What to Pack For Your Birding Trip To Costa Rica

How to pack for your bird trip?

Each person develops his or her own ways to prepare for a trip and most folks have a pretty good idea of what to pack. However, there are few questions that  often arise when getting ready for a trip, especially if the destination is new.

Having organized and guided bird trips for so many years, and observing my guests and their personal needs I’ve developed some ideas on what to pack for a bird trip. Most items seem to be common sense, however it doesn’t hurt to mention them anyway. The basic idea is that you pack some items as sometimes those items may be hard to find in our local stores. We may also find ourselves in remote natural areas far from commercial centers. You don’t want to waste your precious time in Costa Rica trying to locate batteries or chargers or even worse, a specific type of medicine. Remember to check your hotel room carefully before moving into the next location, I typically take an extra look in the bathroom, under the bed and check the electric plugs on the walls or counters. I have discovered things I almost left behind by taking one last peek around the room.



Remember to pack your binoculars, sounds silly to even say it  but they can be left behind when they are such an obvious item to take. I’ve done it, so its possible.

In case you haven’t purchased your binoculars yet I find 7x42 or 8x42 ideal for the habitat we encounter here.  They are bright enough and with a reasonably wide field of view and so are ideal for when mixed species flocks move through the understory. Most likely of course you have a pair or two favourites that you feel comfortable with already.

Spotting Scope

Our guides will have a top tier spotting scope with them on your tour, but if you feel you want to have your own scope on the trip than you most certainly can bring it.

Camera Equipment

If you’re going on a photo focused tour then bring the equipment you might need for the kind of photography you plan on doing in the habitats you are hoping to find yourself in. Long fast telephotos or zooms for bird shot in dim understory or macro for insects and such.

If you are just going for a more casual kind of bird photography with maybe some landscape shots thrown in for good measure, then maybe going with to smaller camera such as a general purpose bridge camera with one of the newer super zooms.

In either case protecting the gear from the occasional downpour with waterproof camera bags or lens covers will ensure your gear is safe.


Tablet, iPad or Smartphone: The professional or enthusiast photographer typically likes to edit and work on their photos as they travel, so in this case a laptop or powerful tablet is necessary. If you are not planning to manipulate your photos too much, it will make more sense to bring your tablet or iPad. You can also check email, read books and share photos at dinner time, so it is quite handy and easier to pack. A smartphone would be plenty if all you want to do is stay in touch with your family or your business. Most hotels and lodges offer free Wi-Fi.

Flashlight / Torch

Some of the lodges don’t have good lighting for evening checklist updating, in which case having a headlamp can help. For night walks it is important to have a good torch, your headlamp might do the job, but if you like to have a better light then look for a led high lumen torch. LED Lenser offers good, somewhat pricy rechargeable torches, FENIX also offers good lights with slightly more convenient price. SureFire offers excellent powerful lights that use high-drain device 123A batteries, a bit expensive but very bright.

Chargers and Cables

Make sure you pack your chargers and cables for all the electronic devices you are carrying. Having a universal adaptor is always a good idea. Costa Rica power sockets are of type A and B. The standard voltage is 120V and the standard frequency is 60Hz. If you need more information, please visit the following link to check the kind of adaptor you might need depending on which country you are coming from:



Think of humid climate, cold or warm. For humid tropical weather, you want fabrics that are quite breathable, natural fabrics as opposed as synthetics tend to do that job much better. Anything that holds in moisture and that is not breathable, is going to make you feel very uncomfortable in a rainforest trail or humid-sunny pasture land or mangrove. Cotton is an excellent fabric for our humid tropical climate, as it allows air to flow in and out, creating a cooling effect. It also absorbs the sweat and moisture from your body which keeps you dry and more comfortable.

Some of the high elevation locations like San Gerardo and Providencia de Dota and Poas Volcano Lodge might require warm clothing, so having a fleece jacket and hat and gloves is a good idea, especially from December to early April. A rain jacket might be good as windbreak and will be useful in the rain in any other lower elevation location as well. Long sleeve and long pants are typically the best choice to prevent insect bites and stings.

A pair of hiking shoes is very important, you rarely need rubber boots in our trips, but will require good grip. Sneakers will be ideal for lighter walks and moving days.

A hat and sunglasses provide good protection when birding in sunny open land. Some lodges have swimming pools, keep that in mind if you like to swim and pack a swimming suit.

What colors to wear?

Choose colors that blend in with the natural habitat, especially when you walk rainforest trails. Bright colors (pink, yellow, red, orange) can be a bit threatening or disturbing to the birds and wildlife in general. Beige, brown, dusky green, gray are much better colors to wear, if possible.


Recent research indicates that birds see colors in a different way than humans. Colors may appear more saturated to them than they do to us. Forest tones of brown and green may be less threatening so colorful clothing might be out of place.

Bright colors will make us more visible and will intensify all our movements. For instance, if you are wearing a bright yellow long-sleeve shirt in the forest and you raise your arms to point at a bird, that motion will be extremely noticeable against the natural background. In exposed habitats more light is available so colors will also intensify with the UV rays. You will become more obvious to the bird even from a distance.

In conclusion, subdued colors that match the natural environment is what you ideally need for birding.

Personal Medications and other health items

  • Be sure to bring your personal medications with you, it might be hard to find specific medicines in a different country, some might require prescription.
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent (I personally like Herbal Armor, it is natural, safe, and it has proven to be effective in the field, and it is deet-free. http://www.allterrainco.com/). Some essential oils might work well too, cedar oil is effective and is good for your skin, so you might consider this option too.
  • Diarrhea medication – even though water is very safe in Costa Rica, sometimes the difference in spices and food preparation will get you the runs. With that being said, most of the our guests don’t get this problem.
  • Pain killer and cold medication
  • Band-Aids
  • Some type of bite/sting soothing unguent.

Other important gadgets you might like to have

  • Duct tape is always handy. You might use it to repair multiple things, even shoes sometimes.
  • Pencil, pen, and a small notepad.
  • A multi-purpose tool like a Leatherman set.
  • A large or medium size plastic bag, and two or three large zip-lock bags, mainly to pack your belongings inside your pack during rainy days or boat rides. Dirty laundry might also require a big plastic bag, you don’t want damp clothes packed with the rest of your dry clean clothes.
  • Some zip ties (also known as cable ties or zap straps) might be handy for a number of repairs such as broken  binocular-harness attachments.
  • A collapsible umbrella might be helpful for rain or drizzle. Rain jackets will typically get you very damp and hot on the inside. Using an umbrella will also keep your optics drier.