This article was last updated on 3/28/2020.
While December through April is the most common target timeframe (based on the weather), January and February are quite possibly the most favorable times to travel to Costa Rica if you’re looking to avoid the rainy season and holiday/spring break crowds.
However, your time of year to visit mostly depends on what you’d like to see, what your budget is, and when you have time to travel. Visiting from May to November offers lower prices and occasional rain (but still plenty of sunshine).
Temperatures are typically between 75° and 82° year-round. It all depends on your goals for your trip, whether that be targeting the best weather or the best prices.
There are three primary travel seasons in Costa Rica based on weather: high/peak season, shoulder season and green/low season. Each season will affect the availability and price of lodging, types of activities available, festivals, and other events. Keep this in mind when planning your itinerary, whether it be a family trip, a honeymoon, or an adventure vacation where you have specific destinations and activities in mind.
Everyone should visit the rainforest on their trip, and you should expect some rain when going on excursions. It’s only natural! We recommend that you review the weather patterns and climate zones throughout Costa Rica. Travelers looking to avoid the rain as much as possible should plan their trips according to the appropriate weather patterns and seasons. It’s best to let itinerary designers guide your decisions.
Note: Although Costa Rica has temporarily closed its borders due to the Coronavirus, what better way to take your mind off things in the midst of everything that’s going on than to plan a trip to this beautiful country in the future. Once we get through this pandemic and can return to life as we once knew it and resume international travel, we’re here to help you determine when to plan your trip.
Complete Guide to Determining When To Visit Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Seasons: Dry Season | Rainy Season | Shoulder Season
- Monthly Breakdown
- During the Holidays
- Costs & Crowds
- Considerations for Family Trips
- Considerations for Honeymoons
- Popular Events, Holidays & Festivals
- When to See Wildlife
- Seasonal Activities
- Popular Locations & Attractions
Visiting Costa Rica During the Dry Season & Spring Break
The dry season (and tourist peak season) in Costa Rica begins around the United States Thanksgiving holiday, in late November. The peak tourist season lasts from mid to late April (spring break in the US). The summer or dry season tends to begin in January and extends into April.
The tourism’s peak season schedule is driven by school vacation schedules so that the entire family can travel together. It also happens to be right around the time that people from up north are seeking warmer, summer-like conditions. Aside from mid-November through December, this time frame coincides with summer (the “dry season”) in Costa Rica, which for the most part means a lot less rain during your travels through the country.
The weather for the last couple of weeks in November and the month of December can be hard to predict. There are years when the rain is prevalent and others when the sunshine dominates. While this time of the year is considered to be part of the summer season, it’s necessary to understand that the weather can be unpredictable during the end of November and the beginning of December. You must be prepared for both rain and sunshine.
Visiting Costa Rica During the Rainy Season
The months of September into December tend to be wet and rainy throughout most of Costa Rica. The Guanacaste region, along with the Pacific Coast and Central Valley, tends to experience wetter days. While the sunshine does come out, mostly in the mornings, this is the best time of the year to take a budget-friendly trip to Costa Rica. Not only are the prices lower, but there are fewer travelers here.
Contrary to the rest of Costa Rica, the Caribbean Coast experiences gorgeous weather during the months of September and October. The lesser-visited Caribbean or ‘Limon’ Coast has sunny skies, calm blue waters, and scorching hot temperatures during these two months and tends to be the location of choice for those visiting at this time of the year. A trip through the mountains of the Caribbean slope to the coast during these two months is one of the best-kept secrets and offers travelers an alternative to the rain.
Visiting Costa Rica and its magnificent ecotourism attractions during the green season can be a wonderful experience. Rivers run higher, the rainforest becomes a little more mystical, and even Guanacaste’s dry forests turn green and lush. During this season, throughout most of the country, it rains at nearly the same time every day. For this reason, planning activities and outings are highly possible.
Driving can sometimes be difficult during the green season due to the lack of bridges and poor road conditions. Many of the more unkempt roads can become nearly impassable, although a professionally designed itinerary combined with professional transportation services can help you reduce the probability of getting stuck.
Visiting Costa Rica During the Shoulder Season
Costa Rica’s shoulder or “green season”, is the third season within the travel industry, and it is a wonderful time of year to travel. This term is currently used to refer to the timeframe from May through mid-August. Generally speaking, this time of year coincides with the summer vacation for schools in the United States and Canada.
June and July are very busy months with family vacations and student travel groups. May and August tend to be less busy, attracting visitors who have flexibility with their travel dates.
