Last Updated: September 29, 2020
So your favorite weather app is telling you that in Costa Rica, it is pouring buckets and shooting lightning bolts every single day. Of course you’re stressed. You’ve already spent a lot on plane tickets, hotels, and everything else, and you don’t want your trip to be a washout. Before you start canceling plans or stocking up on ponchos, there are a few things you need to know about the weather in Costa Rica. In this post, we’ll take a look at how the weather is predicted, discuss the different seasons, and let you know as best as we can what to expect for your trip.
Is the Forecast Reliable?
The short answer is no. Forecasting the weather in Costa Rica is a complicated job. This tiny country is located very close to the equator, is nestled between two churning oceans, and has several steep mountain ranges down the center. All of these factors make forecasting difficult.
There is also very limited weather infrastructure in Costa Rica. Unlike other countries where radar towers pick up every drop of precipitation, meteorologists here analyze satellite images of cloud cover instead.
The problem is that those clouds change quickly, especially over ocean and mountain, so forecasting their direction more than a day in advance is a real challenge. This is one reason why your weather app often gives you an extended forecast that shows a chance of thunderstorms and rain for several days in a row.
Costa Rica’s Seasons
Costa Rica has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy or “green” season. During the months of December to April, the dry season, much of the country experiences little if any rain.
To really get a sense of the seasonality of rainfall, check out this chart we made with data from Costa Rica’s National Meteorological Institute. Each line represents a different area of the country and its corresponding days of rainfall per month.
What Does the Chart Mean?
Basically, for about five months of the year, most locations see less than five or so days with rain. That means it is virtually dry in most areas of the country from December to April. One exception is the Caribbean coast (in yellow), which has its own unique weather patterns with more consistent year-round rain.
Location, Location, Location
Another thing the chart shows is that location makes a big difference with rainfall. While it might be raining in one area of Costa Rica, other areas could be bone dry. But this is also true on a much smaller scale. An air current crossing the mountains or a sea breeze might bring rain to one town or neighborhood while another one nearby stays dry.
This happens constantly to us. We’ll be getting drenched at home with rain coming over the mountain, while just 20 minutes away, our friends near the beach are enjoying the sunset or vice-versa. If you are used to scattered showers where you live, it’s the same idea.
How Much Rain?
If your visit coincides with the rainier months of May to November, chances are you are going to get a little wet. But how much rain can you expect? We get this question all the time.
People know it is going to rain but want to know if their whole day or week will be wasted. The truth is that when it rains in Costa Rica, it can come down very hard but it usually doesn’t last for too long.
A typical day in the rainy season starts off beautiful and sunny, with clouds starting to build around mid-day, and then heavy rain or thunderstorms come in the late afternoon or evening. A storm might last only an hour or two, but it could dump a couple of inches in that time. Other times it can be cloudy and trying to rain all day but never really amount to a storm.
Here’s another chart with more detail on what you can expect for rainfall each month.
What Does the Chart Mean?
Similar to previous chart, this one shows December to April seeing very little rain. The rain then really picks up in May, drops slightly in July, and then intensifies in September and October. Keep in mind, though, that like we said, rain often comes all at once in a short burst of time. Eight to 10 inches spread out over the course of a month isn’t really that much, especially when you consider that one storm event can drop an inch or two.
We’ve given you a lot of detail about the weather in Costa Rica, but here’s what you really need to know.
- The weather forecast isn’t that reliable so don’t worry too much about what your weather app says.
- If you travel during the dry season of December to April, you’ll see little if any rain unless you’re visiting the Caribbean coast where rain is much harder to predict.
- If you travel during the rainy season of May to November, it’s likely you’ll encounter some rain. But that doesn’t mean it will rain all day every day of your vacation. More likely, you’ll have dry, sunny mornings and rain in the afternoon or evening.
- The only time of year where you are likely to see more rain than that is September and October. These are the rainiest months on the Pacific Coast and in the mountains so it is best to avoid them if you can. If you have no choice but to take vacation in September and October, the good news is that this is the driest time of year on the Caribbean coast so places like Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Cahuita are perfect.
Tips for Traveling During the Rainy Season
First off, if you’re traveling during the rainy season, especially the hedge months of May to August, know that in our opinion, this is one of the best times of year to visit. The rainforest is nice and green, there are fewer crowds, and you can get better deals. You can read more of our reasons for why we love the rainy season here.
There are a few things to keep in mind when visiting Costa Rica in the greener months to ensure you have a fantastic trip:
- Be flexible with your plans. Don’t schedule all your activities in advance if they are weather dependent. That way, if it’s pouring rain, you can swap out a day at the beach for a visit to a waterfall, which is just as nice in the rain.
- Get in your activities in the morning when it is far less likely to rain.
- Be prepared for the rain and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more. There are certain things you’ll want to pack for waterproofing like a raincoat or poncho and dry bags. Be sure to read our packing tips here.
We hope that this post puts your mind at ease with Costa Rica’s seemingly erratic weather. When you see the data, it is easier to see the trends and plan your travel to avoid the rainiest times of year.
Want to learn more to get ready for your trip? Check out these posts:
- Best Time to Visit Costa Rica: Learn more about what to expect during Costa Rica’s wet and dry seasons. Also tips on visiting during busy times of the year.
- Packing for Costa Rica – The Essentials: Detailed guide for just what to bring, including rainy season travel and destination-specific considerations.
- Driving in Costa Rica: A must-read if you’re renting a car. Learn about traffic laws and customs and how to stay safe behind the wheel.
- Money Matters: Everything you need to know about money in Costa Rica. Includes exchanging currency, tipping, and more.