The Best Time to Visit Costa Rica for Beautiful Weather
Costa Rica is a dream destination, but you need to time your trip right. Here are some tips for choosing the best time to visit Costa Rica, depending on your interests and budget.
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Costa Rica ranks 16th on U.S. News & World Report‘s list of the world’s best places to visit, and according to data collected from more than 1.6 million users worldwide on the travel app Visited, this Central American country is the 20th most visited among Americans. It’s easy to understand why: Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, best waves, active volcanoes, thermal hot springs, half a million species accounting for 4% of the world’s biodiversity and a range of accommodations and activities for every travel style—from budget-minded adventures to high-end indulgences. As you plan your trip, you’ll likely wonder about the best time to visit Costa Rica. We’ve gathered some expert tips to help you decide.
If you’re learning how to travel on a budget and have been researching cheap places to travel, you may think Costa Rica is not the right choice for cheap beach vacations. But there are ways to save, so we’re also including some expert insight on affordable travel to Costa Rica.
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When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is home to more than 10 climate zones and two main seasons: dry season and rainy season (also referred to as “green season”).
In the Pacific region, the dry season generally runs from December through March, and the green season brings rain from May through October, with transitional periods during April and November. On the opposite side of the country, the Caribbean region receives rain year round, with dry periods from February to March and during September and October. The region’s green seasons run from November to January and May to August.
“Costa Rica’s microclimates are an incredible phenomenon,” says Alex Villalobos, director of operations at locally owned Vamos Rent-a-Car. “Small pockets of the country have completely different weather to others, despite the fact the whole nation could fit inside West Virginia!”
So the best time of year to visit Costa Rica really depends on what you want to do, where in the country you plan to go and your budget.
Settling on a season
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Emilio Zúñiga, the co-founder of Il Viaggio Travel Costa Rica, a Costa Rican-owned and -operated tour provider, says the dry season is ideal for beachgoers, surfers, divers and bird-watchers (the forests are less dense during that time, making it easier to spot birds).
But he also says visitors shouldn’t completely rule out the rainy season, particularly if they’re interested in wildlife. “Whale-watching is best in September. And the forests are most lush, and flowers have their brightest colors, during the green season,” Zúñiga says. “It’s truly a special time of year, when the hills and valleys are a playground for wildlife, and visitors will hear animals everywhere.”
Villalobos says that while the sunny weather and increased number of flights during the dry season can make travel and outdoor activities easier, traveling during the dry season also means paying higher prices and sharing popular sites with more visitors, so it may not be the best time to visit Costa Rica if you’re on a strict budget or prefer to avoid the crowds. On the other hand, “visiting Costa Rica in green season is perfect for budget travelers, who can save on everything from accommodations to car rentals,” he says.
The good news is that Costa Rica is a tropical place, so it’s generally warm throughout the year, and even in the green season, there will often be some sun in the morning. “Visitors will enjoy tropical temperatures between the high 70s and low 90s at sea level, regardless of the season,” Villalobos says. “Afternoon showers require visitors to be more flexible with their plans, but starting the day early is a great way to enjoy activities while the sun is shining.”
When is the best time to visit the Costa Rican coast?
In general, beach lovers will typically find sunny weather on the Pacific coast from December through March and on the Caribbean coast from February through March, along with September and October.
Visiting the Pacific coast
Whether you’re there for a quick trip or extended vacation, if you plan to visit the Pacific coast during the green season, Villalobos suggests sticking to the northwestern section. “Guanacaste has a dry, tropical microclimate, unlike the central and southern Pacific coastline, so the beaches there can still experience great weather in the green season,” he says. “The southern Pacific coast receives higher rainfall—Dominical and Uvita may see as much as 240 inches, for example, whereas the average rainfall for the beaches in Nicoya and Guanacaste is between 40 and 80 inches.”
Surfers chasing swells will likely want to travel on a different schedule than the sun-seekers. “Experienced surfers flock to the Pacific coast in September and October because the rainier months bring bigger waves, especially along the Nicoya Peninsula and the southern Pacific,” Zúñiga says.
Visiting the Caribbean coast
For those interested in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, Turney Maurer, the Central America portfolio manager for Clark Kotula, advises travelers to visit during the months of September and October. “In Puerto Viejo, this is when you will find the best conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving,” he says. “It tends to be the sunniest time of year, and you can combine the Caribbean beaches with white-water rafting on the Pacuare River or a wildlife tour from Tortuga Lodge in Tortuguero National Park.”
There is also the opportunity to experience the unique culture, arts and food of this region no matter what season you travel, and you may find some hidden gems, such as Hotel Aguas Claras, an artful boutique hotel run by a mother-daughter duo.
When is the best time to visit the Costa Rican cloud forest?