The typical weather pattern during these months consists of morning sunshine into the early afternoon. The sun gives way to clouds and tropical thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. These storms can pass through an area rather quickly, other times they can stay into the night. A full day of sunshine and/or a full day of rain is not out of the question either but is not normal during these months.
The ‘green season’ offers a great blend of the summer and rainy season and while you should expect rain, you should get your fair share of sunshine as well.
Here is a breakdown of what it will be like in Costa Rica by month. This insight will help you in your research, but you can also contact us for one-on-one help with planning your trip.
January is the first truly dry month of the Costa Rican dry season. The first half of the month is also great from the perspective of weather but it tends to be somewhat crowded and peak season surcharges can make the first week one of the most expensive all year. The second half of January is one of the most popular times for a Costa Rica vacation. Learn more.
February is the heart of the dry season for Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches & Central Valley (San José, Alajuela, etc.) There is almost no rain in the western and central regions of Costa Rica. In February, visitors will experience sunny & hot weather – perfect for your mid-winter Costa Rica Escape. When the rain comes, it typically showers in the afternoon, evening or overnight. The chance of rain on the Caribbean side is still fairly high; however, this region of the country still receives plenty of sunshine, too. Many say that February is a great month for a trip. Learn more.
March falls right in the middle of Costa Rica’s dry season. This is also the month for Spring Break in the United States, which means you may notice lots of family vacations and student group trips through Costa Rica. During the month of March, travelers can expect plenty of sun, very low amounts of rain, and a drier climate overall.
Sometimes, in Guanacaste, there can be small forest fires that release smoke into the air. In other regions, many trees are flowering, resulting in an amazing “color-changing” season for visitors. Learn more.
April is pushing towards the end of the Costa Rican dry season. Temperatures are ideal throughout the country in April; very hot & sunny on the beaches with slightly cooler temperatures in the mountains and the central valley where San José is located. What little rain falls usually comes in the afternoon, evening or overnight. Many travelers are surprised to find that Guanacaste’s Pacific Northwest region looks more like a desert than a jungle. Learn more.
May is the beginning of the “shoulder season” which means the weather is changing from dry to rainy in Costa Rica and the weather is a bit more unpredictable. As you might guess, the weather starts out dry but by late May rainy season weather patterns are in greater effect. Especially with Costa Rica’s weather, there’s no way to predict this precisely. The rains begin earlier on the Caribbean coast, where it is generally wetter all year round, except during the Caribbean summer in September and October. May is a great transition period for travelers as they return to school after Spring Break but before summer vacation. The beaches and lowlands experience high temperatures, while mid-elevations, like the Central Valley & San José, are 5-10 degrees cooler. Temperatures at high elevations (such as Monteverde and Chirripó) can be 20 or even 30 degrees cooler. Learn more.
June is a transition month for the weather in Costa Rica, but it is considered part of the “green season”. The majority of the rain showers in June fall in the afternoon, evening or overnight. There is plenty of sunshine in the mornings and the beaches are excellent early in the day. This month tends to be a busier month for travelers due to summer vacation schedules in the United States and Europe. Once again, you can expect to see many Costa Rica family vacations & volunteer groups traveling through Costa Rica in June. In June the rainy season usually hits the Caribbean a little earlier than the Pacific. Learn more.
July is smack-dab, right in the middle of Costa Rica’s rainy season. However, during July, Costa Rica experiences a short mid-year, mini-dry season. This “veranillo” or “little summer” as it is called in Costa Rica, typically takes place sometime between mid to late July and the beginning of August. Rainfall decreases significantly for three or four weeks especially in the northern Pacific and is replaced by endless sunshine and impressive sunsets. The entire month of July is a great time to visit, with hot sunny days to enjoy the beach and afternoon and evening rains to cool off so that you can enjoy the evening. Due to student travel & school schedules, there are still numerous Costa Rica family vacations taking place at this time of the year. Learn more.
August is in the middle of the rainy season but there is a lull in the rain at the end of July and the beginning of August. This is especially true in Guanacaste. The Caribbean side is solidly in the rainy season weather pattern with some rain nearly every afternoon and/or evening. August is a great time of year in Costa Rica if you have some flexibility in your schedule. August tends to be a quieter month and there are often deals to be found throughout the country, which can be great for honeymoon vacations where couples want a more relaxed atmosphere, don’t mind a little precipitation and are on a budget. Learn more.
