When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica and trying to find the right time to visit? The first thing to know is that there are two very distinct seasons: dry and rainy. Our family lived in Costa Rica during both of these seasons and we were able to experience the vast differences between the two.
While you would assume the best time to visit Costa Rica would be during the dry season, take a look at some of the pros and cons traveling during to the two seasons before booking your vacation.
Dry season: the pros
The dry season runs from mid-December to the end of April and is known for its sunshine and heat. While most of the Americas and Europe are going through cold winters, Costa Rica is a hot, dry escape from frigid temperatures. However, it is also the busiest time as most tourists travel to Costa Rica during these months.
Most of the country experiences little to no rain during the dry season so your outdoor activities won't be canceled or postponed due to weather. Clear skies are usually in the forecast which is why this time of year is the most popular, and very busy.
Since there is little to no rain, most hiking trails are open and offer safer and easier treks through the rainforest. Clear skies will provide you with stunning views at some of Costa Rica's most popular sights. In addition, snorkeling is better this time of year as the ocean is more clear and less foggy.
One of my favorite parts of the dry season are the sunsets. They are spectacular! With little to no cloud coverage, as the sun goes down you have an epic view of the sunset. Our family spent many evenings during the dry months sitting on the beach watching the sun go down.
Dry season: the cons
While hot temperatures and sunshine are ideal when visiting a tropical location, vacationing in Costa Rica during the dry season does have some drawbacks. For one, it gets very hot, and very humid. I'm from Texas so I am used to the heat and humidity, but there were many days I felt like we were living in a fish bowl and wished for a cool breeze.
The northern part of the country (Guanacaste in particular) is more arid. The temperatures averages around 90 degrees and the landscape almost appears desert like, not the green Costa Rica you imagine. Also, if the wind blows it will get very dusty in the dry conditions which can make a visit to the beach a bit uncomfortable with sand blowing in your face.
The southern coastlines get very humid and muggy during the dry season. Rivers are dryer which can affect whitewater rapid tours and waterfalls can lose their gusto and become mere trickles. This doesn't mean the water activities aren't available, they just may not be as extreme or adventurous as they are in the rainy season. We visited a few waterfalls during and after the rainy season and they were much more spectacular towards the end of the rainy season.
Also, the green landscape you are used to seeing in Costa Rica turns more brown. With the lack of water the lush, green rainforests loose their bright colors and it can seem a bit dull.
If you aren't a fan of crowds, visiting Costa Rica in the dry season may not be your best decision. As most people want to avoid the heavy rains, December and April are packed full of tourists. Prices are higher, finding a hotel or car rental can be difficult, and traffic is worse. When we had family visiting us during the busy months we had to plan our tours way in advance to secure a spot.
Around the holidays and especially Easter, Costa Rica is even more busy. If you plan on visiting during those months its best to book way in advance and expect higher pricing and more people on your tours.
Rainy season: the pros
Many people assume visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season is a mistake, but they couldn't be more wrong! The end and beginning of the rainy season is actually my favorite time to visit Costa Rica. Many parts of the country have cooler temperatures at this time of year and there is a constant breeze which feels amazing while sitting in a hammock.
Views of the waterfalls are at their best during the rainy season as the rivers are full and gushing. You get the full effect of mother nature as gallons of water fall over the rocky falls. Also, the country is incredibly green! It's absolutely beautiful with the flowers in full bloom and every shade of green you can imagine covering the hillside.
If you are visiting Costa Rica to surf, the rainy season is your ideal time, particularly in September and October. The swells are at their best. This is also the best time for whitewater rafting as the rapids are in full force.
In addition, the rainy season is also turtle season as sea turtles head to the Pacific and Caribbean beaches to nest and if you want to spot whales on the pacific coast head to Costa Rica in November.
When you hear rainy season you probably assume there will be rain all day long. Even if you look up weather for your trip you can end up being disappointed with constant showers in the forecast, but don't let that fool you. Most mornings during the rainy season are warm and sunny with a cool breeze with light or heavy rain arriving in the late afternoon.
So make sure to book your tours and outdoor activities in the morning to avoid the afternoon rainfall.
Rainy season: the cons
While temperatures are much cooler in the rainy season, it does rain. A lot. There are often several days where it will rain constantly which can damper any vacation. Our family would get very stir crazy with all of the rain as we were stuck inside for a few days. With the rain also comes mud and the constant struggle to keep your items clean and dry.
The rainiest months in Costa Rica are September and October and its best to try and avoid visiting the country during those times. It is common for roads to be closed due to flooding and landslides which can make it difficult to explore the country. While we lived in Costa Rica one of the main bridges to San Isidro was washed out due to the flooding and long, remote roads were the only way we could get into town.
Storm clouds rolling in
Also, when you visit Costa Rica you come eager to spot some of the incredible wildlife like toucans, sloths, monkeys and various birds. During the rainy season, many animals are hiding out of the rain making them near impossible to spot, and if that wasn't bad enough many insects and spiders may find themselves in your home/hotel trying to escape the rain. We had the most amount of critters in our house between August-November.
However, it doesn't mean you won't spot any wildlife. This toucan regularly visited our home during the rainy season whether it was sunshine or raining.
So when is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
It mostly depends on what type of traveler you are. However, I suggest to visit during the tail end of each season, May/June and November/December. In the middle of the dry and wet season, Costa Rica experiences some extreme weather so your best chance of seeing a green rainforest, having cooler temperatures, beating the crowds, and getting better prices is to go around May and November.
However, there is truly no bad time to visit Costa Rica. No matter when you visit, the landscape and the people are always great. The country is so diverse that you have options to escape the crowds, or even the rain during your vacation.
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