Best time to visit Costa Rica

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Deciding the best time to visit Costa Rica depends on what you want to get out of your trip. If you want beach days and outdoor adventures, then the dry season (mid-December to April) is the obvious answer. That said, this is the most popular time to visit, which means busy coastal resorts and higher prices.

If you don't mind getting a little wet, visit Costa Rica between May and November when accommodation prices are low. Rain showers pause during June and July, offering a brief window for wildlife-spotting. Travellers keen to head off the beaten track should avoid September and October. This is when the rain is at its heaviest and the remote areas are inaccessible by road.

You may want to time your trip with one of the country’s vibrant festivals. Costa Rica has many holidays and feriados. These can be a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions.

Read our guide to the country’s weather and advice on when to visit Costa Rica.

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December to April. The dry season boasts plenty of sunshine, making it an ideal time for wildlife-spotting, lounging on beaches and outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and whitewater rafting.

Peak season is the most popular (and expensive) time to travel to Costa Rica. If you travel then, you should weigh up the weather against the cost and the crowds. Bear in mind that you’ll have to book accommodation around three months in advance to secure a room.

Before you decide when to go to Costa Rica, you should check out the country’s festival programme. From the colourful parades and street parties of Limón Carnival to big events commemorating Costa Rica’s independence, festivals bring the country to life with music and dancing.

All banks, post offices, museums and government offices close on public holidays. Provincial holidays, such as Independence Day in Guanacaste (July 25) and the Limón Carnival (the week preceding October 12), affect local services only, but have a serious impact, with municipal shutdowns.

Best month to visit Costa Rica

November, April (after Easter) and May are the best months to visit Costa Rica, when the rains have either just started or just died off, and the country is refreshed, green and relatively untouristy.

What is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica for turtle-spotting?

Five species of marine turtle visit Costa Rica’s shores: greens, hawksbills, leatherbacks and olive ridleys, and the strange blunt-nosed loggerhead. The loggerhead seems not to nest in Costa Rica, but can sometimes be seen in Caribbean coastal waters.

Turtle nesting takes place mostly at night, when hundreds of turtles come ashore at a certain time of year. The turtles tend to visit the same beach each time and lay hundreds of thousands of eggs.

The best time of year to visit Costa Rica for turtle-spotting varies, depending on the species. Loggerhead turtles come ashore at Parque Nacionale Marino Las Baulas on the western Nicoya Peninsula from October to February. Alternatively, you can see them at Parque Nacionale Tortuguero and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve from March to May.

A little later in the year, from July to October, green turtles return to their favoured nesting grounds in Tortuguero, with some turtles travelling 2000km to reach their breeding beaches. Hawksbills also come ashore at beaches in Tortuguero, Santa Rosa and Marino Ballena.

Just a few beaches along the Pacific coast, principally Playa Nancite in Santa Rosa and Ostional Wildlife Reserve, olive ridleys storm the sands in their thousands – unusually, often during the day. This event is known as an arribada, and it lasts from July up until November.

Weather in Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica lies between eight and eleven degrees north of the equator, the weather is governed by the vastly varying altitudes. Temperatures are by no means universally high and can plummet to below freezing at higher altitudes.

While planning when to go to Costa Rica, bear in mind local microclimates predominate. In the dense forests of the Caribbean coast and Northern Plains, you can expect high humidity and temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius year round. At the other end of the scale, in the North Pacific, expect lower humidity, but temperatures that regularly soar into the 30s during the dry season.

Weather in Costa Rica can be unpredictable, though to an extent you can depend upon the two-season rule. In the dry season (roughly mid-November to April), most areas are dry all day, with occasional northern winds blowing in during January or February. Otherwise, you can depend on sunshine and warm temperatures.

While the weather in Costa Rica takes its lead from the country’s close proximity to the equator, it’s also affected by vastly varying altitudes. This means that although Costa Rica lies between a balmy eight and eleven degrees north of the equator, temperatures are by no means universally high, and can plummet to below freezing at higher altitudes. Local microclimates predominate and can make the weather in Costa Rica unpredictable, though to an extent you can depend upon the two-season rule:

The wet season in Costa Rica

In the wet season (roughly May to mid-Nov), the weather in Costa Rica usually gives way to afternoon rains and sunny mornings. The rains are heaviest in September and October and, although they can be fierce, will impede you from travelling only in the more remote areas of the country – the Nicoya Peninsula especially – where dirt roads become impassable to all but the sturdiest 4WDs.

The dry season in Costa Rica

In the dry season (roughly mid-Nov to April), the weather in Costa Rica is mostly just that: dry all day, with occasional blustery northern winds blowing in during January or February and cooling things off; otherwise you can depend on sunshine and warm temperatures in many areas.

Average Temperature and Rainfall

We've put together an average temperature and rainfall chart to help give you a rough idea of what to expect of the weather in Costa Rica in any given month. We've looked at three of the country's most popular areas - each very different - to help you get an overall picture: San José, the capital, in the mid-west of the Central Valley; Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast; and Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast.

In the wet season (roughly May to mid-November), you can expect sunny mornings and afternoon rains.

When to visit Costa Rica in winter

From December to April, tourists flood the beach towns in search of sun, sea and sand. In San José, temperatures rarely dip below 20 degrees Celsius year round, while the Northern Plains and drier coast, like the Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste, see the mercury hover high in the 30s. Consequently, hotels are often booked solid and bargains are few and far between. Travel in the dry months and you'll also discover feriados country-wide, featuring bullfights, dancing and music.