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The cloud forest—a type of tropical mountain forest with fog that blankets the upper canopy like clouds—can be wet year-round. So Zúñiga says the best time to visit Costa Rica to experience it depends, in part, on your abilities and interests. “Those who are new to hiking should come during the dry season, when the paths are clearer,” he says. “But for those who are thrill seekers, the wet season should not keep them away, as they will encounter cascading waterfalls and may spot a sloth or two.”
Pedro Belmar, general manager of family-run Hotel Belmar in Monteverde, says that while Monteverde does experience heavier rains in September and October, you can really appreciate the unique beauty of the cloud forest from December through August. “There is a misty rain referred to as pelo de gato in Costa Rica that creates the most gorgeous mist and is quite enjoyable while hiking or exploring.”
And if the weather doesn’t cooperate for outdoor adventures such as zip-lining, Villalobos has a solution: “Consider a coffee or cheese tour to find out more about the traditional methods of production,” he says.
Maurer says that January may be the best time to visit Costa Rica if your priority is the cloud forest. “You will get the least amount of rainfall, but everything is still super green from the previous rainy season,” he says. “You can see an abundance of wildlife, and it’s a great time to catch a sunset from Monteverde overlooking the Nicoya Peninsula.”
But if you’re concerned about cooler temperatures, Hans Pfister, president and co-founder of Cayuga Collection, a group of eco-luxury lodges in Central America, including Senda Monteverde, suggests July or August. And if you’re a bird-watcher hoping to spot the elusive resplendent quetzal, Villalobos says you may want to visit the Costa Rican cloud forest during the mating season, from around February to June or July.
Timing your visit
The time of day you visit the cloud forest is also important. “There are gorgeous lodges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where you are ‘above the clouds,’ so watching the sunrise has a special, otherworldly effect. Plan to spend two nights here, and wake before sunrise one morning,” says Nadine Paulo, director of marketing for luxury retail travel agency Travel Edge. “Following the sunrise, the best time to visit the cloud forest reserve is early morning, when wildlife tends to be most active.”
When is the most popular time to visit Costa Rica?
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There are two periods considered high season in Costa Rica:
- December to April: Coinciding with the dry season, holidays (Christmas, New Year and spring break) and Costa Rica’s school breaks (generally, late December through early February)
- July and August: When U.S. schools are on summer break
According to Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the Costa Rican tourism board, in 2022, December was the month with the highest number of visitors, at more than 260,000, while September saw the fewest visitors, around 122,000.
The experts recommend making reservations several months in advance to avoid disappointment, particularly if you’re planning to travel to Costa Rica in the peak seasons. Villalobos says that rental cars should be reserved two to three months before your trip, and Jess Heuermann, a senior trip planner at Adventure Life who specializes in Costa Rica, notes that hotels in popular regions like Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio tend to sell out three to five months in advance of peak travel times.
When is the cheapest time to go to Costa Rica?
Unsurprisingly, the cheapest time to travel to Costa Rica is during the green season. “Prices are significantly lower, and visitors may save as much as 30% on car rentals and accommodations in Costa Rica during the green season—especially May, September and October—compared to busier times of the year,” Villalobos says.
If you’re interested in cheap family vacations, this may be the best time to book a hotel as well. “There is less pressure to book in advance, and there could be last-minute deals to pick up. Even the Caribbean coast, which experiences summertime during September and October, will have bargain pricing, as visitor numbers are down nationwide during that time.”
Although some consider May through August the shoulder season, there is a bump in visitors when more families are traveling. “Generally, visiting Costa Rica from May through November, prior to Thanksgiving, will be the most affordable,” says Carlos Cardona, general manager of Intrepid Travel’s Costa Rica office. “But prices can spike in July and August, when many Europeans and families visit the country.” Pfister calls this period a “mini high season,” with shoulder seasons from the end of April through the beginning of June and again from mid-August through mid-December.
For budget travelers considering the best time to book a flight, March is the cheapest month to fly to Costa Rica, according to travel site Kayak. Using a flight price tracker can help you secure the lowest rates possible.
- Anna Kayfitz, founder and CEO of Visited
- Emilio Zúñiga, co-founder of Il Viaggio Travel Costa Rica
- Alex Villalobos, director of operations at Vamos Rent-a-Car in Costa Rica
- Turney Maurer, Central America portfolio manager for Clark Kotula
- Pedro Belmar, general manager of Hotel Belmar in Monteverde
- Nadine Paulo, director of marketing for Travel Edge
- Hans Pfister, president and co-founder of Cayuga Collection
- Carlos Cardona, general manager of the Costa Rican office of Intrepid Travel
- Jess Heuermann, senior trip planner at Adventure Life
- Costa Rica Tourism Board
- Kayak: “Find cheap flights to Costa Rica”