Playita Beach, Manuel Antonio
Playita Beach, Manuel Antonio

Overall Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

The most important thing to know about vacationing in Costa Rica is that there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit. The country is a popular vacation destination year-round for good reason, with a temperate climate and plenty of things to do no matter the season.

That said, there are certainly pros and cons to visiting Costa Rica at different times. The type of trip you’re planning and the areas you want to visit will affect the timing of your visit.

For example, Costa Rica has two seasons. These are the dry season, which lasts from December to April, and the rainy or green season, which spans May through November.

While different Costa Rica regions have unique climate zones, with a wide range of climate diversity, there’s really no such thing as winter - it's only rainy or dry. Rainfall is heaviest during September and October. While the country can get up to 100 feet of rain during the wet season, this weather typically occurs in the more tropical regions, with mountainous areas only getting a fraction of the total rainfall.

Sunset at the Papagayo Gulf in Guanacaste
Sunset at the Papagayo Gulf in Guanacaste

Most Favorable Time to Visit

We love visiting Costa Rica! The owner of GoVisitCostaRica, Todd, has visited dozens of times alone and experienced every corner of the country. We also have a local team in Costa Rica that weighed in on the question, ‘When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?’

If you’re short on time and are looking for our opinion, we’ll get right to it: the overall best time to visit Costa Rica is in February!

Temperatures tend to hover around 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit (21-29 degrees Celsius) which makes for a tropical atmosphere without being overwhelmingly hot. During this time of year, Costa Rica has predominantly clear, sunny skies with minimal rainfall thanks to the dry season so you can spend your whole trip exploring the outdoors.

In addition to the excellent weather, February is a popular time to visit due to it being winter in the northern hemisphere. As a result, the tourism industry is in full swing, so every attraction and tour is open for business. Of course, it might be a little more crowded than a visit during the wet season, but you won’t have to worry about anything being closed like you would in the off-season.

The shoulder seasons are also a wonderful time to plan a trip. These include the end of November and beginning of December.

No matter when you visit or what you’re planning to do, Costa Rica has exceptional attractions and accommodations sure to appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for the best times to visit for certain activities and destinations, look no further. Keep reading to learn the best travel schedules for beach days, wildlife exploration, experiencing the best of various regions, and more!

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Mal País Beach
Mal País Beach

When to Visit Costa Rica for the Best Beach Days

The key component to a perfect beach day is sun, and Costa Rica has lots of it! In fact, not only is it routinely sunny year-round, but the sunlight can last for up to 12 hours a day.

If you’re planning a beach day, you’ll likely want to visit when it’s hottest, which is typically between March and May. Just make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and protective sun hats, plus weather-appropriate clothing like shorts and t-shirts. December and January are a little cooler, but since there’s little rain and no snow, they’re still prime beach-going months.

International travelers who fly into San José (SJO) in the Central Valley region can enjoy a beach day without having to drive or take a connecting flight. The Central Pacific Coast region remains warm and dry from December through April, with the rainy season setting in from May to November. Other popular beach regions require additional travel time, but they’re well worth it!

Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio
Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio

Sun Yourself on Costa Rica Beaches

Beaches are located all around Costa Rica, in every region. Some of the most popular beaches for tourists include Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa in Papagayo Gulf, both of which are located in the North Pacific Coast. The dry season for Tamarindo and Papagayo lasts from December to April, making this the best time to visit these famous coastal destinations.

Other popular Costa Rica beaches include Playa Espadilla, Playa Conchal, and Playa Samara. Both Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Biesanz are bordered by the jungles of Manuel Antonio. You’ll want to skip the rainy season, so make sure to visit during the dry months.

Beaches like Playa Flamingo in the Guanacaste region are especially popular from May to July, right at the change of the seasons.

Beautiful view of hills in Monteverde
Beautiful view of hills in Monteverde

Best Time to Go to Costa Rica's Cloud Forests

Costa Rica is home to a unique and rare type of zone known as a cloud forest. These jungles get their name from the moist environment, which forms a cloud-like layer of fog.

Cloud forests are also known for their especially high levels of biodiversity. This makes them ideal for intrepid explorers who want to hike the trails of spots like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde Costa Rica. Snap photos of the diverse plant life, go birdwatching, and look for native species like monkeys, tropical butterflies, and big cats.

