Last Updated: June 15, 2020
If you live somewhere that gets cold, you probably can’t wait to plan your getaway to Costa Rica. But when is a good time of year to travel to Central America? In this post, we’ll cover the best (and worst) time to visit Costa Rica based on weather, peak travel times, cost, and more.
Dry and Rainy Seasons
Costa Rica has two distinct seasons. A dry season runs from December through April, and a rainy season runs from May through the end of November. The peak travel season when most people visit coincides with the dry season, and conveniently, North America’s and Europe’s winters.
Dry Season: The Safest Time to Visit
Benefits of Traveling During Dry Season
We’ll explain why the rainy season really isn’t that bad below, but if you’re one of those people who is worried about rain ruining your vacation, plan to visit during the dry season. Most areas of the country see little to no rain between mid-December and April, so you don’t have to worry about having to change your plans based on the weather.
The dry season is also the best time to visit certain attractions in Costa Rica. Poas Volcano, for example, tends to get fogged in during the rainy months and could be that way during your entire stay. But during the dry season, you’re likely to get to see it with clear skies.
Certain hikes are also better in the dry season. If you’re trekking Mt. Chirripo, you’ll have the best chance of seeing both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean from the top during the dry months. Similarly, the Rio Celeste Waterfall gets muddled with sediment during rainstorms, skewing its characteristic bright blue hue. And the trails at parks and reserves in the wet Southern Zone, like Corcovado National Park, tend to get very muddy during the rainy season. Visibility for snorkeling is also better when there’s less rain and runoff to cloud the water.
Drawbacks of Traveling During Dry Season
That said, there are some drawbacks to the dry season. Most importantly, it can be extremely hot at times. One year, we spent a dry season living at the beach in Guanacaste, and temperatures often peaked in the mid or upper 90s (32°C) during the day. Other areas on the Pacific coast can be just as bad, and places farther to the south tend to be more humid.
Because of the heat and lack of rain, it also can get very arid and less tropical in certain parts of the country. The normally green vegetation in Northern Guanacaste tends to get dry and turn brown by the end of March, with many trees losing their leaves. Rivers sometimes dry out later in the dry season too, which can turn exciting Class IV whitewater rapids into more modest Class II or III. Some waterfalls are the same way, changing from a gush to a mere trickle or even disappearing completely.
Hedge Months of the Rainy Season: A Good Time to Visit if You’re Flexible
If you are somewhat flexible with your plans, consider visiting Costa Rica during the so-called hedge months in between seasons. Late November to mid December and May through August are great times of year to travel. Not only will temperatures be a bit more enjoyable and the rainforest nice and green, you’ll also avoid the big crowds and get better prices. Hotels and rental cars are cheaper, and tour prices are easier to negotiate.
Keep in mind that you’re not giving up a fantastic vacation by traveling during the rainy season. It seldom rains all day every day during the majority of the season, so as long as you build some flexibility into your itinerary, you should still be able to do everything you want.
TIP: If you’re planning a visit to Costa Rica during the rainy months, take the time to carefully select your destinations. Some regions of the country are wetter than others and best avoided altogether during the low season. Here’s a post all about the weather in Costa Rica, which includes information about rainfall in the different regions over the course of a year: Weather in Costa Rica.
Times to Avoid
As we said, many areas of Costa Rica are very nice during much of the rainy season. But if you have just a week or two to get away, there are certain times of year you’ll want to avoid. The rainiest months in general are September and October. During this time, you could have several days in a row with prolonged periods of rain, which can make it difficult to get out and explore.
For this reason, we recommend avoiding travel to Costa Rica during this time for all but the most adventurous travelers. One exception is the Caribbean coast (places like Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Cahuita), which is a great place to go in September and October because it is typically dry.
Other times of year that you may want to avoid are certain holidays. The weeks around Christmas and New Years are the busiest travel times in Costa Rica. Many locals get time off during the week leading up to Christmas, all the way until after New Years, and go on holiday with their families. Not only that, but this is a popular time for tourists to travel as well.
The same is true for Semana Santa (Easter week). Many locals get time off during the week leading up to Easter and start the party the weekend before the holiday week. The whole country is busier in general during these times, but beach towns tend to see the most traffic.
Another consideration for those on a budget is that prices are highest during the holidays. You’ll notice, for example, that most hotels and vacation rentals charge peak rates, which are often non-refundable.
TIP: If you’re planning to visit Costa Rica around Christmas or Easter, start early. Hotels and rental cars are usually booked months in advance. You can still have the best picks for lodging, though, if you plan far enough ahead.
Here are some takeaways about the best time to visit Costa Rica:
- Visit during the dry season (December through April) if you’re worried about the rain.
- If you’re more flexible, visit during the hedge months of late November to mid December and May through August to save some money and avoid the crowds.
- Avoid the peak rainy season, September and October, unless you’re visiting the Caribbean coast.
- Avoid the weeks around Christmas, New Years, and Easter, especially if you’re on a budget or don’t like crowds.
We hope these tips give you some insight into the best time to visit Costa Rica. Of course, if your options are limited and you can travel only during the busy holiday weeks or rainiest months, there is really no bad time to visit. You can always find a small town to retreat to during peak travel times. And thanks to the country’s many microclimates, you can still find places in Costa Rica with sunshine even during the height of the rainy season that will have you wondering where all the tourists are.
Have a question about when to visit Costa Rica? Ask us below.
Last Updated: June 15, 2020
Looking for more information to plan your trip? Start here:
- Costa Rica: Your Two-Week Itinerary – Detailed guide to the best places to visit and things to do in two weeks.
- Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica – What to budget for your trip. Breakdown of costs for hotels, transportation, food, and tours.
- Itinerary Help – Planning a trip for the holiday season and want to avoid the crowds? Or are you wondering where to go to avoid the rain? We can design you a custom itinerary. Check out our Itinerary Help page for more information.