Packing list for Costa Rica wildlife adventures

Costa Rica packing list for wildlife adventures

Costa Rica is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world, and if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, chances are you are going to visit some National Parks and see Costa Rica’s amazing wildlife. Here are some suggestions on the best National Parks in Costa Rica for spotting wildlife. 

Packing for wildlife adventures requires a little more thought, than for city-based holidays. You will be spending more time outdoors and the last thing you want is to be distracted from wildlife watching by the soggy shoes or the sunburned face.

The thing to keep in mind is that for a relatively small country, Costa Rica has quite a range of temperatures between the coast and the mountains of the continental divide. Driving from Tamarindo beach, for example, to Monteverde Cloud Forest, you will be changing from a swimsuit to a fleece and maybe even a jacket.

Tamarindo beach - Guanacaste
Tamarindo beach, Guanacaste

Another consideration in the tropics is the high chance of rain. While the formal rainy season in Costa Rica lasts from May to November, it can rain absolutely any time. And when it rains in the tropics, it pours.

We spent two weeks on a road trip through Costa Rica’s national parks, and despite thorough planning, we still made a few blunders. Check out the essential items from my Costa Rica packing list and avoid the mistakes we made.

Costa Rica Packing List


Every day wear

Most of the time in Costa Rica you will be wearing t-shirts and shorts or three-quarter pants. The weather is mainly hot and humid, so moisture-absorbing fabrics are a good idea. Also, try to stick to natural breathable materials.     


However, if you are planning a visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest or Poas Volcano or any other destination along Costa Rica’s continental divide, make sure to pack a fleece and a pair of long pants. It gets quite chilly at the higher elevation, particularly in the evenings.       

We underestimated Monteverde chill on the evening we arrived and were rather miserable as we waited for our food at the street vendor’s shop. The following evening I was toasty warm in my North Face fleece and a pair of long hiking pants.

Costa Rica packing list - Monteverde chill
Getting the first taste of Monteverde chill

Rain jacket

The rain jacket is an essential item for any tropical destinations. It is particularly handy for the long boat trips. If you are heading to Corcovado National Park from Drake Bay and get caught in the tropical downpour, you’ll face two hours under the rain in the open boat.

The best rain jacket for Costa Rica is a lightweight one, that packs small enough to easily fit in your daypack, like the North Face breathable jacket. It may not keep you as dry as a Goretex jacket, but it will keep you cooler and it won’t take up most of your daypack.

Boat to Corcovado
We made the mistake of not packing the rain jackets in our daypacks for the boat ride to Corcovado NP from Drake Bay


Walking shoes

If you are staying in Costa Rica for more than a few days, you will need two pairs of hiking shoes to give each pair sufficient time to dry out after getting wet. A pair of hiking boots and a good pair of runners is a good compromise.

Waterproof hiking boots are difficult to wear in the tropics since they don’t let your feet breath. And in a proper downpour, they will still get wet and will take forever to dry. Instead, pack a lighter pair like my favourite Salomon Ellipse 2 Aero. They are almost weightless and dry very quickly.      


The best sandals for Costa Rica is a pair of KEEN sandals. They are perfect for walking the jungle trails where creek crossings are involved, like in Corcovado. They are also the best option for wearing in the rain because they are quick to dry and there isn’t much to them to get wet in the first place.

They are also invaluable for all the beach landings you have to do if you are travelling to and from Drake Bay and Corcovado.

Creek-crossing in Corcovado
Creek-crossing in Corcovado is easy done in sandals

Do I need gumboots for Corcovado?

If you are planning a trip to Corcovado, you may have seen suggestions to bring gumboots to walk around the park’s muddy trails. I found them completely unnecessary. While the trails are indeed very muddy and involve many creek crossings, it did not justify the discomfort of gumboots for me. I did end up with wet hiking boots after the first walk but then switched to wearing sandals and was perfectly fine.


Perhaps the most versatile item on your Costa Rica packing list, a sarong can be used as a skirt, a towel, a beach towel, a pillow case and a cover-up during prolonged exposure to the sun. You can pack your own, or pick one up as soon as you get to Costa Rica. They also make for the perfect souvenirs.


A hat, particularly a baseball cap is super handy in Costa Rica because it protects you from both: the sun and the sudden rain. Clip it to your daypack with a carabiner to make sure you always have it when you need it.