If you’re planning a visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, know that the dry season lasts from December to May, and the wet season occurs from June to November. However, while most people plan their trips for the dry season, this is one attraction that’s just as fun during the green season.

Monteverde Costa Rica is mountainous, which shields the cloud forest from getting too much rainfall. Even during the rainy season and shoulder season, it will often only rain during the morning, leaving tourists free to explore once the weather lets up.

Note, though, that rainy season also brings with it high winds, especially up in the mountains that surround the Monteverde Cloud Forest. If you’re just hiking, this is no big deal. But if you’re interested in adventure tours that include ziplining and canopy tours, these winds can become a problem. Therefore, if you’re a thrill seeker, it’s best to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest between January and April and avoid the high winds of November and December.

Of course, Monteverde Cloud Forest isn’t the only cloud forest in the country, though it is the most famous. There’s also the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in North Puntarenas, which lies just a little north of Monteverde Cloud Forest. As a result, the two share a climate.

If you want to experience everything this area has to offer, book a Costa Rica Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Tour, which is offered year-round. September or October are the best months for capturing amazing views of the volcano, but anytime from May-November is also fine.

Beachfront Bahia del Sol Hotel at Playa Potrero
Beachfront Bahia del Sol Hotel at Playa Potrero

Nearby Costa Rica Accommodations

Whether you’re headed to Santa Elena or Monteverde Cloud Forest, there are many options for top-quality accommodations nearby. Check out hotels and resorts located both in and around the jungle.

Check out our top picks for Where to Stay in North Puntarenas, which include everything from eco hotels to all-inclusive resorts. Alternatively, our list of Where to Stay in Costa Rica offers top-tier hotels and other accommodations all around the country.

Flying Spider Monkey
Flying Spider Monkey

Best Times to Visit Costa Rica for Wildlife Spotting

Costa Rica’s biodiversity is one of its most famous features. Many people vacation there to take tours of rainforests and jungles which are teeming with wildlife.

Species commonly spotted in Costa Rica include jaguars, tapirs, tropical frogs, snakes, toucans, and spider and howler monkeys. Head to the coast and go snorkeling to see tropical fish, dolphins, and turtles.

While Costa Rica is teeming with wildlife year-round, the best time for nature lovers to visit is from late December to April. The sunny weather during these months makes for the best conditions for nature hikes, and they’re also well-suited to spotting birds and butterflies.

Explore the Best Costa Rica Destinations for Wildlife Hikes

Whether you’re planning a birdwatching outing, a tubing trip down the river, or a wilderness hike, there are dozens of locales around the country that are well-suited for wildlife spotting.

One popular spot for wildlife hikes is the Osa Peninsula, which is filled with endangered species. Experience the lowland tropical rainforest habitat at Corcovado National Park and snorkel at Drake Bay. March and April are the best months for visiting this region of Costa Rica.

Another unique destination is Tortuguero National Park, which is named after its sea turtles. Turtles come ashore to lay eggs during the nesting season, which lasts from July to October. For the best chances of seeing green and leatherback turtles, take a tour of one of Tortuguero’s protected beaches during July or August.

Beautiful Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste
Beautiful Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste

Best Times to Go to Costa Rica's North Pacific Coast & Nicoya Peninsula

The North Pacific Coast is a beach hotspot in the Guanacaste province. The luxury resorts of Tamarindo and fantastic surfing conditions make this a heavy tourism region. It’s also popular for its wildlife, including coastal snorkeling and the leatherback turtles of Marino las Baulas National Park which come ashore from November to April.

Nicoya Peninsula is similarly famous for its stunning beaches, such as Playa Caletas, Playa Manzanillo, and Playa Guiones.

For both the North Pacific Coast and Nicoya Peninsula, the best time to visit is from December to April. Green season lasts from May to November, so if you want to hit the beach, avoid these months.

Costa Rica Regions

Different regions of Costa Rica experience their own climate zones. For example, October is the rainiest month along the Pacific Coast, but it’s the height of the dry season along the side bordering the Caribbean Sea.

Two other popular regions to visit along Costa Rica’s coastline include the South Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast. Read on to learn about the best times to travel to each area for sunny skies and warm temperatures.

