Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and drawn to peaks of 12,000 feet along the Central Highlands, Costa Rica packs a lot of weather into an area smaller than West Virginia. Choosing which month to visit can have significant consequences now that the Central American country has graduated to a favorite winter sun destination. With its lush rainforest, natural beauty and miles of tropical beaches, Costa Rica fills up during the high season, and visitors gambling on low-season rates should be aware of the potential flip-side.
Peak Tourist Season
Costa Rica’s dry season, which also corresponds to its high season in tourism terms, runs from late November to late April. The dry season is the ideal time to enjoy the beaches or head into the rainforests without getting drenched. With a significant influx of tourists from North America fleeing the cold, hotels, restaurants and excursions run at full throttle and prices are hiked to match. Frommer’s recommends coming in December and January for the clearest skies, but booking well ahead for any excursions. U.S. News even advises booking at least three months in advance. Since schools in Costa Rica are closed from December to February, beach towns fill up accordingly and rooms can be hard to come by at the last minute.
Costa Ricans refer to the rainy season, which runs from May through mid-November, as the green season, when frequent but not constant downpours turn many of the rural roads to mud and even the more barren areas come into bloom. The rains reach their greatest intensity during September and October. The green season is the best time to visit if picking up a good deal is more important than staying dry. Many hotels offer discounts and there is no difficulty in finding a room on the spur of the moment, according to Rough Guides. Bear in mind, though, that travel to the Nicoya Peninsula, for example, is all but impossible in anything other than a 4x4.
Although Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, the mountainous topography and coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea mean that conditions are far from uniform. The coastal areas are hot and fairly humid throughout the year, ranging from the 70s to high 80s year round, while the mountainous interior is high enough to experience frost at night. Temperatures in the Northern Pacific region around Guanacaste are less humid, but can reach the 90s during the dry months. The province in the northwest is considerably drier than the rest of the country, with a longer dry season, while the Caribbean coast around Limon receives showers throughout the year.
As a predominantly Christian country, Costa Rica moves to the rhythm of the Roman Catholic calendar. The clearest-cut hiatus is over Easter, when most Costa Ricans take a trip to the coast, and public transport and banking either wind or close down. Traditional festivals, celebrating anything from the sea to corn, run throughout the year, the biggest of which are the Fiesta of Palmares in January and the Fiesta of the Virgin of the Sea in July. Late June to September is a great time to catch the biggest waves along the Pacific Coast, according to Lonely Planet, while the more consistent Caribbean Sea swells are at their best between November and May. For nature lovers, turtle season on the Caribbean coast is late February to October, while bird watchers can catch massive migrations in spring and fall.