Despite Costa Rica’s location at approximately 10 degrees north of the equator, its seasons – or lack thereof – tend to baffle visitors in the trip-planning phase of their vacation. The following guide will help travelers determine the right time to visit the country in respect to where and when they wish to travel, and the anticipated weather conditions they’ll likely encounter.
Firstly, Costa Rica has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy (green) season; also known as summer and winter, or the high and low seasons. For most of the country, the monthly weather patterns consist of the dry season, which runs from December through April, and the green season from May through November.
A dramatically diverse topography and variations in elevation ranging from sea level to mountains as high as 9,800 feet (3,000 m) have resulted in the development of different microclimates and life zones such as lowland rainforests, highland cloud forests, dry tropical forests, grasslands, wetlands, and more. Combine these with weather forecast variations sweeping in from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and one might say that the country is as climatically diverse as it is geographically.
Nonetheless, there are a consistent 12-hours of sunlight daily and the nation-wide climate is generally pleasant. Temperatures along the Pacific Coast average 82°F (with highs between 80°F and 100°F during the dry season). In the mountain highlands, temperatures average 55°F year-round. Or, head over to the jungles of the Atlantic and Southwestern Pacific Coasts and daily averages range between 77°F and 90°F (with approximately 141″ of annual rainfall).
How’s the Weather in San José?
Locals and expats often claim that the weather conditions in the Central Valley and the Capital City of San José are the best in the world. The balmy sunny mornings, constant breezes, and dramatic skies make for a perfect retirement destination where neither air-conditioning or heating are actually required. Temperatures average at about 72°F, with highs around 84°F degrees and lows of 64°F degrees. Mountain homes will often have a wood-burning fireplace for the exceptionally cooler nights.
How’s the weather during the rainy season?
The aptly named “green season” lasts from May to November for most of the country. The amount of rain that falls on any given day depends on the location and if a particularly nasty tropical storm or depression is affecting the area.
September and October are the rainiest months nation-wide except for along the Caribbean Sea and interior. Hurricane season does affect both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts during this time, meaning that weeks of non-stop rain are possible, if not probable. Hurricanes rarely make landfall as far south as Costa Rica, however, yet nearby storms still generate considerable rain and wind.
Popular places such as Tamarindo and Liberia of Guanacaste Province and the Nicoya Peninsula beaches, receive less rain overall during the green season than the rest of the country. Most days begin sunny with clouds gathering in the early afternoon and rain occurring in the late afternoon or evening. The Central Pacific Coast, with popular towns such as Jaco and Manuel Antonio, have a more temperate climate with slightly higher humidity and rainfall.
Along the central interior highlands and lowlands, such as in Monteverde, La Fortuna, and the Arenal Volcano, the green season experiences significantly higher rainfall, with up to 16″ per month in some areas. Keep in mind, however, that rainfall is expected in these rainforest-rich areas and with the proper clothing, visitors can experience the amazing biodiversity first hand.
Farther south along the Pacific Coast, the Osa Peninsula, and the interior lowlands, the climate is more humid and tropical with rain occurring more frequently and for longer durations. Tourists should plan well when booking their vacation in these areas; especially if they want to sunbathe or do lots of exploring. Heavy rain translates to muddy roads and difficult access. What’s more, many small hotels, restaurants, and tour providers close shop during the rainiest months of September and October to save on overhead.
What’s best about the rainy season is that trees and plants are a brilliant green, wildlife is active and thriving, and the generally hot and sunny mornings are cooled off by afternoon showers – a postcard-perfect Costa Rica.
Exceptions to the rule – More reasons why Costa Rica is so great!
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, including Limon, Puerto Viejo, and Cahuita, boast some of the most exotically beautiful beaches, coral reefs, rainforests, and wetlands in the entire country. The only drawback is that the rich tropical climate experiences regularly consistent rainfall for around 10 months year-round.
The good news is that in September and October, while the rest of the country is getting drenched, the Caribbean Coast is in full-fledged summer. The beaches are beautifully clear and sunny, the surf is right, and hard-to-reach destinations like Tortuguero National Park are more accessible.
For those of you whose vacations coincide with traditional U.S. and European school holidays during June, July, and August, you’ll be pleased to know that a climatic variation referred to as the “little summer of Saint John” occurs between late June and August that results in a decrease in rainfall. The country is blanketed in lush tropical splendor and the days are sunny and drier.
Additionally, during February and March, the hottest months of the dry season in the rest of the country, the Caribbean Coast experiences a let-up in rainfall, providing a perfect alternative to visitors wanting to experience the tropics and avoid the scorching dry heat of the northwestern region.
When is the Best time to Visit Costa Rica?
As a rule of thumb, the best time to visit Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast and interior highland and lowland regions is during the dry season from December to April. While for the Caribbean Coast, the best time to visit is September and October, February and March.
Nonetheless, no matter when you plan on visiting Costa Rica, you’re more than likely to find the right weather conditions to meet your vacation hopes and needs. Do your homework and without a doubt you’ll have a very Pura Vida holiday experience!