September and October are very rainy months in Costa Rica, specifically on the western side of the country and through the mountain ranges. Expect rain if exploring the beaches on the Pacific coast and also the Central Valley. There will oftentimes be mornings filled with sunshine that succumb to rain later in the day, so mornings are ideal for outdoor activities. Extensive rainfalls and windy conditions are common in the Osa Peninsula and Southern Pacific coastal areas. During this time, lodging and tourist activities are often suspended until Thanksgiving timeframe. The Caribbean side of the country gets a break in September and October. These months generally bring clear weather especially in the southern Atlantic beach areas of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo. Learn more about the months of September and October.
The weather in November is a roll of the dice. In an average year, the northern and central beaches, as well as the mountains, will get significant rainfall on most days. They typically enjoy a pattern of sunny mornings and days with most of the showers in the afternoon or evening. Early in the month the southern Pacific and the Osa Peninsula are still quite rainy. Lodges and tour operators that have shut down during the exceptionally wet months of September and October resume operations as the weather begins to dry towards the end of the month. The end of November and the United States holiday of Thanksgiving begins another busy travel season. Learn more.
December is another transitional month for weather and it is quite unpredictable. The Central Valley usually enjoys the crisp freshness of the “vientos navideños” or “Christmas winds” starting in early December. The month begins slowly with lower prices and low hotel occupancy. The first two weeks of December are a great time to enjoy Costa Rica all to yourself. By the holidays, the high season has begun, hotels have a tendency to sell out at very high, peak season prices and excursions and adventures are fully booked. Learn more.
Visiting Costa Rica During the Holidays
The super-high season for tourism has little to do with the weather in Costa Rica, but more with demand in the country based on vacation schedules for foreigners and visitors.
The two to three weeks around Christmas & New Year’s are extremely busy for the travel industry in Costa Rica. Oftentimes demand exceeds supply during this timeframe and people who start their planning later are left with few or no options for their trip. For this reason alone, if you want to plan a Holiday trip to Costa Rica – start early! Easter Break or Semana Santa also experiences a bustle, but for the most part, super-peak season encompasses the holiday break in December & January. In general, visiting during the high and super-high seasons means that prices will be higher; however, much of the pricing compares favorably to many other tropical tourist destinations throughout the world during this time period, such as Hawaii.
Many hotels, activities, and points of interest might be slightly more crowded, but Costa Rica has a plethora of amazing tour options to choose from within close proximity no matter where you are in the country. In many cases, certain parks or attractions limit the number of visitors allowed to avoid an overcrowded or unenjoyable experience or for conservation purposes.
How to Factor in Costs & Crowds?
In Costa Rica, a high cost of travel and crowds go hand in hand. The reason for that is that both international and national tourism coincide. So if you are looking to avoid both those issues, and you have flexible travel time, you are in luck.
Costa Ricans usually take time to visit touristy parts of the country around New Year and Easter, when most of the people have time off work, therefore the cost and availability of lodging raises, especially in beach towns on both coasts. But also, many Costa Ricans won’t be deterred by the high cost of lodging in order to enjoy the best weather of the year outdoors so they will opt for very rustic accommodations and camping or for doing day trips adding a lot of pressure to the crowd factor.
January and July will also be crowded around Costa Rica, not only because of the good weather, but also because it coincides with school holidays in Costa Rica, the USA, and Europe.
Between December and April, Costa Rica experiences what is called the High Season when most international travelers visit. Lodging prices, especially, are higher those months with the aforementioned picks around New Year and Easter. Starting in February, things feel less crowded, especially during the week, because Costa Rica school year starts and families have less flexibility to travel.
The Low Season is when you can find the lowest prices for everything, from food to activities, and the most availability. This season happens during the rainy season, when fewer visitors travel to Costa Rica in fear of having less time to explore outdoors during the day, and also because the weather is nice in the northern hemisphere, keeping visitors in those parts of the world.
If you are flexible in time (and spirit) when traveling, consider visiting Costa Rica during those months. Yes, you will experience rain, sometimes torrential rain, but it will only be for a few hours each day and you will see every forest around the country in its most lush state.
When is the Best Time for Family Trips?
Depending on what each family’s school and work schedule looks like, family vacations in Costa Rica can be scheduled and thoroughly enjoyed at most times of the year.
Many North American and European families prefer to visit Costa Rica during the holidays from December to January to trade the dark winter of the Northern Hemisphere for sunshine in paradise. If you schedule your visit over the holidays, make sure to plan ahead, as accommodation is scarce at this time of year and can get pricey.
