You Seasonal Travel Guide to Costa Rica
Boasting more than 20 micro climates and an eclectic array of landscapes, Costa Rica is very much a year-round destination. Having said that, there are some instances when a particular month is more enticing for a particular activity so the best time to visit will highly depend on whatever fun adventures you wish to have in Pura-Vida-land. The western and eastern halves of the country, moreover, tend to boast opposing ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ seasons so when it’s pouring down on one side, you’ll likely enjoy dry days in the other.
We’ve divided our Seasonal Travel Guide to Costa Rica into the most coveted activities and destinations, to make it easier for you to ascertain when you should be planning your own adventure vacation.
Best Climate (Less Rain)
Dry season on Costa Rica’s most visited side (the western Pacific coast side) falls between December and April and, given the first two months coincide with the Christmas holiday period, and the last with the busy Easter holiday, it also makes it the busiest and most expensive time of year to travel. Dry days are quite blissful here because, given the sheer wild nature of the country, rain can seriously disrupt extensive road travel. Busy season means you must book your trip, your activities and accommodation way ahead of time if you hope to nab your favorite preferences: you can always ‘swing’ a trip to Costa Rica at the last minute, as long as you’re happy to simply accept the choices available during high season.
The good news however, if you’re not a fan of big crowds and higher prices, is that there’s always a corner of the country that’s just perfect at whatever time you wish to visit and that, even in rain season, you can have a magical trip, mostly if you choose to explore only two areas thus reducing your need to cover long distances.
Animal spotting is generally much better during rain season and this is especially true if you’re dreaming of marine life watching. The Ostional beaches in the Nicoya Peninsula welcome mass arribadas of nesting turtles in September and October whilst on the Caribbean side, you can catch them nesting at Tortuguero National Park from as early as May. For exceptional whale watching boat trips, you’ll want to head to the Marino Ballena Marine Park in August and September, when migrating humpbacks (and more) sail by for a few months on their way south.
There’s no denying that rains have a refreshing and nurturing effect on the wilderness of Costa Rica and although the effects of the rains do remain for a couple of months after rain season ends, they don’t extend much beyond that. February may be a perfect month to soak up the sun on pristine sandy beaches but for resplendent foliage in rainforests and all national parks, rainy season tours just can’t be beaten.
Particularly beautiful is the month immediately following the first rains, when wildflowers bloom, wildlife is out in force and it seems every single bird in the country is singing its little heart out in absolute delight.
Best Value For Money
The rainy season also wins this round, offering amazing value for your adventure money. Fewer crowds and lower prices mean you can stay longer or upgrade your usual ‘luxury level’ so you can splurge on luxury lodges for just a portion of their usual, high-season prices. Visitors also love the fact that rainy season offers options for last-minute trips and even last-minute changes to the itinerary, once there. Plus, when you fly outside of the Christmas, Easter and Summer holiday vacation times, you can save a neat bundle on airfares too. Just keep an eye out for July and August travel: it may still be rainy season here but this is prime vacation period for North Americans and Europeans, so expect a slight surge in crowds and prices during these two particular months.
Zip-lining is one of the many activities in Costa Rica that can be enjoyed all year long: if you happen to be visiting during the quieter rainy season, however, you might just want to ensure you’re up and flying early in the morning. Tropical downpours usually occur in the early afternoon, so your mornings will likely be just fine. Moreover, there are zip-lining tours on offer in just about every corner of the country
Surfing & Beach Combing
To be honest, we love beach combing in Costa Rica at any time of year but it’s true that if you only have a week to spend down here, you’ll want the highest chances of perfectly clear skies and good underwater visibility for water sports. Head here from mid-November to April to ensure perfectly clear skies and pristine beach conditions – just the ideal antidote to freezing northern-hemisphere winter blues. Do note that this is very much a tropical country: dry season means there’s usually little chance of rain but you’ll always run the chance of a refreshing downpour, occasionally. Trust us, you’ll love it!
Many people recommend visiting during the rainy season because, although you’ll possibly have fewer hours of pristine beach conditions, you’ll find beaches uncrowded and peacefully quiet. Whilst that’ll all well and true, Costa Rica is actually home to so many beaches off the beaten path, that finding a quiet nook is really not all that difficult. Yes, even in dry season.
Oh, now here’s a lovely conundrum: hiking, in general, is best done when trails are dry (so head here in dry season) however, given that the most spectacular hiking trails are to gorgeous waterfalls, you’ll enjoy more overwhelming water flow if you head here during the rainy season instead. Muddy trails and gushing waterfalls? Or dry trails and milder waterfalls? You decide!
By and large, however, hiking is best done during the dry season yet considering this means higher temps, you’ll really want to have your boots laced up straight after an early breakfast. Dry season is dreamy in a lot of ways but in some areas of Costa Rica the temps can get into the high-90s, so you will want to be at your most active early in the morning.
The rains between May and October do bring the temps down quite a bit but they also increase the humidity levels to at-times overwhelming levels. Whilst the dry season months are somewhat easier on the body, it isn’t too hard to get used to the humidity: simply pack plenty of bug repellent and enjoy your (literal) immersion into jungle life. The pros of rainy season travel are so many that bypassing a trip at this time for a bit of extra humidity is simply not worth it!
While it’s true that rainier months can cause havoc on Costa Rica’s roads, it’s also true that regional airports make it easy to reach remote regions that have been temporarily cut off, like the Osa Peninsula. This incredible wild haven of wildlife is just a peach of off-grid adventures, with rainy months offering magnificent wildlife watching. If you’re more into wilderness rather than laying-by-the-beach trips, then the Osa is quite perfect for rain season trips, especially if you can opt to fly in. Just note that September is about the best month to visit whilst October the rainiest one of all. Given that the Osa is remote and somewhat more expensive, this can also make for a much cheaper indulgence in a gorgeous eco-lodge – you may even get the whole place all to yourself. How magical would that be?
The eastern Caribbean coast typically sees a lot more rain all year round although for two months, in September and October, things dry up pretty well. Puerto Viejo makes for a wonderful base to explore the coast and nearby national parks and, in October, it enjoys its short and sweet dry season. Given this is a remote region of the country and lesser visited anyway, it’s just perfect to visit at this time. Dodge the rains of the west and explore a pristine part of Costa Rica? Win-win!
Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking
River-based adventure sports like rafting and kayaking are best enjoyed when rivers are flowing healthily so head to Costa Rica during the rainy season to enjoy thrilling adventures. Having said that, however, lower river levels are quite ideal for slower and more laid-back adventures, perfect for beginners.
Most people will often worry excessively about the rain in Costa Rica, probably because they obsess over weather apps that’ll show a rain cloud for an entire day when, in reality, it only rains for 2 hours of an afternoon. Even in dry season, if we get a 10-minute sprinkle, our weather app will show a rain cloud, all day long. How crazy! There’s something to be said for some (technological) blissful ignorance here: just plan your adventure vacation in Costa Rica at a time of year when it suits you best and we promise to help you plan an AMAZING adventure in this crazy playground of ours.
See our complete collection of adventure vacations in Costa Rica and don’t forget that we can help you plan a custom-made itinerary, set to your desires and budget, t whatever time of year you wish to visit.