Your Gay Aunt's Guide: 2024 Costa Rica Travel Must-Haves

Your Gay Aunt's Guide: 2024 Costa Rica Travel Must-Haves
Hiking at Nauyaca Falls

Costa Rica attracts many visitors because of its amazing ecotourism opportunities. That is what my wife and I's two-week trip in August to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was centered on, and that is what this packing list guide will be geared towards.

I'll admit, like many people, I have overpacking tendencies and am maybe an optimist when it comes to how many "fancy" outfits I'll need on vacation (definitely guilty here). The climate in Costa Rica in August is quite rainy, and while I did anticipate this, I was definitely caught off guard and unprepared by just how much rain there is. We still had a great time visiting in August - there are far less tourists, and the rain makes everything much greener, but if I could go back and pack differently, I would.

Not accounting for travel days to and from Costa Rica, we spent ten days traveling from San Jose down to Manuel Antonio and then up to Jaco.

During this time we spent time hiking and exploring Manuel Antonio National Park and Nauyaca Falls, visited beaches in Jaco, and had a night out in San Jose.


What Items Got the Most Use in Costa Rica?

Athletic clothes: My athletic clothing items saw the most use during our trip. Because of the constant rain-sun cycle, clothing gets smellier than usual and I found most items had a one-wear life; even though I packed several pairs of gym shorts and tops I wished I'd had more of everything halfway through the trip.

LifeStraw filtered water bottle: I absolutely love my LifeStraw water bottle. I use it for both city and outdoor travel and would highly recommend it to anyone that spends a lot of time outside of the house! I have the LifeStraw Go Series filter water bottle, but they also have a few other style options that come with the same straw. While the filter is advertised as effective for parasites, bacteria, and microplastics, I haven't had to put it to the test in an extreme way. I love it because I can fill up at the bathroom sink (or foot washing spigot at the beach) without needing to buy a bottle of water or bring extra.

LifeStraw filtered water bottle

Bathing suits: I wore my bathing suit almost every day, even on hikes! Nauyaca Falls is swimmable so I put my athletic shorts and tee on over top of my bikini so that no changing was necessary. Likewise, at Manuel Antonio National Park there are two beaches, so I wore by bathing suit with athletic clothes on top while we were hiking around.

Rain coat: My rain coat put in WORK on this trip! I was using a Mountain Hardwear rain jacket that I've had for a few years and that has held up until this trip, but it really wasn't a match for the Costa Rican summer rain. Most rain jackets are really just water resistant, and if you want to stay dry this isn't going to cut it in Costa Rica. I would recommend a fully waterproof option like this Helly-Hansen waterproof rain jacket. It rained almost every day (we got plenty of sun too, but it rains in the afternoon consistently in the summer) so I wore my rain jacket a lot and ended up throwing it away because it got wrecked from the heavy rain.

Sunscreen and bug spray: This seems like an obvious one, but I'm putting it on this list because I'd recommend that you bring it with you; sunscreen in Costa Rica is really expensive (we paid about $20 for the cheapest bottle in the store).

Tevas: Embrace the gringo style here - Tevas are perfect for Costa Rica. Again, because of the rain you will regret hiking around in sneakers. Outdoor sandals give enough support for the mild hiking available without forcing you to keep your feet in soaking wet socks and sneakers. I have the Teva Voyas which are, in my humble opinion (and the opinion of Mary-Kate Olsen) stylish enough to wear to casual dinners.

Beach hat: A beach hat is an absolute must for me; I'm quite pale, and even using sunscreen generously, my face burns quickly. I brought this Kangol bucket hat to Costa Rica which I love because it is packable without worrying about shape (I'm looking at you, straw hats), functional, and stylish.

Wearing my Kangol bucket hat at Playa Mantas

What Should You Bring to Costa Rica That I Wish I'd Had?

Waterproof backpack: A waterproof backpack isn't something I had in my gear collection before our trip to Costa Rica, but I purchased one as soon as we got home because of how much I'd wished I had one on the trip. When we were exploring Manuel Antonio National Park in the rain, I resorted to putting everything inside my backpack in a trash bag and putting another trash bag over the top of the bag with holes ripped around the straps.. not chic. I ended up purchasing this COR Surf waterproof backpack after seeing a lot of people in the park with similar backpacks, and doing some research on the best budget waterproof backpack.

Turkish beach towel: This is another item I bought when we got home from the trip because I wished that I had it while we were in Costa Rica. Turkish beach towels are much smaller than a regular beach towel so they are great for carry-on only packing, as well as being sand resistant and quick drying. I used my beach towel quite a bit, and I think that a Turkish towel would hold up better to extended use.

What Not to Bring to Costa Rica?

Fancy clothes: This comes with an asterisk because of course you'll likely want an outfit or two for dinners, but even the nicer restaurants in the beach towns are relatively casual, and you will stick out if you are dressed up to walk around during the day. I didn't end up using most of the nice outfits that I packed, and would have been much happier if I'd swapped them for more athletic wear.

Happy with our rolling carry on suitcases!

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