Another favorite time of year for families is the months of June to early September when many students in North America and Europe are out for their summer holidays. This season should not be avoided on account of the rains, as you are guaranteed many hours of sunshine and heat every day in most parts of the country, and you will surely be able to enjoy lots of green season discounts on tours and accommodation.
Families with babies or adult children who are not bound by school or work schedules might want to consider any time from January to April when the dry season is at its best but Costa Rica’s tourism hotspots are not overly crowded.
When is the Best Time for Honeymoons?
As you may have guessed, the optimal time to celebrate love and honeymoon in Costa Rica is…always! Couples might be swayed by the obvious perks of visiting the country during the dry months from November to April, mainly endless doses of sunshine. Also, those intending to splurge on their honeymoons might have less of a problem with the high prices that characterize the peak season. Couples planning on a dry season honeymoon should book their accommodation well in advance to ensure that they get their top picks, as this season books out well in advance.
It doesn’t rain every day during the rainy season, and staying indoors should be no problem for honeymooners, so a rainy season visit to Costa Rica could also be attractive. Besides, nothing is as romantic as looking out into a lightning storm at sea from the cozy comfort of an ocean view balcony, and enjoying the morning sunshine while snuggling indoors for a bunch of lazy afternoons could translate into honeymoon bliss. All this, while taking advantage of green season discounts (in accommodations and tours) sounds like an unbeatable deal.
When are Popular Events, Holidays & Festivals?
You can find different local festivities and activities in Costa Rica all year round, and these events can make your trip to Costa Rica extra special! Here are some suggestions.
December & Early January in San José
The end of the year is very exciting in San José. Two counties organize big festivities that include bullfights and carnival parades!
Fiestas de Zapote
In the county of Zapote, just a couple of km east of downtown San José, starting December 25th you can find carnival rides, dance tracks, a bullfight ring, and lots of food stands. These festivities, called “Fiestas de Zapote” last until after the first weekend of January and will gather a lot of Costa Ricans every night, including families that come with their kids to enjoy the rides and the food.
Fiestas de San José
The Municipality of San José organizes three major parades in December, they start at La Sabana Park, take over Paseo Colón and end at the east end of Second Avenue. The first one happens the second Saturday of December and it is called the Festival of Lights, a nighttime parade with floats covered in lights, bands, and other entertainers. December 26th is the horse parade where riders from all over the country come to show their priced horses. December 27th there is a carnival, with bands and dancers from all over the country.
January Around the Country
January has the perfect weather for outdoor festivities.
Fiestas de Palmares
The town of Palmares, 54 km north-west of San José, organizes every January their town festival, which includes temporary dance tracks, bars, carnival rides, a horse parade, a carnival parade, and a bullfight ring. This two-week-long festival is known for its nighttime party ambiance, when Ticos from all over Costa Rica get organized and come in buses to drink and dance all night long.
Fiestas de Santa Cruz
In Guanacaste, the town of Santa Cruz also organizes a week-long festival, famous around the country for its great ambiance. They also have dance tracks, bars, carnival rides, and bullfights. But this festival is in honor of the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas, therefore you can also enjoy processions and religious activities.
Baile de los diablitos
In the south of the country, at the Boruca indigenous community, you can enjoy a very unique festival called Baile de los Diablitos (Little Devils Dance). This three-day-long festival, starting December 31st, remembers the fight between Indigenous and Spaniards during colonial times, using devil-like masks to represent the Indigenous people and a bull to represent the Spaniards. The disguised men parade all over the community eating and drinking chicha, fermented corn typical drink.
April in Alajuela
The national hero of Costa Rica, Juan Santamaría, is celebrated every April 11th in the town of Alajuela with a big parade worthy of your time. Schools from all over the province bring their marching bands and other groups to walk the main streets of Alajuela.
July in Puntarenas & Guanacaste
Virgin of the Seas Festival
On July 16th dozens of fishing boats leave the docks of Puntarenas decorated with flags, balloons, and ribbons to follow the boat that has the image of the Virgen del Carmen on board, known as Virgin of the Seas in Puntarenas. This procession at sea is very impressive to watch, either from the beach or from a boat.
Also, the town of Puntarenas will have carnival rides, food stands, and other activities during the weekend around July 16th to make the event an even bigger party.
Annexation of Guanacaste
The province of Guanacaste was its own territory during colonial times. When Central America got its independence from Spain, Guanacaste decided it wanted to be part of Costa Rica. This important decision for the future of Guanacaste and Costa Rica is celebrated at the end of every July with a big festival in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste, and with special ceremonies in every school around the country on July 25th.
