One of the things I googled on multiple occasions before our Costa Rica Grand Tour was what to pack for our two week tour. Week two is easy… swimwear, cover-ups, outfits for breakfast, outfits for evenings, outfit for a potential excursion. Week one though was a whole different challenge, with activities, rainforests and travel days to contend with. So what was on my packing list for Costa Rica? And did I get it right?
(This blog post may contain Amazon affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase from Amazon after using the link (in the same transaction) I get a tiny bit of commission. Not enough for another Costa Rican holiday but maybe enough for a coffee.)
Want to read more about our Costa Rica Grand Tour? How about our visit to the capital San Jose?
There was a distinct lack of information on the TUI website about what to pack. I did a bit of digging around on Tripadvisor and found this useful thread but it wasn’t until we received our itinerary on arrival that we all started bombarding our tour guide Andres with questions. Especially for the first full day. This was the complicated day.
As always for a long-haul flight, comfort rules. Our mid afternoon arrival meant that it wasn’t too hot when we landed, although we still had a 90 minute coach trip to go. By the time we arrive at Borinquen Resort though, what with the long flight and the time difference, I’m exhausted. And thus I don’t even bother changing for dinner.
As we’re travelling onto our next hotel after the aforementioned activities, we have to pack everything onto the coach. But we need to keep with us anything we may need after the tubing. And we’ll need to carry this with us on our horse. Andreas keeps telling us to bring our backpacks. At this point I realise it may have been a good idea to actually bring a small backpack. Instead I shove underwear in a cross body-bag and hope for the best.
Water shoes or old pumps are recommended for tubing – mainly because of the amount of time you’ll spend bracing yourself against rocks – and are fine for horse riding too. As the likelihood of ending up in the river is quite high, glasses are strictly forbidden. Unless they’re strapped to your head.
Towels are provided post-tubing, as are bags for wet swimwear. From Rincon de la Vieja we stop for lunch at Lake Arenal so make sure you’re suitably attired for casual dining. Once you’re at the Arenal Springs Resort, it’s nice to be able to put on non-damp clothes for dinner and drinks. Dining in Costa Rica is pretty casual so don’t worry about packing anything extra fancy.
On Day 2 it’s the Mistico Hanging Bridges tour. Closed shoes are required for this one; my trusty Keen flats were perfectly adequate as I didn’t want to pack anything any heavier. There’s a fair bit of walking involved on the tour and as you’re in lush forest you’ll want to stay as covered up as possible. Plus for us, it’s raining, which means it’s time to dig out the waterproofs. It’s a good idea to wear a hat too, just in case of anything creepy or crawly descending from above.
The evening activity also involves getting wet. You’re off to Tabacon Hot Springs. You’ll be picked up straight from the hotel by coach and you’re not required to wear anything more than swimwear, flip-flops and a cover-up. You will have a buffet dinner after swimtime though so be mindful if you don’t want to be flashing your dinner companions. There are lockers available and towels are provided. We also took a waterproof pouch to carry a phone and some cash for the bar. If you do buy one of these pouches, make sure you test it first before plunging in with your valuables. Ours were thankfully pretty watertight.
After a bit of free time in the morning, it’s time to transfer to Sarapiqui. Travel days generally mean a t-shirt and those light trousers that are elasticated at the bottom – a bit like MC Hammer but less baggy. At Sarapiqui, there’s a wildlife tour at La Selva Biological Station. Once again, closed shoes and waterproofs are recommended. You’re right in the heart of rainforest territory now.
Mr Fletche and I did purchase insect-proof shirts (not matching, we’re not Howard and Hilda), which may or may not have prevented any bugs from coming too close. Dinner is once again in whatever is driest. By now choices may be limited.
On day 4 it’s time to leave the rainforest behind and head for the Caribbean coast. You’ll be travelling by coach and by boat today, and the banks of the river can be a bit muddy and slippery so pack the flipflops and wear sturdier shoes. Pachira Lodge was definitely the dampest of all the accommodation. There are opportunities for pool time here so you’ll definitely need your swimwear which may or may not have dried off since Arenal. And it definitely won’t dry here at Tortuguero.
Visiting the village of Tortuguero means mingling with the locals and a stroll along the beach. It’s much sunnier here on the Caribbean coast so it’s t-shirts and shorts all the way – I’ve zipped off my walking trousers into shorts. I doubt I’ll ever be able to successfully turn them back into full-length trousers.
We have an early morning appointment with the sunrise so again be mindful of bugs. It’s also a little chilly before the sun makes its appearance so bring something to cover your arms.
For the canal tour you’ll be mostly out in the open so whatever you wear make sure you slather yourself with sunscreen
It’s a long travel day to the city – comfort is key. Remember about those muddy slopes when you alight from the boat and reunite with the coach.
We had a walking tour when we got into San Jose so make sure you’re respectably dressed as you may be taken into churches. Covering up with a light scarf is the easiest method if you have bare shoulders. Our guide advised us not to take big showy cameras out with us – your driver will stay with the bus so any valuables will be perfectly safe on board. You’ll meet your bus at the hotel.
It’s free time for dinner and there are options either at the hotel or in the surrounding neighbourhood. Again, it’s not necessary to wear anything too fancy, I wore a striped T-shirt, cropped trousers and flat sandals.
One more long journey. Once you’re at your beach hotel it’s time to unpack that week two suitcase and say a big hello to all those lovely, non-damp, fresh-smelling clothes. Dump all your week one clothes on your balcony. Or leave them to fester in your suitcase. Your choice.
Damp was the main problem so I’d suggest taking twice as many tops/t-shirts than you think you’ll need so you can change into something fresh after a steamy day in the rainforest.
If you do want to pack light you might want to think about utilising the laundry service once you get to your resort hotel.
Enclosed shoes may not be too pleasant after a week in the jungle. I left a pair on canvas pumps out on the balcony of our beach hotel “to air” but they were still unwearable.
We packed two separate suitcases for weeks one and two and we were so glad we did. Being able to open our week two suitcase and get a whiff of fresh, clean clothes was a godsend.
Packing cubes are useful for separating worn, dirty and damp items of clothing. We use ones similar to this (affiliate link klaxon).
Bring a small rucksack. It’ll be a godsend on that horse ride.
Dinners are casual affairs in Costa Rica so leave the heels and fancy outfits at home. Most nights, it was just a quick freshen-up and throwing on whichever t-shirt was least damp.
As you’re moving between accommodation, bring at least one change of swimwear and a drybag so that you can attach it to the outside of your luggage.
We took two large wheeled suitcases with us and we had no issues transporting luggage around as the accommodation on the tour was all at ground level (apart from in San Jose). Your tour guide and driver will load and unload the luggage at each destination.
The only time a wheeled suitcase was an issue was on the banks of the river where we were transported by boat to Tortaguero. The banks can be very muddy and there’s a bit of a steep haul up to the car park. There are porters though that will transfer your luggage by wheelbarrow for a few colones.
Don’t forget your bug spray. Although oddly enough we had no bites during the tour at all – they all came in week two whilst we were at the beach. Surprisingly, hand sanitiser is an excellent soothing treatment for bites.
A diet of rice and beans may mean a bit of “disturbance” in your digestive system. Bring Imodium or similar.
I’m no packing guru, or fashionista, but I hope this helps if you’re planning to take the Costa Rica Grand Tour or a similar trip! If you have any more useful packing tips, let me know in the comments below x