Costa Rica is a land of variations. Its variations in altitude, variations in topography, and variations in climate make the little country a hugely fascinating place to visit. Despite being only about the size of West Virginia, its 19,700 sq. miles (51,100 sq. km) is bordered by two major world oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and is home to five towering mountain ranges.
With so much variation in geography, it’s sometimes surprising to learn that the weather in Costa Rica is dominated by only two seasons. The rainy season and the dry season. What’s equally surprising is that despite the country’s positioning north of the equator, local Costa Ricans (commonly known as Ticos) consider their summer and winter to be the opposite months as their northern neighbors in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
When is the Rainy Season in Costa Rica?
Why is this? you might ask. For the most part, It’s because Costa Rica’s rainy season coincides with the northern hemisphere’s warmer months. Between May and mid-November. The term “rainy season” is also used interchangeably with “green season” because of the prevalence of lush tropical foliage covering the country as a result of the rains.
Weather patterns originating over both oceans also affect Costa Rica’s seasons. One of the best examples is the Caribbean Coast. When the rainy season is at its wettest over the Pacific Coast and central mountain ranges, the Atlantic Coast is relatively dry. This is because water laden Pacific Tradewinds blowing eastward are blocked by the central mountains leaving the Caribbean side mostly unaffected.
The country is also packed with microclimates due to the geographical variations mentioned earlier. These small pockets of unique weather systems are sprinkled across the national territory and make enjoying Costa Rica any time of the year possible.
When is the Dry Season in Costa Rica?
The dry season runs from December to April for most of the country. It is also considered the peak tourism season – aptly referred to as the “high season.” This is because it coincides with the north’s winter months when vacationers wish to escape the cold.
For many international travelers, Costa Rica’s dry season, or Summer, is a great time to visit because of the diminished rains and the plethora of activities to choose from. Nonetheless, don’t forget that Costa Rica is a tropical country, which means that rain is always a possibility.
The Pacific Coast, and Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and San José provinces are the driest regions during this period. Popular beach destinations like Dominical, Manuel Antonio, Jacó, Tamarindo, Mal País, Nosara, and numerous others are found in these areas.
Other coveted dry season destinations include the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Arenal Volcano and other volcanoes, the Osa Peninsula, and dozens of national parks and reserves.
When are the best times to visit Costa Rica?
Before booking their vacation, many people wonder just how bad is the rainy season in Costa Rica? Actually, the seasonal precipitations build slowly as the rainy months progress. September and October are the wettest months overall. Except for along the Caribbean Coast where the weather is at its best during these two months.
St. John’s Little Summer (el Veranillo de San Juan), known technically as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, is an oceanic weather phenomenon that results in a decrease in rainfall along the northern Pacific Coast and Guanacaste Province. This happens for a couple of weeks around late July and early August. This Veranillo period is a great time to visit because the world-famous beaches are drier, the vegetation is green and lush, and the prolific wildlife is thriving.
For more detailed information on Costa Rica’s weather, see our article: How’s the Climate in Paradise? – Understanding Costa Rica’s Weather
Renting a car in the rainy season
When renting a car for your Costa Rica vacation, it’s essential to consider two main factors: 1.) Where will you be going; and 2.) During what season? If you plan on staying in the capital or only visiting popular destinations like Jaco or Tamarindo beaches, then a regular 2WD sedan should be fine for getting around.
On the other hand, if you plan on exploring more remote destinations, then a 4WD vehicle is a must. Heavy rains can cause flooding, washouts, ruts, and potholes. All of which are best navigated with a 4X4 car. The added lift and traction will come in handy.
Ask your Adobe Rent a Car agent what’s the best rainy season rental car for your group. He or she will also give you tips on Costa Rica travel rainy season. At Adobe, we have the largest fleet of rental vehicles in Costa Rica. And each car is either new, nearly new, or less than two years old.
Depending on the size of your group and the level of luxury you’re looking for, you’ll have a large variety of 4WDs and SUVs to choose from. Your options range from the compact-size 2-passenger Suzuki Jimny to mid-size options like the Hyundai Tucson or full-size powerhouses like the Ford Explorer or similar.
When is the rainy season in Costa Rica’s Liberia Airport?
It doesn’t matter if you fly into the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia or the Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela because the rainy and dry seasons coincide at both.
The rainy season, Costa Rica, Guanacaste, however, tends to be drier overall. In fact, during the height of the dry season, the Guanacaste grasslands and dry tropical forests will become brown and parched. The same goes during the rainy season as Guanacaste Province receives less average annual rainfall than the rest of the country.
Is it a good idea to visit Costa Rica in the rainy season?
It’s a well-known fact that Costa Rica’s wetter months often coincide with less-expensive lodging, more room availabilities, and fewer crowds overall. Making the rainy season an attractive option for those hoping to stretch their vacation budget.
The rainy season is also a great time for family vacations – and for numerous reasons. Firstly, June, July, and August generally coincide with school vacations. Secondly, there is usually less crowding and more availability of popular tours and hotels. And lastly, warm sunny mornings followed by cooling afternoon showers means the heat won’t be too overbearing during the evening hours.
Some locations should be avoided during the height of the rainy season because of flooding, washouts, and downpours that can last for days on end. These areas include the Osa Peninsula and the southern zone where precipitation levels are the highest.
Adobe Rent a Car’s policy for rainy season driving
Keep in mind that rental car insurance coverage is rendered obsolete when driving under certain conditions. These include off-roading (non-official roads), river crossings (even if the street you’re on is blocked suddenly by a swollen river) and driving on the beach.
Play it safe and avoid difficult or dangerous road conditions whenever possible. For more information on our Adobe insurance packages, see the following article: Adobe Rent a Car insurance coverage
Packing for Costa Rica’s Rainy Season
No matter when you plan on visiting Costa Rica, it’s best to come prepared for all kinds of weather. This means anticipating both sun and rain, heat and cold. Bring layers so that you can adjust your attire to accommodate every scenario. And don’t forget your sunblock and insect repellent. More rain also usually means more creepy crawlies. And, hot sunny mornings mean you’ll be exposed to powerful equatorial rays that can result in a nasty sunburn if you’re not careful.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to pack extra clothes and extra pairs of sturdy walking shoes during the rainy season. A good waterproof jacket and extra dry socks will be welcome during more severe weather conditions as well. For more information, see our Top 15 Essentials to Pack for your Costa Rica Vacation article.