Best Time To Visit Costa Rica

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This Central American country has a tropical climate with coastlines along the Pacific and Caribbean. Temperature variations exist with variations in altitude. The country, certainly the star of those in the land linking North and South America, effectively has two seasons, rainy and dry. The dry season is shorter, running from December to April before the rains arrive.

Costa Rico’s capital, San Jose, is the largest city with a population of 350,000, less than 10% of the current national population of 5.25 million and rising. Almost two million people live in the immediate area around San Jose. The population is diverse in origins, including the local indigenous peoples and colonial settlers from Spain. Spanish is the official language and immigrants from neighbouring countries. Tourism has been growing recently as Costa Rica gains a reputation for ecotourism. Government policies to preserve its natural environment continue to earn praise from all.

Much of the country is tropical forest, a haven for rich fauna. The largest of the country’s 14 volcanoes, Cerro Chirripo, reaches a height of almost 4,000 metres (12,500 feet). Six of those volcanoes remain active. The best time to visit Costa Rica is arguably the dry season because the weather is more stable, but the country’s natural riches await any month of the year.

The major appeal of Costa Rica is the natural environment. That is why so many of the recommended things to do in Costa Rica revolve around life outside the towns and cities.

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Best Time To Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica in Summer

best time to visit tamarindo costa rica rocky shore and ocean in Isabela
Wild rocky shore in Isabela, Puerto Rico.

Summer is the rainy season, but you would be wrong to think that means hour after hour of rain. In many cases, it is just an afternoon shower that will not ruin any activity you choose for the day. And there are days when the clouds clear to reveal a clear blue sky all day. Temperatures are lower at altitude but never to the extent that you will feel cold.

School holidays make this season popular with families but not to the extent that the main places are crowded. It may lead to some accommodation prices rising, but bargains will still be available.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • June (Sunrise 0520, Sunset 1805, Average Low Temperature 18C (64F), Average High Temperature Average High 24C (76F))
  • July (Sunrise 0530, Sunset 1805, Average Low Temperature 18C (64F), Average High Temperature 24C (76F)
  • August (Sunrise 0530, Sunset 1800, Average Low Temperature 19C (66F), Average High Temperature 25C (78F)

Five Things to Do in Costa Rica in Summer

1- Explore San Jose
best time to visit costa rica wide angle of bandstand and blue sky
One of the best times to visit San Jose in Costa Rica is during the dry season from May to September. Pictured here is El Templo de la Música bandstand.

San Jose has many attractions, and the likelihood is that overseas visitors will either land there or make for the capital at the beginning of their holiday.

If this is you, seek out its major landmarks and enjoy its hospitality in cafes, bars and restaurants.

There is a diverse range of museums, parks and churches, while the markets are great fun.

2- Visit Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park

With rain comes faster flowing rivers and stronger waterfalls.

Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park, privately owned, is close to San Isidro, south of San Jose on the Pacific side.

You can get a trolley ride through the park, which has good facilities such as showers, restrooms and well-established hiking trails.

The highlight is the waterfalls themselves.

The canyon where you will find them is 80 metres (260 feet) wide, with the maximum free drop of the falls themselves 45 metres (150 feet) and a further 20 metres (66 feet) stepped.

You can hike, swim in the pools and horse ride, so visiting the park is a real day out.

3- Enjoy The Beaches In Manuel Antonio National Park
best time of year to visit costa rica
Summer is the best time to visit Costa Rica’s beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Visit Manuel Antonio National Park on the central Pacific Coast, and you are certain to enjoy its beaches.

Inland, there is forest and diverse fauna, including a few species of monkeys, sloths and iguanas.

The park gets crowded at times, but the peak season is earlier in the year so avoid the crowds and head there even though it is rainy season.

There is accommodation in the park, by the way.

4- Visit Arenal Volcano
best time to visit costa rica guanacaste
Summer is one of the best times to visit Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano.

Arenal Volcano lies 90 km (55 miles) northwest of San Jose.

The 1633 metre (5350 feet) active volcano has a crater that is 140 metres (460 feet) wide.

The last eruption was in 2010.

5- Go Hiking In Monteverde
what is the best time to visit costa rica lush jungle
There’s no best time to visit Costa Rica if you plan hiking in Monteverde National Park. Just be prepared for rain.

Monteverde is one of the most popular ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica. The Forest Reserve attracts significant visitors yearly, so why not join them?

There are established trails with two stations to house researchers whose work ensures the protection of this lovely place and its diverse fauna.

It is fairly close to Arenal, so you can combine the two.

