For a small country, Costa Rica’s got an awful lot of weather going on. The highlands are cold, the cloud forest is misty and cool, San José and the Central Valley get an ‘eternal spring’ and both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are pretty much sweltering year-round. (Get ready for some bad-hair days.)
When to go
Generally, the best time to visit Costa Rica is the dry season from December through April, which locals refer to as verano (summer). Dry season does not mean it does not rain; it just rains less (so perhaps should be called the ‘drier season’). Costa Rican schools are closed from December to February, when beach towns are busy, especially on weekends. Lodgings during Semana Santa are usually booked months ahead.
In May begins the rainy season, or invierno (winter) as it’s known locally. The tourism ministry has come up with the more attractive denomination of ‘green season’. The early months of the rainy season are actually a wonderful time to travel to Costa Rica: you can avoid the tourist bustle and lodging is slightly cheaper. During this time, however, rivers start to swell and dirt roads get muddy, making travel more challenging. Some more remote roads may not be accessible to public transportation, so always ask locally before setting out. Bring your umbrella and a little patience.
Because of the number of North American and European tourists, some Costa Rican towns experience a mini–high season in June and July, during the northern summer holidays. Expect to pay high-season prices in some towns at this time.
For surfers the travel seasons vary slightly. For the most part, the Pacific coast sees increased swells and bigger, faster waves during the rainy season, starting in late June and peaking in the worst rainy months of September and October. The Caribbean side, however, has better waves from November through May. Some breaks are consistent year-round.
Wildlife enthusiasts may wish to plan their trip around the seasons of the critters. Turtle season on the Caribbean coast is from late-February to October, with the peak season for leatherbacks in April and May and for green turtles in August and September. On the Caribbean coast, the season for leatherbacks is from October to March.
Birders will be overwhelmed by feathered friends any time of year, but the best season to spot the resplendent quetzal is between November and April. Spring (March through May) and autumn (September through November) are good times to watch the migratory flocks.
Fishing, also, is good year-round, but you might choose your season if you have your heart set on a specific fish. Anglers head to the Caribbean coast between January and May in search of tarpon, while the autumn (September through November) is the season for snook. On the Pacific coast and in the Golfo Dulce, the best time to snag that sailfish is between November and May.