Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on the side of the country you are looking to visit, but we will look at it by month.
The dry season runs from December through April. The light rain season runs from May through August. And the heavy rainy season runs from September through November. But the Costa Rican weather is more nuanced than that.
However, using the above as a general guide, then you can split the country’s coastal areas into sections. The northwest coast (Guanecaste) or North Pacific, The Central Pacific and the South Pacific.
The Northwest Coast can be split further into a northern zone (say Tamarindo and north) and a southern zone (Nicoya Peninsula).
On the other side, you have the more rainy Caribbean coastline.
The North Pacific, especially the northern zone, gets the least rain. As you run down the Pacific coast, the average rainfall increases. Thus, by the end of dry season, the northern zone of the North Pacific is dried out, while the Central and South Pacific are still green.
The Caribbean is typically more rainy as a general rule.
Visiting Costa Rica by Month
In any case, as far as a good time to visit Costa Rica, we can break it into months.
January is a great month for the Pacific coast and southern Caribbean coast. The northern Caribbean can be quite rainy in January.
February is a great month to visit, with the Pacific coast dry and the Caribbean better than typical. Obviously, if you are looking for greenery and lushness, then you want to be closer to somewhere with more rain (Caribbean) or in a month nearer to rainy season.
March is even moreso pronounced, with dryer conditions than February. Thus, March is a great month to visit Costa Rica.
April is a nice month to visit Costa Rica. It is dry in the northwest and can have afternoon showers along the south Pacific coast. April is the end of the dry season with higher temperatures for the northwest. The rainy season starts in the south and makes it way north over the course of April and May. The Caribbean coastline is also increasing in rain from the relatively dryer months of February and March.
May is a very nice month to visit the Pacific coast as it is shoulder season. The rains are typically in the afternoon and not overly heavy. Thus, you enjoy lower rates and still catch sunshine. For May, you’ll want to probably focus more on the northwestern coastline, as the southern Pacific coastline is getting more into rainy season having had an early start.
June is similar to May, with low rates given it is low season. The rain has increased across all regions, but the northwest is still great to visit. Generally, everywhere you will experience sunny mornings. The lush greens start to re-appear in the northwest.
July you may experience a mini dry season which impacts portions of Central America sometime in July or early August. This is most pronounced in the northwest. As you move down the Pacific coast, you’ll find more rain.
In August, you can hope to catch the mini dry season that appears on the northwest Pacific coast. Generally by August, you are now banking on the sunny mornings and rainy afternoons.
If you visit Costa Rica in September, you might think it will be full of rain based on the above pattern. However, September is a great time to visit the Caribbean coast, as this is when things dry out. So while the Pacific coast is full of rain by September, the Caribbean is a great choice. September (and October) is also a good time to head inland to Arenal Volcano National Park which is halfway between San Jose Airport & Liberia
Visiting Costa Rica in October is similar to September, whereby the Caribbean is dried out. The oceans are calm as well. Thus, if you have time to visit in September or October, just head over to the Caribbean for a great time. Meanwhile, just like September, the Pacific coast is to be avoided.
If you visit in November, especially later in the month, the North Pacific is coming back to its dry season, and can be a good spot to be. The Caribbean is increasing with rain again, although Puerto Viejo is still a decent spot at this time.
The weather of the Costa Rican coastlines in December brings more sunny skies for the Pacific coast. By the end of the summer, most of the Pacific coast has now transitioned to dry season. However, school lets out for holidays, tourists flock in for the holidays and rates rise.
So to sum things up, generally I would avoid the Pacific coast altogether in September and October, but otherwise you can find a decent spot the rest of the year. If you are on the Caribbean coast, then September, October, February and March can make great choices.
The best time to visit the Pacific Side of Costa Rica, if you are looking for drier points, would be December through April, plus or minor a half month, and around July and August. Avoid September and October, as these can be more prone to complete washouts. The rest of the “rainy season” may consist more of short, quick afternoon rains rather than daylong affairs as you might find in September or October.
When Not to Visit Costa Rica
One should probably avoid certain times.
⊗ Near Easter
The beaches can get busy for Semana Santa which is the week leading up to Easter, especially in March as late March can be popular for Spring Break depending on where you go
⊗ First-Half of July
I would recommend you do more research if you are planning to visit in the first half of July as that would be when the country has a school holiday.
⊗ September & October
As mentioned for the Pacific coast side, I would not recommend a visit during September through October as this is the point in the rainy season when it could rain for days, rather than just a rain in the afternoon as may be the case in other months.
One other note, roads can be in even worse condition than usual in rainy season so you might want to take that into account. Roads on the Caribbean side are often pretty shoddy.
Miscellaneous Travel Tips for Costa Rica
Costa Rica can, in many parts, somewhat Americanized in that you will hear a lot of English and use US dollars in many coastal spots, such as the Pacific coast. Of course there are non-Americanized parts, but realize going in that it has been a popular destination for US retirees and expats. If you are looking for a country where English abounds, this could be a good one for you to consider.
Swim with whale sharks in the June to September timeframe, with humpbacks showing up around August.
The northeastern Caribbean coastline is more wild and natural if you are looking to get away in that manner. You can expect more wildlife and less swimming (unless you like swimming with crocodiles and such).
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