Top tips:

when is best time to visit costa rica sloth hanging on a branch
Pale-throated Sloth, Bradypus tridactylus, in Marino Ballena National Park.
  • Always carry a showerproof jacket, something lightweight because even during rain, you will not feel cold
  • Pack binoculars because you may not get as close to fauna and marine life as you would wish
  • Look for discounts because this is the low season when accommodation is plentiful

Costa Rica in Autumn

This is still the rainy season but it should not stop you from enjoying Cost Rica’s beaches or its wonderful interior. Fewer families take their holidays in the autumn, so the popular places are less crowded than during peak times.

September and October regularly have spells when little rain falls. That is more the case on the Pacific coast than in the Caribbean in September, but the reverse happens by mid-October. If there has been heavy rain, some tracks and roads may be impassable for a short period.

This is the season when there is plenty of action offshore. All species of turtles are endangered, and their nesting sites are crucial to the survival of the various species. Autumn is a chance to glimpse turtles, both arriving to lay eggs by day and enjoy organised tours at night to see the hatchlings. Whales, particularly the Humpback, are also around. You will have every chance of seeing one if you use local expertise.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • September (Sunrise 0530, Sunset 1740, Average Low Temperature 25C (77F), Average High Temperature Average High 28C (84F))
  • October (Sunrise 0530, Sunset 1725, Average Low Temperature 24C (75F), Average High Temperature 28C (84F)
  • November (Sunrise 0540, Sunset 1715, Average Low Temperature 23C (73F), Average High Temperature 27C (82F)

Five Things to do in Costa Rica in Autumn

1- Turtle Watching On The Caribbean Coast
best time to visit costa rica 2021
The best time to visit Tortuguero National Park for turtle watching is autumn.

The Green Turtle’s peak nesting season starts in summer but continues to through to October when hatching is in full flow.

Tortuguero National Park is an important nesting site for this species anywhere in the world.

2- Hit The Beach
best time to visit costa rica 2022
A deserted beach in Corcovado National Park. The best time to visit Costa Rica for uncrowded beaches is in autumn.

The beaches are less crowded during these months so take your pick of either coast.

Yes, you may get a shower, but that should not unduly spoil your day with much of it dry and the waters pleasantly warm.

3- Go Whale Watching

Whale watching is seasonal, and in Costa Rica, humpback whales are in its waters from September onwards.

Good tour operators will communicate with ships and other spotters to get information on sightings and head towards them.

There is an excellent success rate if you find the right operator.

4- Stay In An Eco-lodge
when's the best time to visit costa rica parrot snake
Parrot snake (Leptophis depressirostris) in Corcovado National Park.

Staying in an ecolodge like Lapa Rios on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica is an amazing experience.

Corcovado National Park is one of the protected parts in the region, and here you may see the endangered tapir, harpy eagle, crocodile and cayman.

There are some cat species here as well, even the elusive jaguar.

Scarlet macaws add colour to the scene, crabs race around the beach and pelicans fish in the waters.

5- Visit Guanacaste
best time to visit guanacaste costa rica purple skies and flowing water at sunset in Guanacaste
The best time to visit Costa Rica is when you can enjoy a stunning sunset, such as this stunning moment in Guanacaste.

Guanacaste in the Pacific Northwest is the top region for tourists looking for a beach holiday.

The infrastructure includes accommodation, restaurants, water sports and white sands.

Top tips:

  • Ensure you have protection against the sun as burning would ruin your holiday.
  • Pack light cotton, a hat, comfortable shoes and insect repellent.
  • Book in advance for places and activities that are popular.

Costa Rica in Winter

when is the best time to visit costa rica man hiking in the tropical jungle across a timber bridge
The best time to visit Costa Rica if you’re keen on hiking is during the dry season from mid-December to April.

The dry season has its appeal, with blue skies offering more sunshine. Beaches and water sports are popular throughout this season. Costa Rica has much more than a beach holiday; every visitor should spend some time seeing its natural environment. Several national parks and reserves offer that chance. Most have plenty of information about what you can see and do. Organised tours provide local expertise that can only enrich the experience of holidaymakers.

Wildlife can be elusive, but there will always be something happy to watch you pass at a safe distance. You can take day trips from a single base and experience various things, including volcanoes, animal rescue centres, lovely beaches and stunning waterfalls that are impressive even in the dry season.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • December (Sunrise 0550, Sunset 1720, Average Low Temperature 22C (72F), Average High Temperature Average High 26C (78F))
  • January (Sunrise 0600, Sunset 1750, Average Low Temperature 22C (72F), Average High Temperature 27C (80F)
  • February (Sunrise 0600, Sunset 1750, Average Low Temperature 23C (74F), Average High Temperature 28C (82F)

Five Things to do in Costa Rica in Winter

costa rica best time to visit palm tree and beach beautiful tropical Pacific Ocean coast in Costa Rica.
The best time to visit Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast (pictured here) is between December and April when the weather is dry, and between March and September on the Caribbean side.
1- Go Whitewater Rafting On Rio Pacuare

Rio Pacuare is an excellent river for anyone who enjoys white water rafting.

