Packing for Costa Rica as a Woman -- My Packing List
1. Let's just break the ice early. Costa Ricans don't use tampons. There are open trash baskets with "used" toilet paper bunches everywhere and you cannot find tampons except for giant supercenters, like WalMart in San Jose. When you find them, they run about a dollar PER TAMPON. If you will need them, pack them and pack extra. Keep them in a separate compartment from your liquid toiletries. Getting them wet would be a sad loss.
2. Deodorant costs an arm and a leg as well. $5 for a small bottle/decent brand. The clear, rub on gels are a bit more inexpensive, but they don't work as well, don't prevent chafing and let's face it, you need deodorant in Costa Rica. Pack two tubes.
3. Honestly, any toiletry is expensive. We were shocked at the price hikes on very basic things like toothpaste. Pack ANYTHING you might need, regardless of the extra airline fees. It is less expensive to pay a $25 checked bag than to buy everything you need once you get there. A bottle of cheap Suave shampoo was $5. FIVE DOLLARS. ...and that was not because we were buying American brands. The nearest priced Costa Rican brand was about $4.80. The only cheap toiletry is soap. Regular bar soap. If you will need it - BRING IT.
4. Think multiple bags, even if you have to pack them. We had a baby along, so a baby diaper bag was a must, as was a separate beach bag, a picnic/excursion bag if we wanted to go out, a normal purse that stayed in the car and a tiny purse that I took with me everywhere.
The "postmaster's tote" is the winner! For beach day, it contained swimsuits, sunglasses, sunscreen and the like along with daily basics like diapers wipes, bottles and snacks. Instead of switching between bags or everyone having their own, a family beach bag worked best. When we were headed out on a hike/picnic instead of the beach, the bag just switched functions. Picnics are one of those outings that works as an essential (lunch!) and a treat (yay! picnic!) A good bag makes the whole thing easier. Case in point? The MASSIVE side pocket on the postmaster's tote. Check it:
5. Contacts, Glasses and such. Bring extras. You will definitely lose a contact at some point or break your glasses if you only bring 1! I bought contact solution there, because I thought the weight in my carry-on wouldn't be worth bringing it along. It was a mistake. I had to ask several workers in the San Jose WalMart to find it (they all said they did not carry anything for eyes) and eventually found one bottle WAY way in the back of the nail polish aisle for some crazy price. I needed it, so I bought it, but kicked myself all the way to the checkout.
6. If you are a mommy lady and bringing along a baby, BRING EVERYTHING. Pack a stroller, car seat and pack and play EVEN IF YOU MUST PAY A CHECKED BAG FEE. Our pack and play (the cheapest we could find) cost $150 (DOLLARS). You can find formula and baby food, but everything else should be brought along with you. Nothing except fruit, coffee and land is cheap in Costa Rica.
7. Remember that deodorant? You will want it along with some powder. Costa Rica is very, very, very humid and clothing, towels and sheets literally do not dry once they are at all wet with sweat, rain, ocean, whatever. If you have access to an electric drier or sunny clothesline, awesome. If not, your things will be very wet and will cause chafing where they rub against your skin. Deodorant and powder will help. Laundry services cost about $15-20 a load, so you don't want to wash things just because they are wet. It can be a sticky situation (sorry for the pun...but really...)
8. Shoes. If you will do any hiking at all (even the hanging bridges and La Fortuna waterfall were low key hiking) bring gym shoes, water shoes or hiking boots. Mind you, they will probably we ruined by the time you leave as NOTHING DRIES OUT, but they will be much better than flip flops. Also, most flooring everywhere in Costa Rica is tiled due to the humidity. Flip flops make you fall. (Yes, I know that from experience with a baby in my arms!) Flip flops or sandals are great for the beach though, so perhaps bring along two pairs of shoes.
9. A travel bag. If you are going to be going overnight on small trips, make sure you have a smaller suitcase that can be packed for the whole family. Skip lugging luggage around the country and go for a solid, leather bag like this one.
