What to pack for a trip to Costa Rica

We travelled to Costa Rica with three 23 kg suitcases for a whole year, one for each of us and a third bag with common stuff, including things for Matilda (our cat). In hindsight we could have left half of it behind…

Here is what I learnt about what to bring (and not to bring) to Costa Rica.

1. Clothes & shoes

The two photos above include all the clothing that I brought to Costa Rica in my suitcase. I brought clothes for warm and cold weather (volcanos & the central valley can be rather cold) and for formal and informal settings. I was planning to attend a conference while in Costa Rica so I needed to bring some more dressy outfits.

I simply brought FAR too much: 6 long sleeves, 16 short sleeves, 7 dresses, 4 jumpers, a windstopper, a raincoat, jeans…I am just laughing out loud as I write this blog. REALLY? DID I REALLY THINK I WOULD USE ALL THIS?

So, this is what I used A LOT:

  • 2 zip-off trousers from Decathlon
  • 1 pair of polyester shorts from Decathlon
  • 1 knee size legging Decathlon
  • 1 polyester jumper Decathlon
  • 1 light fleece jumper Decathlon
  • 5 polyester short-sleeve T-shirts (those of 4 euros from Decathlon)
  • 2 polyester tops (also for a couple of euros from Decathlon
  • 3 light long-sleeve T-shirts (also polyester)
  • 2 pajama dresses
  • 2 dresses
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 1 light scarf
  • 1 beach sarong
  • 2 bikinis
  • 1 pair of flipflops
  • 1 pair of closed, water tight training shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • A pair of rubber boots bought in Costa Rica (not in the photos)

Basically polyester clothes that dry fast, like the ones often sold in sport shops. It was also handy to have some clothes in grey/beige colors for birdwatching.

And what I did not use or hardly used?

Cotton clothes (jeans, jumpers, dresses, t-shirts), most of my long-sleeves, the trekking boots (since I used the rubber boots that I bought in Costa Rica), the rain coat (used very little), the wind stopper, the rain trousers or any of the warm scarves .

Bags & backpacks

I brought two backpacks. My 50L Osprey trekking backpack (which I took as hand luggage in the plane) and my overboard water-tight backpack that was in my suitcase.

The winner: the overboard water tight backpack without any doubts. In the tropics, it does not rain. It pours. And the rain cover of a normal trekking backpack does not cut it. One needs a real water-tight bag. It has been a life saver when I had to take papers, my computer, camara or any electronic for that matter.

I also brought a belt bag (from Decathlon as well) which I wasn’t sure I was going to use. My, I have used it A LOT. Like really a LOT. I took it everywhere I went. It had my life in it: phone, credit cards, my passport, a pair of glasses, the keys, a pen and a pocket knife.

The set of travelling bags was completed with an extra, foldable 100L bag which I always add to the luggage and which we used A LOT, both for weekends out and for moving houses.

Camara & Camara bags

I brought to Costa Rica a Lowepro waist bag for the camara, which I had used a lot in previous trips (like Madagascar). But soon I realized that anything that was not in a water-tight bag got wet and moldy very soon.

So, I ordered an Ape protective case from Amazon which could be placed inside my overboard backpack and an extra protective wrap for those ocasions in which I had the camara hanging over my shoulder. And I never used my waist camara bag again…

The Ape protective case could fit well my two Sony alfa body camaras. One with the zoom lens (55-210) + with the Olympus TCON-17X Tele Converter for The XZ-1 and the 16-50 mm lens respectively.

We also bought our GoPro 4, mostly for diving although we have also been using it for recording some trekkings.

And while we were in Costa Rica, we bought a Camara trap from Amazon for 50 U$ aprox. This last one turned to be super nice toy that we used a lot. It was super exciting to see what was happening outside our house at night.

Electronics & cables

I brought my macbook air, a dual-sim phone, a tablet, a kindle and the wireless keyboard and trackpad of my mac. None of the electronics was new. Both the tablet and the phone started to have problems half way the year and in both cases it had to do with the screen. They did not make it till the end of the year.

In terms of electronics what we used most was….

  • The laptop
  • The phone
  • The kindle
  • The keyboard,
  • The trackpad and
  • The laptop stand
  • The battery charger with the rechargable batteries
  • The extension cable (with european plugs) and the adaptors
  • The 1Tb external hard disks
  • All the different usb chargers & cables (some died during the year, so it was great that we had backups)
  • The usb charger for the car
  • The headlamp!

The kindle was very much used. We had two kindles and one account, so we could share the books. The keyboard, the trackpad and the foldable laptop stand were also extremely handy during the lockdown, when we had to work from home. And, of course, the laptop & the phone and the headlamp! I do not know how many times the light went off and we could continue with our life as if nothing happened thanks to the headlights.

