When to Visit Costa Rica
Everyone always asks when the best time to visit Costa Rica is. This is a common question when you only have a few weeks out of the year for vacation, and you want to get the most out of every trip.
You often ask when is the best time to visit a destination because you want to know what the temperature will be or if the sun will be out.
This is probably partly true for most people who ask when is the best time to visit Costa Rica, but there are a handful of visitors to Costa Rica that like to take a more in-depth look than just the temperature the sun will be out.
Let’s take a look at the two most common topics of temperature and sunshine and add a few other topics that should be considered.
Costa Rica is located 8 degrees above the equator. This puts Costa Rica in the heart of the tropics and pretty much means the sun’s angle does not change much throughout the year, and temperatures fluctuate maybe by two degrees all year on daily averages.
What does fluctuate quite a bit is the hourly temperature. In the mornings and evenings, the temperature can drop down into the high 60’s and back up into the high 80’s or low 90’s during the day.
Costa Rica is also a country that elevation is changing every step you take. The capital city of San Jose, which has great weather, sits at 3,000ft, and some houses on the pacific that are “beach homes” can sit at 800ft, offering much cooler temperatures compared to when you are sitting at the beach.
But in the grand scheme of things, the temperature in Costa Rica is pretty much the same all year, and the only time it really changes is between day and night or when you travel to a different location in Costa Rica which can be hot all year at the beach and cool all year in the mountains.
The million-dollar question of the travel industry. I always tell people the only thing certain about the tropics is that the weather is uncertain, but for the most part, you can have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Your most commercial literature on weather in Costa Rica really dumbs things down and says from May to November is the rainy season and from December to March is the dry season.
The problem with this is that it is only partially true and it is really just based on, and I would guess, the capital city of San Jose, which is located in the center of Costa Rica. Once you start looking at the edges and corners of Costa Rica, you will notice that the weather is very different from the standard guide books say.
For starters, one of your most spectacular places in Costa Rica in the dry season of the Caribbean. This is from September to November, where you will find clear blue waters, white sandy beaches, and calm waters.
The northern Pacific is another area that really can’t be defined by the general weather assumption, and that’s because it’s almost always dry. The rainy season in the northern Pacific might be three months max from September to November.
The Arenal Volcano, which is often a hit or miss, is never more beautiful than October. During this rainy season moment, the grey skies are high, and all the moisture is sucked up into the clouds, leaving you a view of the Arenal Volcano that will make you feel like your vision was upgraded to a billion mega-pixel.
As you can see, there is a little more to it than just the rainy season and dry season.
Many of the other topics that many travelers consider are crowds, surf, wildlife, and water-levels.
You will never see a crowd as you might see in Cancun, but if you are going to Manuel Antonio at certain times of the year, you might actually feel like you are in a cruise ship and someone just pulled the fire alarm.
Honestly, it is pretty easy to avoid crowds in Costa Rica, and you have to stay away from the super touristy spots, which in all honesty are not worth it if you have to deal with a crowd.
The unbearable crowds might only be at peak seasons: Easter week and Christmas and New Years’.
Things will be interesting after the pandemic because local tourism has exploded. If locals can now work from home, the beach, or at a hotel in the Arenal Volcano, we might start seeing more crowds once the tourism industry has to try to accommodate the local digital nomads along with the regular foreign tourist.
Costa Rica is a major surf destination, and both the Caribbean and Pacific offer world-class surf.
But it certainly depends on the time of year you are visiting. Catching the right waves is slightly more predictable with modern technology, but you still want to know when is the best time of year to visit.
Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is in general good surf from May to November, and the Caribbean Coast is from November to April.
The water temperatures, similar to the air temps are the same all year round. Both the Pacific and the Caribbean will have temps around 80 to 82 degrees.
Everyone wants to see a sloth, monkey, butterflies, toucans, and poisonous dart frog.
Chances are, if you go to the right places, you can check all three of these off the list pretty easily, but you will also want to make sure you come at the best time.
Luck for the sloths and monkeys; they are probably coming out anytime while your frogs you will see more during the rainy times of the year.
Also, your toucans are going to like an overcast day while your butterflies like the sun being out.
I personally think the best time for wildlife is anytime from May to September. If you are in the Northern Pacific, that is more of a tropical dry forest, so chances are you will still see some wildlife, but your variety of species will be less than what you will find in the more moist areas.
Another huge driver of visitors in Costa Rica is the hobby of birding. With more species than all of North American and Souther America combined, you will see plenty of birds if you are looking. Many birders like visiting during the winter months in the US because the birds have migrated down.
As a life-long whitewater rafter, I, of course, like a good rain to fill the river with some water, making for a more adventurous ride down the river.
This is not the only reason, though. Some of the waterfalls in Costa Rica can get pretty low during the dry season, and other waterfalls come to life during the rainy season, allowing you to see the rainforest pumping at its full potential, which is always a sight to see.
The dry season rivers can get low, but this also means they are crystal clear and beautiful. For most of the postcards you see, I would bet the pictures are taking when the river is low.
I see those pictures and think that it needs a good rain while most travel influencers on Instagram think those colors would really pop in their next post.
So water levels have their trade-offs, but you will get a good adventure or a good picture either way.