The Best Time To Visit Costa Rica

Pristine beaches. Lush jungles. Thundering rapids. And, around practically every corner, the chance to spot a moss-covered sloth or an elusive red-eyed tree frog. Whether you’re a sunbather, a thrill seeker or something in between, Costa Rica won’t disappoint.

Costa Rica is smack in the middle of the tropics, and you should plan your visit accordingly. While the temperature is always balmy (and Costa Rica is always worth the visit), rainfall patterns shift throughout the year, especially in the interior and on the Pacific coast. 

Costa Rica Waterfall
Weather in Costa Rica

As a tropical country, Costa Rica’s seasons don’t quite line up with the weather patterns in the United States, Canada and Europe. Temperatures are moderate to warm for the whole year, rarely dipping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or soaring above 85. Additionally, outside the arid northern province of Guanacaste, it rains throughout the year. However, the country’s weather can be generally split into dry and wet seasons, with shoulder seasons that can swing either way.

●    Dry Season (Roughly December–April)

Winters up north mean sunshine in Costa Rica, and tourism, therefore, spikes during this season. In the steamy southern jungles and Caribbean coast, you can expect intermittent rainfall; in San José, Monteverde and the beach towns of the Pacific coast and Nicoya Peninsula, count on clear skies. Fair warning: prices do tend to jump during this period, and you’re unlikely to find yourself alone at many of the most popular destinations. 

●    Wet Season (Roughly July–October)

Bring a raincoat, and plan to have fun because the rains might just signal your lucky break. Prices during this season are generally much lower than during the dry season, and the moisture in the air means the countryside is at its greenest. Rivers swell during this time of the year, resulting in two things: wild rafting conditions and sometimes-impassable rural roads. If you don’t like getting wet, plan your outdoor adventures for the morning. Rain nearly always arrives after lunchtime.

●    Shoulder Season (Roughly May–June and November)

Rain begins to pick up in May and taper off in November, with a couple of weeks of wiggle room on either side. During this time of the year, it seems even the weather operates on tico time. If you get lucky, you might hit the sweet spot of Costa Rican travel, which means low prices, no tourists and perfect weather. If you’re not as lucky? Don’t worry. It’s pretty much impossible not to have a great time in Costa Rica!

Backroads Pro Tip

Even though Costa Rica is a small country, its geographic diversity means weather changes drastically from region to region. The same town can be lush and green at some points of the year and bone dry at other times. Be sure to look up localized weather patterns as you plan your trip!

 

Ecological Events

You can drive across Costa Rica in a day, but with a volcanic spine dividing it into a multitude of distinct microclimates, the country contains natural wonders that belie its small size.

●    Volcanoes
Get close enough, and you can smell it: the sulfurous tang of chemicals that rise from deep within the earth. There’s a reason volcanoes like Arenal, Poas and Irazú have been drawing tourists for decades. Their ashen, lunar landscapes are as close as we’ll get to confronting the geological maelstrom that rumbles miles beneath our feet. Be sure to check the local news before you book a tour; some volcanoes are active enough that they’re occasionally closed to visitors.

●    Cloud Forests
No, they’re not jungles. These misty, dense patches of intense green only occur at certain altitudes, where nearly constant clouds mean vegetation flourishes. Monteverde is the most popular destination, but throughout the country’s central mountain ranges you’ll find bosques nubosos that offer world-class hiking, wildlife treks and adventure tours.

Backroads Pro Tip

Coffee is one of the many plants that thrive in the Costa Rican highlands. If you’re visiting a cloud forest, check to see if there’s a coffee plantation nearby. It’ll likely offer a tour…and it’ll definitely have samples! 

 

●    Beaches
Costa Rica is living proof there’s a beach for everyone. Looking for raucous nightlife? Try Tamarindo or Jacó. Want to get away? Head to Playa Grande or Guiones. Seeking something a little bit different? Check out the black-sand Caribbean Playa Negra on the Caribbean. Need a picture proving you’ve been to the world’s most beautiful stretch of sand? Playa del Coco is our pick…but there’s really only one way to find out what beach suits your style!

