Costa Rica What's in my suitcase?

What to pack for Costa Rica: surfing, mountain biking and hiking

July 26, 2019
The author and guide after crossing the river

It’s hard to pack lightly when your holiday includes several different activities that require different equipment.

We spent three weeks in Costa Rica in the month of January, the dry season, where we mountain biked across the country, surfed in Tamarindo, hiked in the National Parks, rented a motor scooter and did some general sightseeing.

At this time of year the weather is hot and humid during the day and gets chilly at night in the mountains and away from the coast. This meant we generally had to plan for warmish weather.

However we also had to be prepared for a stopover in Dallas on the way over and back again, where expected winter temperatures were single figures (celsius) at night and mid-teens during the day.

We travelled with one medium sized suitcase each which weighed between 15 to 17 kilograms, and one backpack with laptop, camera gear, important medicines and travel documents.

So, what did we pack in our suitcase for our three week holiday?

What to pack for mountain biking in Costa Rica:

  • 2 pairs of padded cycle shorts
  • 2 fast drying cycle tops
  • 2 sports bras
  • 2 pairs woollen socks
  • 1 light rain jacket
  • 1 Icebreaker half-zip lightweight top
  • 1 bandana
  • Helmet
  • Bike seat (from my bike at home, not the strap on gel kind)
  • Hard soled bike shoes
  • Bike gloves
  • Water bottle
  • 1 small backpack (used a Crumpler Squid instead of a backpack this trip)
  • Chamois cream
Diana taking a rest on the coastal walk in the Cahuita National Park.
Hiking the coastal trail in Cahuita National Park
Diana strolling along Tamarindo beach, Costa Rica
Strolling along Tamarindo beach – the long pants and shirt were to protect against mosquitoes.

What to pack for surfing in Costa Rica:

  • 2 Hive surf bikinis
  • 1 Roxy long sleeve spring wetsuit
  • Reef booties
  • 1 long sleeve rash vest
  • 2 shorts
  • Kaftan (knee length)
  • 1 sarong (doubles as a scarf)
  • 1 broad brimmed straw hat
  • Long sleeve beach throw for sun protection

For hiking:

  • Black light weight Adidas shorts
  • Mizuno sneakers

Other clothes – for sightseeing, the plane, eating out

  • 2 long pants – 1 light linen (pink), 1 heavier chinos (pale pink)
  • 4 tank tops: white, grey, black, navy
  • 2 short sleeve t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve lightweight white cotton tie waist top
  • 1 long sleeve striped black and white linen top (for layering in Dallas)
  • 1 light fleece black
  • 1 long sleeve shirt (for evenings to protect against mosquitoes)
  • 1 light black cardigan
  • 1 summer dress
  • Summer nightie
  • Pyjamas (includes versatile pants that can be worn outside)
  • Thongs (flip flops)
  • Casual slip on Camper sneakers
  • Black sandals
  • 2 hats – 1 peaked cap, 1 straw hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
Diana with motor scooter in La Fortuna
Scooter fun in La Fortuna
Post surf session at Tamarindo Beach

Post trip learnings – what I would do differently

It was so hot and humid during the day for our biking, surfing week, general sightseeing and hikes which meant our clothes got very sweaty and grimy. We had to wash every day on the bike ride, and it was hard to dry clothes overnight as temperatures were cool in the evenings. There was a laundry at the condos we stayed at in Tamarindo which made life easy.

We encountered the same issue on this trip as on most others – no matter how much wiggle room we may have had in our suitcases when we left, we were struggling to fit everything back in each morning when we packed up.

JJ, my travel partner, always carries a spare fold up bag to carry surplus gear and this did come in handy. But I hate having too many bags so am always trying to cull. It’s liberating to travel lightly.

So, here’s what we learned on this trip:

  • We didn’t need the reef booties but had to take them just in case. We’ve been caught out without them before. We also didn’t need to take our own rash vests as Iguana Surf gave us one.
  • I could have left the black sandals at home. It was very casual everywhere we went, and my Camper sneakers were perfect to go out at night, especially in Tamarindo where there are dirt and gravel roads which aren’t very suitable for sandals.
  • I also could have done without the black cardigan, the long sleeve cotton shirt and the summer dress. I tended to wear long pants at night to avoid mosquitoes.
  • It was extremely cold in Dallas on our way over and we had to buy a beanie and gloves. On our return stopover daytime temps were in the 20s.

Obviously, if equipment or gear is essential to the activity you’re doing on your holiday, then of course pack it. If not, leave it out, you can always buy something at your destination if you really need it.

Remember: luggage is a burden! Simplify your choices. No matter how much you take, you often end up wearing the same things day after day anyway.

Happy travels.

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