What we did not use at all was

  • the solar charger (everywhere we went there was good electricity)

Camping stuff

Our third suitcase contained, apart from all the things for Matilda, books and our outdoor stuff.

book

So, what did we use and did not use at all?

What we used was:

  • The bird telescope
  • The camping hammock & extra tree-friendly stripes
  • The Fjälraven Funäs Lite sleeping bags
  • The Glymnis foldable Hiking poles
  • The Kleen Kanteen insulated bottle (not in photo)
  • The inflatable Term-a-rest little seat (not in photo)
  • The emergency kit (particularly the sport tape, which Frank uses indistinctively to repair the laptop and for foot blisters- this is worth a blog on its own).

What we didn’t use

  • The tent
  • The camping matresses
  • The mosquito net (used only once)
  • The snorkling mask & tube (can be rented everywhere where there is something to see…unless you need a prescription glass mask, in which case it is worth bringing your own).
  • The travel hairdrier

Unless you come during the dry season camping in the tropics is not a very good idea. And even in the dry season, with the amount of crawling critters, I would not recommend to pinch a tent in the ground.

Toiletries

I brought my toilet bag with all essentials but it is really not worth it.

We also brought our battery powered toothbrushes, with rechargable batteries.

The only thing that I would recommend to bring to Costa Rica in terms of toiletries are the OralB toothbrush heads if you use an electric or battery-driven toothbrush. They are REALLY hard to find in Costa Rica (only in some Wallmarts around San José).

Books

yes, yes, I know. Books are not precisely light and probably not so necessary in the paperless era. But…it would not be me if I didn’t carry a small library wherever I go. These is what we took with us.

What we used a lot and enjoyed having in paper format:

The ones that we could have had in electronic format:

  • The Neotropical companion
  • Amphibians of Costa Rica
  • The Wildlife of Costa Rica fieldguide book (not in the photo)
  • The Costa Rica lonely planet guide
  • The Gallito-Pinto (Costa Rican cooking book)
  • Monkeys are made of chocolate (we bought the book so that Jack Ewing could sign it)

Other extras

I guess that by now you are not wondering any longer why we has so much luggage…but wait. This is the best part. We also brought some kitchen stuff.

This is what we used a lot:

  • A kitchen scale, initially for Matilda but later on very much used to make bread
  • A foldable camping fridge which we used A LOT for our house moves and car trips
  • A set of sillicon zip bags .They weight nothing and where incredibly handy for food storage (and even to keey key documents dry).
  • A set of sillicon lids.

Yeah, you can buy those in Costa Rica but we do not want to buy new things when we have one perfectly working at home.

The totally useless

Our third suitcase also contained diverse other things that were totally unnecessary:

  • A recorder for the interviews & microphone (could be recorded on the phone),
  • Diverse tripods for the camara (it is too muddy to use tripods),
  • A small bag (I couldnt live without my belt bag),
  • A couple of spanish hand fans (we love the heat) and
  • The diving log books (we only needed the last one and the diving computer).
  • A bag with collars and other trinkets which I never used.

Summing up- what we used a lot & would recommend to bring (in one list)

  • 2 zip-off trousers from Decathlon
  • 1 pair of polyester shorts from Decathlon
  • 1 knee size legging Decathlon
  • 1 polyester jumper Decathlon
  • 1 light fleece jumper Decathlon
  • 5 polyester short-sleeve T-shirts (those of 4 euros from Decathlon)
  • 2 polyester tops (also for a couple of euros from Decathlon
  • 3 light long-sleeve T-shirts (also polyester)
  • 2 pajama dresses
  • 2 dresses
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 1 light scarf
  • 1 beach sarong
  • 2 bikinis
  • 1 pair of flipflops
  • 1 pair of closed, water tight training shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • A pair of rubber boots bought in Costa Rica (not in the photos)
  • A water tight backpack
  • A belt bag
  • A photo camara
  • A protective case for the camara
  • A camara trap
  • The laptop
  • The phone
  • The kindle
  • (The keyboard),
  • (The trackpad) and
  • (The laptop stand)
  • The battery charger with the rechargable batteries
  • The extension cable (with european plugs) and the adaptors
  • The 1Tb external hard disks
  • All the different usb chargers & cables (some died during the year, so it was great that we had backups)
  • The usb charger for the car
  • The headlamp!
  • KleanKanteen Insulated bottle
  • The inflatable Term-a-rest little seat (not in photo)
  • The bird telescope
  • The camping hammock & extra tree-friendly stripes
  • The Fjälraven Funäs Lite sleeping bags
  • The Glymnis foldable Hiking poles
  • The emergency kit (particularly the sport tape)
  • The Birds of Costa Rica book
  • (The conservations beginner’s book)
  • The set of sillicon bags
  • Extra toothbrush heads

(in brackets, things that are not truly necessary but that we used a LOT)


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