10. Don't pack denim. It just isn't worth it. It is heavy in your bag, never dries once it gets the slightest bit humid and laundry is by weight. You know how much your jeans weigh, don't you? With the amount you will pay to wash those jean shorts, you could buy a nice pair of jeans when you get back home. Stick to really lightweight items, like this "skort" from Duluth. I had them from this post last year and popped them in my bag because I knew they would be lightweight and dry quickly. I am glad I did. The shorts/skirt transitioned really, really well from beach to jungle to a restaurant. Bring back the skort!!
11. I read somewhere that gringas (non Costa Rican women) dress more immodestly than Costa Ricans and are thought of as "easier" by Ticos (Costa Rican men). It is true that many ladies wear pants, but that is where the modesty ends. The pants are typically skin tight and shirts have tons of cutouts. Dress in your normal American clothes and don't be obsessed about offending the Costa Ricans. I never had a soul look at me sideways for my clothing (not that I was immodest really, but you get my point...)
12. Dresses are nice, but bring shorts to wear underneath -- or go back to that fabulous skort! Hikes happen at the blink of an eye, cars break down, things are sweaty. Shorts are good.
13. Bras -- bring at least 2. THINGS NEVER DRY OUT! If you wash your bra, it will take at least 2 days for it to air dry. You want at least one backup. I had 2 flesh tone, 1 black and ended up fine.
14. Bring as many underwear as you own. OK, maybe not if you own hundreds, but bring a lot. A fresh underwear change in the middle of the day can be a lifesaver and when you only take your laundry in twice a week, you do not want to run out of underwear. If you are traveling with kids, bring TONS of underwear. The food was yummy, but sometimes was not that kind to tummies. This is kind of gross, but we probably threw out 5-6 pairs of little boy underpants because of potty issues. It wasn't worth saving them the couple days until laundry day, nor is it nice to send in poopy pants to the launderer, so just bring a lot and bring old ones you do not mind trashing.
15. PJ or Yoga pants can come in handy. Yes, they are hot, but you need covered shoes and pants for some activities like horseback riding, ziplining, etc. and if the bugs are eating you alive at night, a pair of pants can help!
16. BRING AT LEAST TWO SWIMSUITS for everyone in the family. No one likes to put wet swimsuits on and THINGS NEVER DRY in Costa Rica.
17. Prescription medicine is a must, but basic things like Tylenol can be bought by the pill at small little drug stores everywhere.
18. Sunscreen, bug spray and lip balm are a MUST for everyone in the family. Non-negotiable and expensive to buy there. Bring baby sunscreen if you need it. Don't skimp -- the sun is STRONG!
A. Everything sweats off.
B. Everything sweats off.
The one thing I do always like to have along is a little powder and some bright lipstick. My coloring goes from pale to kind of tan and my hair from darker red or blond to a light blond that pretty much matches my skin. No contrast. A bit of red or pink lipstick goes a long, long way. Powder makes a sweaty face a lot less awful when going out to dinner or such. I don't mess with any eye makeup whatsoever. I never do anyway, but especially not when I will be sweating and hot. I like THIS short brush for applying powder because it is short and squat and love THIS LINE of Loreal lipsticks for solid color and no caking (and lovely colors!). I also have along a variety of Burt's Bees lip balms in various favors. Tangerine to match my orange purse, pomegranate for nighttime and good old original to wake me up in the morning.
20. Speaking of Burt's Bees, I also brought along a sample pack of little semi-luxury items for nights when I was tired of being "jungley". THIS kit was the one I used, but any small sample sizes of foot scrub or nice hand moisturizer are a nice little end to the day and remind you that you are still, in fact, a girl.
21. Last but not least, every girl needs a ring. If you are married, trade down your diamond wedding ring for something a little less "I am a rich American tourist" and if you are not married a nice (fake) gold ring can ward off potential suitors (if you want them warded off). All in all, the Costa Rican men were very, very kind and respectful.
*****bonus: a phone camera is a wonderful thing when you don't want to bring along your "nice" camera, though you will not be able to use the internet apps (like instagram or groovebook) or cell functions as you normally would at home without wifi. Even then, they don't usually work.
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