In this edition of our Packing for Costa Rica blog series, we are taking a look in our bag of gear for adventures. You can find a summarized list on our Questions and Answers page, but for these blogs we wanted to explain in more detail about the things that we use on a daily or weekly basis and why.
This is the number one question we get asked about packing for Costa Rica. While many websites will recommend big hiking boots, down here in the Osa Peninsula they are really not needed. In fact, the vast majority of people that bring hiking boots to Drake Bay regret it. This is because not only are they heavy, but they are very likely to get wet, not dry properly, and then get moldy and even heavier.
To do any activity in Drake Bay (excepting night hikes), a sturdy pair of sandals or Crocs worn with socks are your best bet for footwear. If any of our readers have already met Curt, you would be forgiven for wondering if he has shares in Crocs (or indeed socks). But we can assure you that this is what he wears every day.
To be sure, socks and sandals are not the most fashionable look. But there is sound logic behind it. None of the trails in the Drake Bay region require big hiking boots. In fact, we cannot think of anywhere in Costa Rica where you would need them. Additionally, there are often river crossings and boat landings with no dock. Large heavy boots are cumbersome to remove all the time, and are a total nightmare if they get soaked through.
The best sandals to get are those that strap securely to your feet, so that you can walk up and down hills and through rivers with ease. The reason for the socks is that if you are walking on sand and then get your feet wet, the sand will cut your feet like glass. Sand has extremely hard particles in it and the socks will protect your feet from rubbing against the straps.
A small caveat: If you have any kind of ankle problems, you may need to go for something with ankle support instead. Also, most night tours provide rubber boots, but do check with your tour operator in case you need to bring covered shoes.
Water and Camelbaks
Depending on the region of Costa Rica you are in, the tap water may or may not be drinkable. Here in Drake Bay, we do not recommend drinking the water that is connected to the “grid”. Properties and hotels that have their own wells or spring water are often safe to drink from the tap, but please check with your hotel first. We don’t encourage people to buy single use bottled water, but luckily most hotels will provide free filtered water if they do not have drinkable tap water.
On tours and activities we highly recommend that guests bring plenty of water in a reusable bottle or camelbak. Camelbaks are great because they can hold a large quantity of water. They also distribute the weight of the water across your back, so they are much easier to carry than large bottles.
Another advantage of the camelbak it easy access. They have a drinking tube that can be utilized while you are hiking without removing your day pack. If you are out on the ocean a lot (like we are), they also eliminate the “oh no I just tipped water down my front” incident.
If you decide on a camelbak, do tip it upside down and give it a bit of a shake before you put it in your pack, to check that the lid has been closed properly. We speak from experience on this one!
Fun in the Ocean
As mentioned, we love getting out on the ocean. In fact, the offshore Whale and Dolphin trip in Drake Bay is literally our favorite thing on planet earth. We have a variety of different gear for snorkeling and ocean adventures but two things that travelers may consider bringing to Costa Rica are: a snorkel mask and fins, and an inflatable life jacket.
In the Osa Peninsula we are lucky to be home to the best snorkeling in the country- Cano Island. However, there are numerous other coastal snorkeling spots in the region (and indeed throughout the country), which can be experienced independently. While ocean tours include all gear, there is no reliable place to rent equipment in Drake.
We recommend a mask that has black sides, which will reduce glare from the sun. Unless you are diving, make sure that your snorkel is rigid. Diving snorkels are more bendy and made to wrap around your diving gear, but they are horrible for snorkeling as they will flop around and fill up with water.
As far as fins, more rigid fitted fins are the most durable. Adjustable fins often have weak straps which can break or come loose. Curt has had his pair of Volts for literally 25 years. Today, they are made under the brand name TYR. If you do prefer an adjustable set, Charlotte also has a TYR kit, which is really cool because it comes with it’s own compact bag and the snorkel is very easy to clear.
We also love our inflatable life jackets because at Cano Island, it is required to have a life jacket when snorkeling. Most tour operators will bring foam life jackets, which are perfectly safe, but truly irritating if you are a free diver. Inflatable jackets are compact, satisfy the regulations, and you can always blow them up if you need a bit of a rest from swimming.
Depending on your interests, you might also want to bring along fishing gear or surfboards as these items are not easy to rent in remote Costa Rica.
Since all coastlines (up to 50 meters from the beach) in Costa Rica are public land, it is easy to find a place to camp. Having said that, there are many tourism businesses which have what is called a “concession” to use this land for cabins or shops. They cannot stop you from camping, however we do encourage visitors to pay a small fee (usually $5-10) in order to use the facilities on the property. Remember that the average family income on the Osa is $500 a month and we want to support local business as much as possible.
Of course, we could go on for days about different camping products. If you are traveling for a short time in Costa Rica and planning on doing a bit of light camping, you will of course need a tent and cookware.
For solo travelers, hammock tents are absolutely fantastic because they are compact and lightweight. Not to mention that they will keep you off the often damp and ant-infested ground. Of course, there are all kinds of traditional tents that you could bring along with you. The main thing to look out for when purchasing is that they are very very waterproof.
For cooking gear, you also want a set that is lightweight and durable. Curt has had his set for about 12 years, and we actually even use two of the pieces all the time in the house for soup bowls, cereal bowls and small pots.
For those who want to make a more extended and/or remote camping trip to Costa Rica, there are many other items that you might want to bring in your pack. We plan to release a more extended Tropical Survival Packing blog for interested readers, so stay tuned. Overall, our quick top five list for light camping in Costa Rica would be:
Cookware & Stainless Steel Cutlery
Pocket Knife and Small Machete
Fire Lighting Equipment (such as lighters, waterproof matches, flint and striker)
A Note About Product Links: We will never promote products that we have not used personally throughout the 10 years we have been living in the Osa. They pass the tropical torture test and are useful to put in your pack.