Visiting Costa Rica in December and January

You’ll mostly enjoy warm, sunny days in Costa Rican winter – along with the rest of the tourist crowds. Be sure to book your accommodation at least three months ahead in order to reserve a room.

The week from Christmas to New Year is invariably a time of traffic nightmares, overcrowded beach towns and suspended transport services. That aside, January sees the vibrant Fiesta de Palmares unfold with a fortnight of dancing, music and horse parades, while the Puntarenas Carnival is a ten-day extravaganza around the middle of February.

Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Costa Rica

  • Christmas Week - The week before Christmas is commemorated in San José with fireworks, bullfights and funfairs.
  • December 25 - Christmas Day. Family-oriented celebrations with trips to the beach.
  • December 27 - San José Carnival. Huge parade with colourful floats and plenty of music.
  • January 1 - New Year’s Day. Celebrated with a big dance in San José’s Parque Central.

When to visit Costa Rica in spring

April (after Easter) to May is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica, at the tail end of the rainy season, when the crowds retreat from the sandy coastline.

Spring is a popular time for music festivals in Costa Rica. March kicks off with Monteverde Music Fest, when national and international musicians gather in the cloudforest town for a month of song and dance. Alajuela’s annual Festival Imperial follows, attracting a crowd of over 30,000 to the biggest rock festival in Costa Rica.

Easter is widely celebrated across Costa Rica, starting with country-wide processions to mark Ash Wednesday. In Guanacaste, they’re marked by horse, cow and bull parades; with bullfights (in which the bull is not harmed) in Liberia.

The dates for Holy Week (Semana Santa) vary annually, but be aware that businesses will often close for the entire week preceding Easter weekend. In particular, don’t try to travel anywhere during Easter Week: the whole country shuts down from Holy Thursday until after Easter Monday, and buses don’t run.

Spring festivals and public holidays in Costa Rica

  • Second Sunday in March - El Día de los Boyeros.

    The Escazú barrio of San José celebrates the historical importance of oxcart drivers with colourful parades of painted oxcarts and driving competitions, plus plenty of traditional food and dancing.

  • March 19 - El Día de San José (St Joseph’s Day)

    The patron saint of San José Province is commemorated with fairs, parades and church services.

  • April - International Arts Festival, San José

    Every two years (even numbers), San José plays host to ten days of theatre shows, concerts, dance performances and art exhibitions.

  • April 11- El Día de Juan Santamaría

    Public holiday (and longer festivities) to commemorate the national hero who fought at the Battle of Rivas against the American adventurer William Walker in 1856.

  • May 1 - El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day)

    On this day, the president delivers his annual “state of the nation” address while everyone else heads to the beach.

  • May 29 - Corpus Christi Day

    This countrywide national holiday is typically focused around a traditional feast with family.

When to visit Costa Rica in summer

If you visit Costa Rica in the summer, you’ll be there smack bang in the middle of the rainy season. Don’t despair, as this isalso known as the “green season” for the incredible foliage. If you don’t mind the drizzle, you’ll benefit from lower accommodation costs and fewer crowds during the summer months.

In drier regions like Guanacaste, afternoon showers tend to last for only a few hours. Along the Caribbean coast, the rain showers linger until September and October.

The summer months are the best time of year to visit Costa Rica for surfing, when storms bring impressive swells to the Pacific.

Visiting Costa Rica in June — August

The best months to visit Costa Rica in the summer are July and August, where a pause in rain showers offers a brief window for wildlife-spotting without getting drenched. If you plan to visit during these months, you'll want to make reservations several months in advance.

Summer festivals and public holidays in Costa Rica

  • June 29 St Peter’s and St Paul’s Day.
  • Street festivities in towns named after these saints (Pedro and Pablo).
  • July - Virgen del Mar (Virgin of the Sea).
  • Elaborately decorated boats fill the Gulf of Nicoya on the Saturday nearest to the 16th, celebrating the patron saint of Puntarenas.
  • July 25 - El Día de Guanacaste (Guanacaste province only).
  • Celebrations mark the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824.
  • August 2 - El Día de La Negrita (Virgin of Los Ángeles Day).
  • Worshippers make a pilgrimage to the basilica in Cartago to venerate the miraculous Black Virgin of Los Ángeles (La Negrita), the patron saint of Costa Rica.
  • August 15 - Assumption Day and Mother’s Day.
  • Family get-togethers and occasional street parades and community events mark what is traditionally a big deal in Costa Rica.

When to visit Costa Rica in autumn

The rains are heaviest in Costa Rica in September and October. Although they can be fierce, they will impede you from travelling only in the more remote areas of the country. Particularly in the Nicoya Peninsula and Zona Sur, where dirt roads become inaccessible to all but the sturdiest 4WDs in heavy rainfall.

Visiting Costa Rica in September — November

Two of Costa Rica’s most important festivals and events run in September and October. September 15 is Independence Day in Costa Rica. Across the country, you can expect big patriotic parades celebrating the country’s independence from Spain in 1821.

The Limón Carnival happens in autumn, which has a serious impact on local services. The week culminates with El Día de la Raza on October 12, when celebrations mark Christopher Columbus’s landing at Isla Uvita.

Autumn festivals in Costa Rica

  • September 15 - Independence Day

The national holiday is celebrated with patriotic parades, music, dancing and performances by local students.

  • Week preceding - Oct 12 - Limón Carnival.

Expect colourful parades, Caribbean food, live concerts, music and dancing at this vibrant 12-day street party.

  • October 12 - El Día de la Raza.

Widespread celebrations throughout the Americas marking the day Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.

The Rough Guide to Costa Rica and related travel guides

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Rough Guides Editors
8/29/2020
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