The festival in Liberia has dance tracks, bars, carnival rides, concerts, horse parades and more.
September All Over the Country
Costa Rica celebrates its Independence Day on September 15th. Every single county in Costa Rica will hold a parade on the morning of the 15th with marching bands and other entertainers from the schools and high schools of the county. Schools prepare for this parade months in advance to give the best show they can to the people that gather on the sidewalks of the community to watch them pass by.
October in Limón
Limon’s Carnival is a celebration of the afro-Caribbean culture of Costa Rica. It starts on October 12th with a big parade to celebrate all the different ethnic groups that live in Limón and goes on for one week.
When to See Wildlife?
Costa Rica is a blessed country when it comes to seeing wildlife. You could spot monkeys taking a nap on a tree, a sloth hanging from a branch while it eats, or a flock of macaws squeaking while they fly across the beach any time of year just by driving around.
If you are interested in seeing animals like turtles or whales, then plan your trip around their seasons.
Turtle Spawning Seasons
There are sea turtle breeding sites on both Costa Rican coasts for five of the six turtle species in the world.
On the Caribbean Coast, especially in Tortuguero, you have a good chance to see four species of nesting turtles from March until October, and between May and December, you might also get lucky and see baby turtles running towards the sea. The first turtles to come and nest are Leatherbacks and Hawksbill. Then come the Loggerhead, and the Green.
Different beaches on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica host nesting sites for Hawksbill, Leatherback, Green, and Olive Ridley sea turtles. You can find at least one active nesting site all year long. Ostional beach is a very special place because of every month host arribadas (arrivals in English) of hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles that come to nest. Playa Grande is a known Leatherback nesting site where a few hundred turtles come to nest between October and March.
Whale Watching Seasons
The waters of Costa Rica’s Pacific ocean are transit and breeding sites for whales coming from the northern and the southern hemispheres. Humpback whales from Alaska and California can be spotted between December and March. Between July and October, the Antarctic Humpback Whales are the ones visiting.
What Seasonal Activities Should You Consider?
Hiking during the dry season might be easier because there is no rain to worry about, but it can also be very hot. During the rainy season, it will be best to hike during the morning, when there is, usually, fewer chances of rain.
If you want to enjoy the sun and the ocean all day long, visit the beaches of the Pacific during the dry season. During the rainy season, there will most definitely be rain every afternoon and some remote areas can be hard to get to, or out of!
The Caribbean coast is rainy all year round, but you can find more sun and calmer waters between September and October.
During the dry season, many bird watchers visit Costa Rica because during this time that birds come out more frequently, can be heard singing nearly everywhere, and visibility is much better. But if you are interested in sighting migratory birds the best time to do so is between September and November.
There isn’t really a “best season” for surfing in Costa Rica since there is a swell year-round. The Pacific coast is best for swell size from May through September when big south swells come through, but December through April has frequent offshore winds and is best for quality. The Caribbean is a little less predictable, but the North American winter and hurricane season are good times to try and catch some waves.
What about Popular Locations & Attractions?
If you study different trip itineraries for Costa Rica, you will notice a few locations and activities that keep on repeating, no matter who organizes the trip. The reason, simple, they are just too good to be missed.
For example, when it comes to combining beach and wildlife spotting, and also some nightlife, you have to visit Manuel Antonio.
If you are interested in experiencing the rainforest at its best, in a peaceful and secluded place, you have to visit Drake Bay and even consider a real exploration of Corcovado National Park. Also very wild but less secluded is Puerto Jiménez, on the inside of the Osa Península, facing the Golfo Dulce.
One of the best places to experience the cloud forest and also the rural life in Costa Rica is Monteverde, in the highlands of Puntarenas.
The best place to enjoy the Caribbean life and Afro-Caribbean culture of Costa Rica is Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the south Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. A very special place, where cars don’t exist and life goes at a slower pace is Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
The beaches in Guanacaste are beautiful, but a very special one is Nosara, where perfect waves, spectacular, uncrowded beaches, and amazing accommodations and amenities will make you wish you can stay forever. Playa Conchal, Playa Sámara, and Playa Hermosa are also amazing beaches in the Nicoya Península that you must consider for your visit.
So, When Should You Plan Your Trip?
We can answer that question in so many different ways! It all depends on what you envision for your dream vacation in Costa Rica. We at Costa Rica Escapes are experts when it comes to enjoying this beautiful country, so let us help you plan the perfect trip at the perfect time for you.