With the unending supply of picturesque waterfalls and sandy beaches, Costa Rica will definitely entice you to take a swim now and then. So pack your swimming suit and keep it handy for any impromptu dips.

Essential Accessories

Dry bag

When the rain can come out of the blue with a moment’s notice, one of the most essential accessories you’ll have is a dry bag. They come in different sizes, to fit your needs. If you are an avid photographer, you’ll be hiking with your camera and possibly additional lens. So make sure to pick a bag that would fit your gear and any other items you may like to keep dry.

The dry bags come with a handy shoulder strap, which makes them easy to carry around when stuffed. I carried my dry bag with me every time I headed on a hike or a boat ride, and it became a lifesaver.

Phone waterproof case

Whether you have the dry bag or not, a waterproof case for your phone is a must. Some of the cases will allow you to operate the touchscreen of your phones, so you can take those dramatic videos of the tropical rainstorm.      

Rain cover for luggage

If you plan on taking any boat rides, a rain cover for your luggage is a very good idea. While the boat drivers will always attempt to stash the bags under some type of cover, sometimes there is just not enough room. 


If you are going on any wildlife watching night walks, having your own good quality head torch is a good idea. While many tour operators will supply you with a torch, it won’t be a very good one

Plus a hand-held torch is not that great for spotting wildlife since the source of light needs to be near your eye level for you to pick up animals’ eye-shine. And if you are going into trouble of looking for wildlife at night, you may as well give yourself the best chance of finding it.

Ledlenser torches are some of the best on the market, and I have been using their H7.2 Headlamp for many years and I swear by it. Just remember that it is quite bright and try not to blind people by talking to them with your torch on. They also have very good spotlights if you are looking for something even more powerful.    

Ziplock Bags

Sealable bags are always handy in the jungle, primarily for taking your rubbish back with you and disposing of it properly.

And in places like Corcovado, they become lifesavers. It is normal to share you jungle accommodation with a few species of insects, but in Corcovado, ants are a big problem. You’ll need to ziplock all your food and rubbish to avoid having your room completely overrun.

Portable charger for your phone

 Another handy accessory to have is the portable charger for your phone. If like me, you can’t help yourself but keep taking photos and videos on your phone, it may not last you all day. You will thank yourself for bringing a portable charger, like this waterproof Quick Charge 20000mAh Rugged Power Bank when you emerge from your hike with an almost empty battery. 

You’ll also need a good battery charger to use overnight to keep all your torches, cameras and other equipment running. 

Reusable Water Bottle

Costa Rica’s climate is so humid, that you work up the sweat just casually strolling around. And this means that you need to keep hydrating. And instead of buying & then throwing away dozens of plastic water bottles carry a refillable one. You can even grab a Costa Rica themed bottle, like this one.

Wildlife Guides             

Whether you are a serious wildlife watcher or just curious about animals, the wildlife guides are indispensable for identifying the species you are looking at. There are a number of wildlife guides published for Costa Rica, pick the ones that would be more helpful to you.


Environmentally friendly Toiletries

Following the leave no trace philosophy, you should always attempt not to use any products that would be harmful to the environment you are in. 


Tropical Sands is a good brand to get – they have a selection of different sunscreen products that are made from natural ingredients and even safe for snorkelling. And since you can never have too much sun protection in the tropics, I always go for SPF 50.

Mosquito spray

There are a number of natural mosquito sprays on the market which have various degrees of effectiveness. Natrapel is a popular brand – it has the strength of DEET-containing repellents, but made up only of natural ingredients, which makes it the best mosquito repellent for Costa Rica

Biodegradable soap & washing liquid

For all your washing needs, pick up some biodegradable soap. The Sea To Summit Citronella Wilderness Wash is the perfect combination of a shower gel, hand wash and washing liquid in one.

Strawberry poison dart frog
Frogs, like this Strawberry poison dart frog, have water-permeable skin. They will absorb any harmful chemicals you may leave in the jungle
Hoffmann's two-toed sloth in Tirimbina Reserve, Costa Rica
Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth with a young in Tirimbina Reserve

One last thing I always enjoy buying before the trip is a new book to read on the plane and a spare memory card for my camera.

What are the essential items in your bag for the tropical adventures? Share your tips in comments

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