The Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

With so many things to do in Costa Rica, here’s what you need to know about when to visit.

Volcano covered by a cloud in the daytime

Volcanoes and hot springs are just a few of Costa Rica’s draws.

Photo by Esdelval/Shutterstock

Costa Rica really is the land of pura vida (the good life), with more than its fair share of natural beauty and biodiversity. On both the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, you can expect a tropical climate year-round.

For many visitors, the best time to visit Costa Rica is during its dry season, December through April, which locals call summer. The wet season, May through November, sees a lot of rain. On the Pacific coast and in many inland areas, May through August is the shoulder season, with fewer visitors and the chance of better deals. You’ll have rain (often just one short downpour per day), but not the heavier rains of September, October, and part of November.

Here’s the best time to visit Costa Rica, depending on what you have planned for your trip.

The best time to visit Costa Rica for hot springs and volcanoes

  • Best months: December–April, May–August

The Caribbean and Cocos tectonic plates come together just off Costa Rica’s west coast, and the resulting clash produces volcanoes and burbling hot springs. The capital city of San José lies in a meseta (high plateau) ringed by volcanic peaks; in downtown you’ll see street signs with volcano icons directing you toward one of the many peaks in the vicinity, like Irazú and Poás. December through April is when the views are the best from the volcanoes out over the mountain ranges, and early morning, before the clouds roll in, is the best time of day for visibility.

In the Northern Zone, the still-active Arenal Volcano rises out of the highland plain like a whale breaching the ocean’s surface. The Arenal area is a haven for lovers of hot springs, best during dry season (December to April) but also delightful during shoulder season (May to August), when crowds thin and prices drop.

Aerial view of beach backed by forest

The best time to visit Costa Rica’s beaches can depend on which coast you want to visit.

Courtesy of atanasmalamov/Unsplash

The best time to visit Costa Rica for the beaches

  • Best months: December–April (Pacific coast), August–October (on the Caribbean coast)

Costa Rica’s dry season offers daytime temperatures in the mid-80s and the best chance of perfect beach weather. Beaches that combine gentle waves with gorgeous scenery include those at Manuel Antonio National Park and Samara on the Pacific coast and Playa Chiquita on the Caribbean coast.

The weather on the Caribbean side is different from the weather in the rest of the country: If it’s raining in the rest of Costa Rica, head for the Caribbean, where August through October often sees ideal beach weather.

Related: 17 Beautiful Beaches in Costa Rica

Costa Rica sunset with surfer admiring the waves

Surfers of all levels can enjoy the waves of Costa Rica.

Photo vy FtLaud/Shutterstock

The best time to visit Costa Rica for surfing

  • Best months: December–April (for beginners), May–September (for advanced surfers), December–January on the Caribbean coast (for experts)

Surfing is a huge draw here year-round, with hundreds of breaks on both coasts. Beginners will generally be more suited for conditions during the dry season, from December through April. Those looking for big waves should go for swells created by the rainy season, from May to September (while avoiding the heavier rains of October and November). This holds for surf spots on the Nicoya Peninsula, the Central coast, and at the fabled surf town of Pavones on the southern Pacific coast, known for a left-breaking wave that gives the longest ride in the country.

On the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo has the Salsa Brava, a thick wave that rears up from deep water and breaks onto a shallow reef. This right reef break is the biggest wave in Costa Rica, at its challenging best in December and January.

Black and yellow toucan perched on a tree branch

Come to Costa Rica during the dry season for a better chance of seeing birds like the toucan.

Courtesy of Zdeněk Macháček/Unsplash

The best time to visit Costa Rica for birding

  • Best months: December–April

Costa Rica is home to nearly 900 neotropical birds, including macaws, hummingbirds, and the resplendent quetzal. The latter, with its impossibly long iridescent green tail, can be spotted in Monteverde Cloudforest Preserve and in Los Quetzales National Park, especially from January through March. Up north, Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge hosts millions of birds as they arrive to winter over from December to April. The dry season is also a good time to visit Palo Verde National Park and spot such species as the roseate spoonbill, white ibis, and the endangered jabiru stork.

Brown sloth hanging from tree branch

Visitors can see Costa Rican wildlife at Manuel Antonio National Park and the Osa Peninsula.

Courtesy of Adrián Valverde/Unpslash

The best time to visit Costa Rica for wildlife watching

  • Best months: July–August, May–November

You can spot monkeys, sloths, and the raccoon-like coatimundis year-round. Fans of sea turtles will want their visit to coincide with the arrivadas, when thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. On the Caribbean coast, nesting is most active in July and August. Meanwhile, on the Pacific coast, commune with enormous leatherback turtles at Las Baulas National Marine Park or olive ridleys at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge; nesting is at its peak during the rainy season from May through November.

Just off Cocos Island, Costa Rica, a diver hovers above a rocky reef on which a burgundy and cream colored sea star clings.

Cocos Island National Park is one of the best places for underwater exploration—but you’ll need to book passage on a live-aboard scuba diving boat to access the area’s abundant sea life.

Photo by Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

The best time to visit Costa Rica for snorkeling and scuba

  • Best months: December–April, September–October

Although diving can be good year-round, Costa Rica’s west coast has the best visibility from December through April. Calm and secluded bays are your best bet for snorkeling from shore; try Playa Bassey or Playa Penca in Northern Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific. If you want to venture farther into the water, Isla del Caño, a biological reserve off the Osa Peninsula, is one of the best spots in the country for reef fish, sea turtles, rays, and sharks.

Unlike the rest of the country, the Caribbean coast tends to be dry in September and October, which means better visibility. Visit Cahuita National Park for sea life here, which includes blue parrotfish, sea horses, rays, and reef sharks.

Rocks on a hill in front of a dense forest.

To learn about ancient Indigenous civilizations in Costa Rica, visit the Guayabo National Monument.

Photo by Marco Lissoni/Shutterstock

The best time to visit Costa Rica for experiencing Indigenous culture

  • Best months: Year-round

Learning about Indigenous culture can be enjoyed at any time. Head southeast to the Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo, where native Cabécar, Bribrí, and Kèköldi guides give tours of their ancestral homelands, teaching visitors about the natural history of the area, as well as about the food, customs, and culture of their communities. ATEC is a well-respected ecotourism company that can arrange such visits. (August to October provide nicer weather for these tours.)

If you’ll be in Costa Rica around New Year’s, make time to see the Boruca’s Dance of the Devils, a ritual reenactment of the Spanish Conquest. Dancers wear elaborate wooden masks thought to bestow the power to fight the evil of the Spanish invaders.

Erin Van Rheenen is the author of Living Abroad in Costa Rica and just finished a novel set in that country.
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