Surfers walking at Pavones
Surfers walking at Pavones

Best Times to Go to Costa Rica's South Pacific Coast

The Southern Pacific coastline of Costa Rica includes the gorgeous region of South Puntarenas. This region tends to be hot and rainy year-round, which contributes to the biodiversity of its rainforests, though the rain lets up around January and February.

No matter when you visit, there’s lots to do. Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park are exceptional destinations for wildlife lovers, with thousands of species of flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

There are also plenty of beach towns, ranging from the secluded Drake Bay to more popular spots like Playa Uvita and Puerto Jimenez. Just offshore, you’ll find Caño Island, which is as famous for its coral reefs as it is for its archaeological and historical connections.

The South Pacific Coast is also known for having excellent surfing conditions. Lying just south of the Central Pacific Coast’s Jacó and Playa Hermosa, no Costa Rica surfing trip is complete without riding the waves at Dominical, Pavones, and Playa Matapalo. As mentioned in our Surfers Guide to Costa Rica, wave conditions are at their best from April to December.

Morning at Tortuguero
Morning at Tortuguero

Best Times to Go to Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast

Both the North and South areas of the Caribbean Coast border the tropical waters of the Caribbean Ocean. Limón stretches the length of the coast, running from Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.

The beaches in this region embody the ideal tropical paradise with white sands, calm waters, and plenty of lush surrounding jungle. You can’t get more picturesque, especially considering the Caribbean Coast receives far less tourist traffic than the rest of Costa Rica.

Inland, you’ll find diverse geographic regions ranging from mangrove forests to the Talamanca Mountains. You can also explore the capital city of Puerto Limon, which is filled with stores and authentic restaurants, or visit smaller towns such as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo.

The Caribbean Coast is divided into two halves, these being Caribbean North (with Tortuguero) and Caribbean South (with Puerto Viejo). Both areas are rainy for most of the year, with dry weather during February, March, September, and October. If you’re looking to explore everything the coast has to offer, plan a trip for September or October, when rainfall is minimal.

The Caribbean North is defined by its canals and rivers. Traverse the canals on a tour of a mangrove forest, or take a sport fishing tour. Tortuguero National Park and the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge are also located here.

The main attraction in Costa Rica’s Caribbean South Coast is Puerto Viejo, also known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This beach town features the famous surfing spot Salsa Brava alongside a lively neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, discos, and locally-owned stores.

Alongside nature preserves like Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge and Cahuita National Park, the southern coast is also heavily influenced by Jamaican culture, with lots of opportunities to listen to reggae and calypso music and taste authentic Creole cuisine. Learn about the region’s Afro-Caribbean culture on history-focused tours of banana plantations and Indigenous tribal land. These tours are especially popular during the more tourism-focused months of September and October, but many run rain or shine.

Visiting Costa Rica During the Shoulder Season

Aside from the dry and rainy seasons, Costa Rica also has shoulder seasons, which slot in right between the other two. They’re called shoulder seasons because they occur during the transition period between the dry and wet seasons. They include late April to early May, as well as late November to early December.

In April, tourism starts to slow down in Costa Rica as the dry season comes to a close. For tourists from the northern hemisphere, winter this time of year fades, heralding spring and summer.

This period of slower traffic means you can often get deals on hotels, tours, and other attractions, making it easy to travel on a budget. Additionally, since it takes place before the rainy season is in full swing, you won’t have to worry as much about activities getting canceled or delayed due to rain.

The same is true of November and early December, when the rainy season comes to a close. Before the onset of the dry season, many accommodations and tours charge cheaper rates, and the weather is fair too.

Springs Resort & Spa - Natural Hot Spring
Springs Resort & Spa - Natural Hot Spring

Most Popular Costa Rica Activities During the Shoulder Season

Thanks to low levels of rainfall, it’s possible to hit the beach during the shoulder season. The water is still warm enough for surfing and snorkeling, and the afternoons can be just as sunny as during the dry season.

If you do happen to hit a rainy day, never fear - there’s still lots to do! Activities like taking a canal tour and hiking through a cloud forest can be fun even when it’s drizzling. We say consider a rejuvenating spa treatment, partake in a yoga class, or check out local shops for souvenirs.

One thing’s for certain: no matter when you visit, the pura vida lifestyle awaits!