Backroads Pro Tip

Coffee is one of the many plants that thrive in the Costa Rican highlands. If you’re visiting a cloud forest, check to see if there’s a coffee plantation nearby. It’ll likely offer a tour…and it’ll definitely have samples! 

 

Special Events

Throughout the year, Costa Rica is, quite literally, a paradise for tourists. However, it does put its best foot forward for a few events throughout the year.

●    Festivals
While they might not display the pageantry of Brazil’s Carnaval or Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Costa Rican festivals have a funky charm of their own. Local to-dos, such as Alajuela’s Día de Juan Santamaría celebration or the Feria de la Mascarada (masquerade ball) in the small town of Barva, draw thousands of local and international tourists in late March and early April. If you’re looking for a less traditional (but equally entertaining) experience, check out Uvita’s Burning Man-esque Envision Festival in February. 

●    Arts and Culture
Most who travel to Costa Rica treat the capital of San José as a jumping-off point. Stay for a while, though, and you’ll discover this gritty city is much more than meets the eye. The Festival Internacional de las Artes (FIA) is the perfect example. Each April, it transforms the city into a cultural hub of outdoor performances, local artists’ exhibitions and exquisite food. 

Crowds

If your average trip includes a stop at the Louvre or a jaunt to the Statue of Liberty, you likely won’t find anything you’d call a “crowd” in Costa Rica. Lines are not something this country is particularly familiar with. That being said, some places are more squarely set on the tourist track than others. The attractions that regularly make top-ten lists are named for a reason: they’re spectacular. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, though, it’s worth breaking away to hit the beach next to the one everyone’s been raving about. You might just discover Costa Rica’s next best-kept secret.

Adventure

Whether it’s sugary sand or jungle mud you get between your toes, you’ll be spending a good portion of your visit to Costa Rica in nature. Fortunately, the great Costa Rican outdoors offer something for everyone.

●    Hiking 
Costa Rica offers hiking opportunities for the casual walker, the intrepid trekker and anyone in between. At national parks, such as Manuel Antonio, and private reserves, such as Monteverde, trails are clearly marked and well signed. Guides are also readily available. Experienced hikers might consider more strenuous trips. Summiting Cerro Chirripó or traversing the steamy jungles of the Osa Peninsula are not for the faint of heart, but they’re some of the most rewarding experiences the country has to offer.

●    Surfing
From sleepy, hippie beach towns like Nosara to the raucous Tamarindo and boho-chic Mal País, Costa Rica’s warm waters and pristine waves helped put it on the surfing map. If you’re already a pro, you likely have heard of world-class breaks like Pavones or Salsa Brava; if you’re just getting started, nearly every coastal town has a couple of surf schools where you can learn the basics. 

●    White-Water Rafting
The best part of rafting in Costa Rica, arguably, isn’t the thrill. It’s the setting. Between jostling through white-knuckle rapids and gratefully catching your breath on calm stretches of river, you’ll be treated to misty cloud forests, brooding cliffs and, if you’re lucky, a rare sighting of a toucan or a scarlet macaw.

Backroads Pro Tip

The Pacuare and Sarapiquí Rivers offer some of the country’s best river-rafting. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, go in the rainy season. That’s when the rivers run highest. If you’re more in the mood for a laid-back float, head down in the dry season to the calmer rivers near Manuel Antonio. You can also change tack entirely and sign up for a kayaking trip through the canals of Parque Tortuguero. Sea turtle sightings are practically guaranteed.

 

●    Wildlife
Costa Rica covers .03 percent of the earth’s surface but contains a stunning 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Sure, most of that’s bugs and plants, but you also get a whole lot of iridescent birds, smiling sloths, cackling spider monkeys and baby sea turtles. The birdwatching, in particular, is legendary. Monteverde might be the most popular spot, but if you’re willing to go off the beaten track, check out Parque Corcovado in the jungles of the Osa Peninsula.

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