase an international plan that included data, calls and texts. Check with your provider for what kind of plans are offered.
Protect Your Phone From The Elements
If you plan to go white-water rafting, snorkeling, or into a hot spring, you should consider a waterproof phone case or waterproof pouch. I recommend the Lifeproof case because it also protects your phone if you drop it.
How To Stream Music On Your Phone
In Costa Rica, some music streaming and downloading services — such as Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, and iTunes — are not available. When I went to the gym at Dreams Las Mareas, I discovered I couldn’t even play the songs I had purchased on iTunes and were stored in my iPhone’s Music app. The best ways to access music on your phone in Costa Rica are to use a VPN to change your ISP location, download the Spotify or Google Play Music app, or create a YouTube playlist of your favorite music videos.
Prepare Your Spanish Skills
While many Costa Ricans, especially those working in the tourism industry, speak English, it’s always smart to know basic phrases in the native language. Knowing “Donde esta el baño?” and “Una cerveza, por favor” are a great start, but you might want to brush up on your Spanish with Duolingo before traveling in Central America.
Cover Your Ass(ets) With Travel Insurance
Travel insurance often covers medical emergencies, lost luggage, and trip cancellations. When shopping for a travel insurance for a Costa Rica trip, you may want to consider policies that cover natural disasters, adventure sports, and/or scuba diving. Once you’ve purchased your insurance policy, make sure you have easy access to it during your trip. I usually email myself the policy before an international trip.
Protect Yourself From Mosquito Bites
The CDC has issued a Level 2 Alert for the Zika Virus in Costa Rica. That means pregnant women should not travel to areas of Costa Rica below 6,500-feet above sea level. Both major airports — in San José and Liberia — are in the affected area.
Other travelers should prevent bites by wearing long sleeves and pants and using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET. I didn’t notice mosquitoes while at our resort in Guancaste’s tropical dry forest during the dry season, but I did get bit when we were in the rain forest for a canopy zipline and hot spring soak. If you will be visiting the rain forest, you will definitely need mosquito protection.
And The Sun!
The sun shines bright in Costa Rica, especially during the dry season from December to April. I recommend packing sunscreen, sunglasses, swimsuit cover-ups, and hats to protect your skin from sunburn.
And The Rain!
Costa Rica’s rainy season stretches from May to November. But, if your Costa Rica itinerary includes Monteverde, Arenal volcano, the Central Valley around San José, or other mountainous areas, you should be prepared for rain any time of year. Rain gear to consider packing include a raincoat or poncho, a waterproof backpack, waterproof camera case, and a waterproof phone case or pouch.
Pack Summer Clothes For Dry Season
The average temperature in Costa Rica ranges from 71° to 80° Fahrenheit (21-27° Celsius), and dry season average highs reach 82º Fahrenheit/28º Celsius. During my February trip, I was comfortable wearing shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, sandals, and swimsuits during the day. In the evening we often donned cardigans, light jackets or a pashmina/shawl over our dressy resortwear. My black pashmina was the most versatile clothing item I packed. I was so grateful for it during full-day excursions when air conditioning was cranked in the vans.
If you plan to visit during the rainy season (May – November), I recommend checking out Mytanfeet’s Complete Packing List for Costa Rica.
Capture Your Memories On Camera
A Costa Rica vacation is a trip of a lifetime, so you’ll want to capture your thrilling adventures and the beautiful scenery. I took my iPhone 5S protected in a Lifeproof case, my Canon Rebel DSLR, my 18-55mm starter lens, and my 55-250 mm telephoto lens with me.
Camera equipment I recommend for Costa Rica:
- Your smartphone — But Costa Rica can be a humid and wet destination, so protect it with a Lifeproof case or waterproof pouch!
- GoPro — If you are doing adventure activities, this is a fun way to capture video!
- A high-quality point-and-shoot or DSLR camera
- Tripod — For photographers shooting wildlife or needing more stability
- Telephoto — Necessary for wildlife photos. The longer the better!
- Extra memory cards and batteries
- Ziplock bags — This will protect your camera equipment from water and moisture.
Save this packing list to Pinterest!
More On Costa Rica
- For itinerary ideas, lodging reviews, and more information, check out my Costa Rica board on Pinterest.
- For the ultimate guide to Costa Rica’s beer, read this post from Roaming Around The World.
- For all the other crucial things you should know about preparing for your Costa Rica trip, see this post from Winderlusting and this post from Drink Tea & Travel.
- You’ll find the rest of my Costa Rica posts here.
What were the best things you packed for your Costa Rica trip?
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