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What to Pack for a Week in Costa Rica

Carry-on Packing for a Beach Vacation in Costa Rica

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Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica, Beach, Central America, Travel

A view of Playa Ocotal on our last morning in Costa Rica.


I am committed to not checking bags. I’m also committed to not using carry-on roller bags anymore because the odds are never in my favor when trying to get them on most commercial, domestic flights. Add that to the fact that the cheapest economy tickets on airlines like United now do not allow for overhead bags and only for a single, under-the-seat bag, and I imagine we are all going to start lean packing regimens.

So, how do you pack for a week in Costa Rica just using a small, “squishable” carry-on? Stick to the essentials!


Don’t bring a lot of semi-formal clothing
Costa Rica is (by and large) a country that embraces the casual. This is good news for you because you won’t have to pack a ton of formal or even semi-formal clothing. I knew we were probably dressing up for Christmas Eve dinner, so I did throw in one upscale dress. It was light-weight, rolled up easily and came out wrinkle-free. God bless clothing from LOFT (not an ad, I just love their stuff) because it all seems to travel well.


Christmas Eve Dinner. Photo by Julie Baker.


Do bring beach dresses
In many ways, I wish I had swapped out some shorts/t-shirt combos for a beach dress. More than likely you will be hitting the beach at least a couple of times while you are there, and that usually means putting on your suit first thing even when you have other plans earlier in the day. A casual beach dress can go over the bathing suit while you are wandering through town, having breakfast or even exploring, and can then be easily rolled up in your bag when you hit the water. It’s also great for going from beach to dinner or lunch.

Leave the sweaters at home
We went at the end of December, and because California nights are often chilly even in the summer, I brought an extra light sweater along. I never wore it. It was in the mid-80s with very high humidity and the nights were balmy. It remained in my bag the entire time.

Do bring bug repellant
Even in the dry season, you may encounter mosquitoes. You will definitely encounter sand fleas (pirujas). They attack during early morning hours and sunset hours (and seemingly every other hour). We had repellant that handled the mosquitoes, but it had no impact on the sand fleas. Since we were almost always on the beach (and loved having drinks/dinner on the beach), we definitely came away with bites. So, when packing, choose a repellant (or essential oils) that will handle both. You will be so happy that you did.

Don’t bother bringing a lot of equipment
If you have very specialized dive/snorkel gear or are on a very tight budget, bring the stuff you own. Otherwise, you can rent gear and save space in your luggage.

Do bring water shoes
The best decision I made was not bringing hiking boots and swapping them out for my Teva Terra-Float Livia shoes. I wore my sneakers on the plane just in case we needed something durable on our walks, but I wore the Tevas almost every day. They were perfect for climbing over lava rocks, strolling on the black sand beaches and going out to play with the monkeys. They also are cute enough to wear with skirts or beach dresses, so that cuts down on even more shoe requirements.

Teva, Costa Rica, Beaches

My Teva shoes rocked the beaches of Costa Rica.


Do bring light-colored clothing
Andy brought a lot of black t-shirts, and most days he opted to leave them behind. They soak in the heat and sunlight making daytime roaming a bit more of a chore. Save them for night if you do bring them, or swap them out for lighter colors in breathable fabrics when packing.

Do bring a hat and sunscreen
The sun is quite intense down there, and the one day I went without a hat, I regretted it that night. Luckily, I brought my trusty Kenyon cap with me and didn’t make that mistake again. Bring as much sunscreen as you can while still adhering to the TSA flying rules. Trust me – you will use it.

Taking the plunge in my Kenyon hat at Nacascolo.

Taking the plunge in my Kenyon hat at Nacascolo.


Overall, I did well for my first trip to Costa Rica. I largely stuck to t-shirts and shorts with limited dress-up options. Everything fit into the carry-on with room to spare. Still, I could have left at least four or five things at home and lightened the load even more. Next time!


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10 Comments on What to Pack for a Week in Costa Rica

  1. Thank you for all the great suggestions. I always forget to pack bug repellent which is so important !

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 12, 2017 at 8:45 pm // Reply

      You are welcome! Those little sand fleas really got us, but luckily we managed to keep the mosquitos away.

  2. That’s so good to know about bringing casual clothes! And I’ve worn Ann Taylor for work but not for traveling. I’ll have to rethink using their clothes for anti-wrinkle traveling!

    • PatriciaSteffy // June 12, 2017 at 10:25 pm // Reply

      The Loft dresses are seriously good for rolling up in a suitcase. Usually lightweight and look good with a shake-out. But definitely go casual — even the Easter church service was super casual.

  3. Costa Rica sounds like my kind of place. I love wearing casual clothes, like breezy dresses and such! I’m also a huge Teva sandals fan. They’re just the best. Not bringing all of your equipment is a fantastic tip! I think people often forget that they can rent things abroad.

  4. Claire Summers // June 13, 2017 at 5:11 am // Reply

    Really great post on packing. It’s rainy season at the moment so I’d add in a rain jacket too. It has been raining so much! I completely forgot my water shoes. I wish I’d read this post earlier as I might have remembered to pack them haha.

  5. Ahh travelling with just carry on is the best! I can only manage it for short trips of a week or so – although at least if you know the weather is going to be constant you can leave the thick layers at home!

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