It reaches 4+ in classification, so is a testing challenge.

The drive from San Jose takes two hours, with companies in the capital able to arrange everything.

2- Explore Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca lies on the Caribbean coast in southeast Costa Rica.

The surf and black volcanic sand attract visitors who can also pay a visit to the nearby Jaguar Rescue Centre, which tends to a range of animals.

The rainforest is close by for anyone wanting to explore.

3- Go Surfing
best time of the year to visit costa rica
The best time to visit Costa Rica for surfing in Cabo Blanco National Park, Puntarenas, is winter.

Jaco on the Pacific coast in Puntarenas is the best place to go surfing.

Added to this, its nightlife offers plenty of entertainment once the sun goes down.

It is a town of 11,000, many of whom are involved in ensuring the tourism sector satisfies visitors.

4- Explore La Paz Waterfall Gardens
best place to visit in costa rica for first time
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is close enough to San Jose for a day trip, where you will encounter five well-known waterfalls as you wander along the paved path.

Alternatively, take one of the hiking trails to see fauna, and there is plenty of information on local culture.

A restaurant provides refreshment, all in all, a place that all will enjoy.

5- See Wildlife At Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
best time to visit costa rica beaches
Green and back poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica.

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is close to the border of Nicaragua in the north and the Arenal Volcano.

It is a wetland that attracts migratory birds at times of the year.

Access is only by boat, but there is a chance to see jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and peccaries, ibis, spoonbill, storks and ducks.

Top tips:

best time to visit costa rica for weather Long exposure, pacific ocean waves on rock in Playa Ocotal, El Coco Costa Rica.
December through February is one of the best times to visit Playa Ocotal.
  • Plan your packing based on the activities you intend to do while in the country.
  • Always have a good stock of sun protection and insect repellent
  • Buy a water bottle to keep with you and refill at every opportunity

Costa Rica in Spring

what's the best time to visit costa rica toucan on a branch
The Collared Aracari Toucan (Pteroglossus torquatus) is one of the birds to look out for in Costa Rica.

Spring sees the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rains, making it a good time to enjoy the beach and the marine life offshore. On the Pacific coast, that includes turtles who nest in spring before heading back out to sea.

Discover local life by visiting communities and learn more about daily activities, the crops grown and the dishes they prepare. It is likely to be a very different lifestyle than most visitors.

As the dry season ends, visitor numbers tend to fall initially, so there is always a chance of discounts and lower prices in restaurants or tours.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • March (Sunrise 0545, Sunset 1750, Average Low Temperature 16C (61F), Average High Temperature Average High 28C (82F))
  • April (Sunrise 0530, Sunset 1750, Average Low Temperature 17C (63F), Average High Temperature 29C (84F)
  • May (Sunrise 0515, Sunset 1800, Average Low Temperature 17C (63F), Average High Temperature 28C (82F)

Five Things to do in Costa Rica in Spring

best time to visit costa rica for wildlife Red-eyed Tree Frog, Agalychnis callidryas, Tropical Rainforest, Corcovado National Park
The best time to visit Costa Rica if you want to see wildlife in Corcovado National Park is from December to April.
1- See Turtles On Nicoya Peninsula

A range of turtles heads for Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast in the spring, Green, Oliver Ridley and Leatherbacks.

Nesting is done by day, but hatching tends to be at night.

Nicoya Peninsula is a good place to visit to see the action.

After 6 pm each day, the beaches close, and access is only available on a guided tour, ensuring the turtles’ protection.

2- Visit Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary

Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary cares for injured and abandoned animals with the ultimate aim to return everyone to the jungle.

You will find it on the Pacific side, and there is overnight accommodation for those who want to spend more time there.

3- Tour A Coffee Plantation

El Toledo Coffee Tour is a chance for you to learn more about the production of organic coffee and sample its quality.

El Toledo is in San Isidro Province in south west Costa Rica.

4- Shop In A Local Market

Local markets are an experience wherever you travel; Costa Rica is no exception.

The range of fruit and vegetables is impressive at any time of year.

In the spring, head to a market where you will see colour every turn.

Pineapples, melons, corn, potatoes and seafood are just a few of the foodstuffs available in most places, coastal in the case of seafood.

5- Discover The Culture Of The Maleku

Experience the indigenous lifestyle of the Maleku in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Delve into insights of local life and combine turtle watching with experiencing the daily activities and the culture of the Maleku.

They live in a reserved area, with a population of around 600, and an organised tour is a great experience.

Top tips:

  • Never leave your binoculars and camera in your hotel room
  • Buy the local fresh fruit, and choose the seafood from the restaurant menu when on the coast.
  • This is the dry season, so sun protection with endless blue skies is essential.

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Steve Smith is a widely travelled man who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. He lists Argentina, India, and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.