Costa Rica’s tropical climate can roughly be divided into two seasons – the dry months from December through to April and the wet period from May to November. But when deciding on the best time to visit Costa Rica, keep in mind that the weather does vary between regions.
The northwestern province of Guanacaste tends to have a longer dry season than other places, while the southern Caribbean coast can experience rain throughout the year. Higher humidity levels are generally experienced here and along the Northern Plains in comparison to the North Pacific coast.
Temperatures vary widely with elevation, dropping significantly at night in the cool-climate mountains. At Costa Rica’s highest elevations (3,000 to 3,600 meters/9,840 to 11,808 feet), frost is not uncommon.
Dry season (December to April)
The dry season is considered by many to be the best time to visit Costa Rica, with plenty of sunshine for relaxing on the beaches and favorable conditions for exploring its lush rainforests. For those wanting to visit Poas Volcano, the views are at their clearest during the dry season (as they tend to get fogged in during the rainy months), while you’ll have the best chance of soaking up the views towards both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts if you’re trekking Mount Chirripo.
The visibility while snorkeling or diving on Costa Rica’s reefs tend to be much better during the dry season, with runoff during the “wet” clouding the water, while the trails throughout the national parks are blissfully mud-free. Traveling during this period is a much safer option, as you won’t have to worry about your travel plans being altered due to flooded roads or heavy downpours.
That being said, the dry season ushers in the majority of tourists, with North American and European visitors arriving to escape the cold winters back home. Many hotels and resorts increase their prices accordingly due to the heightened demand. You should book accommodation and tours well ahead of time and be prepared to share the country’s natural beauty with plenty of other visitors.
Keep in mind that many local Costa Ricans are also on vacation in the week leading up to Christmas until just after New Years. That’s also the case around Semana Santa (Holy Week), with the beach towns getting particularly busy as locals flock to soak up the sun, surf and sand.
December not only heralds in the Christmas festivities (with the Festival de las Luces illuminating San Jose in lights), but it’s also marked by the capital’s carnival on December 27, with large floats and live music parading through the streets.
Head to Boruca around December 8 for Los Negritos Fiestas which combines both traditional indigenous beliefs with Catholic rituals. Or participate in Los Diablitos Festival which reenacts battles between the Spanish colonial forces and indigenous peoples from December 30.
After the New Year is heralded in with street parties and fireworks, the Palmares Fiestas take place in the first month of January, with live music, folklore dancing and bullfights. Then head to Alajuela or Santa Cruz for their oxcart parades and parties honoring the Black Christ of Esquipulas.
The Sun Festival at the end of February celebrates the Mayan New Year, while Guanacaste honors its folkloric traditions during the Liberia Fiestas. San Jose comes alive with colorfully painted oxcarts for the Dia de los Boyeros on the second Sunday of March, with traditional parades and live music.
In addition to the religious parades of Semana Santa, April is also marked by Juan Santamaria Day when Costa Rica’s national hero is celebrated with music and dancing.
Wet season (May to November)
Often referred to as the “green season”, Costa Rica’s wet period sees the majority of the country’s rainfall, with the foliage transforming a lush green. While some areas receive more consistent showers, in many areas they appear only in the late afternoon or evening and last just a few hours.
The Caribbean coastline tends to experience rain until around September or October when the skies start to dry out, while these can be the rainiest months in other parts of the country. Some unpaved roads can become impassable during this period, making travel to remote areas more difficult, while trekking trails can get incredibly muddy after repeated downpours. Unless you’re feeling really adventurous, avoid traveling during these two months when you may get prolonged periods of rain with little respite to get out and about.
Somewhere around June, July or August, there’s usually a brief pause in the showers and tourists flock in to take advantage of the favorable weather. These months see a sharp peak in accommodation prices, with many of the most popular hotels and resorts booking out well in advance.
The months of May and November are the best time to visit Costa Rica if you’re on a budget, with hotel and resort prices still reduced, far fewer other tourists to compete with and reasonable weather conditions. Rivers tend to be at their best for white water rafting and many waterfalls are at full force, while temperature levels can be more comfortable than during the dry season.
Head to Liberia in July for the Annexation of Guanacaste festivities which feature bullfights, parades and partying well into the night. Or indulge in everything mango-related during Alajuela’s Mango Fiestas at the end of July when it honors this delicious fruit.
August heralds in one of Costa Rica’s biggest religious holidays when pilgrims march (many on their knees) to Los Angeles Basilica in Cartago to pay their respects to La Negrita. While the flame of independence arrives in this former capital the following month to mark Costa Rica’s independence from Spain.
Head to Puerto Viejo at the start of October for its week-long Carnaval or to Limon during the second weekend of October when their parades and floats hit the streets. This month is also marked by the annual Maiz Festival in Upala which honors the humble corn through costume parades and beauty pageants.
Costa Rica’s Dia de los Inocentes takes place at the start of November when people pay their respects to loved ones who have passed away, while a coffee picking contest takes place mid-November in the Central Valley region, accompanied by traditional music and dancing.