Costa Rica’s weather is the typical tropical climate with two distinct seasons: dry and rainy. However, there are many micro-climates in the country and the weather will depend on the topography of the region. It can get cold in Costa Rica and rainy season is no joke here. Knowing what the weather is like is one of the main concerns for travelers and one of the things they must know about Costa Rica before they visit.
So in this post you will learn about Costa Rica’s weather, the tropical seasons, micro-climates and more. We also have recommendations for reliable forecasts and the best activities to do in dry and rainy season.
This post has been updated March 2019.
Click to skip to the section.
- Things to Know
- Dry Season
- Rainy Season
- Shoulder Months
- Weather in Certain Locations and Months
- Best Activities in Dry Season
- Best Activities in Rainy Season
Costa Rica Weather Things to Know
Here are some quick weather facts before we get into the details.
- It doesn’t snow in Costa Rica.
- It does get cold (around 50-60s F, 12-16C in some areas during rainy season)
- Tropical humidity is no joke!
- There are no four seasons.
Costa Rica Tropical Seasons
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of weather in Costa Rica!
Costa Rica has typical tropical weather with two seasons: dry and rainy. It is 8-12 degrees above the equator so it doesn’t experience fall or spring or snow. One thing to note is that climate change has affected the weather in Costa Rica and the dry and rainy seasons are not quite as distinct as it used to be and is getting more intense every year.
Dry season is generally from beginning of December to end of April in Costa Rica. Some characteristics of dry season are:
- Temperatures rise up to low to high 90s F (35 C) on the coasts. Average temperature in San Jose and cities are around low to mid 80s (29 C). Nights cool off.
- High winds in some areas, big swells on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts December, January and February.
- Sun for weeks!
- The Pacific coast gets extremely dry. It turns yellow like a desert, rivers and waterfalls dry up and it gets really dusty. This is in Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula.
The hottest months are March and April for most of the country. On the coasts, temperatures soar into the low 100s (38 C). Up in the mountains like the Central Valley and Monteverde, temperatures hover in the high 80s F (30-31 C).
Dry season also correlates to the high tourism season because all the snowbirds and vacationers who want to get away from the intense winters up north come to Costa Rica. End of December through April is very busy and sees a lot of tourists.
How to prepare for dry season:
- Wear lots of sunscreen, at least SPF 30 or SPF 50 if you burn easily. Make sure to re-apply frequently and do not forget chapstick with SPF!
- Drink lots of water. We recommend bringing an insulated water bottle so you can always have cold water and you don’t waste plsatic.
- Bring after sun gel (most people burn the first day since Costa Rica is so close to the equator and forget to reapply).
- Shorts, tank tops and flip flops will be your outfit for most of the country since it will be so hot. We recommend clothes that dry fast like Nike dri-fit. You’ll be very sweaty!
What to know about dry season:
- It can still rain in some parts of the country like the South Pacific or Osa Peninsula as those areas are more humid. We visited Dominical in February and it poured for 5 days straight.
- There are still mosquitoes in Costa Rica during dry season. Bring repellent.
- The Caribbean does not have a distinct dry season. There is a dedicated section to the Caribbean weather in Costa Rica below. Read it if you’re visiting Tortuguero or Puerto Viejo.
- The dry season doesn’t just all of a sudden start as if someone turned off a faucet of rainy season. It will gradually stop raining less and less in December but it may still be cloudy, have random light sprinkles or rain at night. Usually by mid December, there isn’t much rain and days are clearer and sunnier. That is why we call November and May our transition months.
- Dry season is what locals call their summer.
Rainy season is generally from beginning of May to mid December. Some characteristics of rainy season are:
- Normal rainy season days are sunny in the mornings and rainy in the afternoon and evenings.
- Average temperatures are around low 90s (32) on the coast. It gets really humid, even on the Pacific coasts where it’s normally dry. It is common to see the weather say “current temperature is 32 C but feels like 38 C due to humidity).
- In Guanacaste and Puntarenas, the mountains turn green after the first few rains.
- It can start raining/storming randomly. It’ll be sunny one second and storming the next. Rains can last for just 10 minutes and then it’s sunny again. Prepare for sporadic periods of rain.
The rainiest months are September, October and November. May and June starts seeing the first showers, July lets up a bit (I will talk about that in the “Little summer” section) and from August on, it starts raining more consistently, particularly in the evenings. In October and November, it can rain all day.
Rainy season is what locals call their winter. This also correlates to Costa Rica’s low tourism season because it is summer up north so all snowbirds and winter vacationers have gone home. It gets busy in July and August for summer vacation but September, October and November are the lowest tourism season months for most of the country. September and October is high season for the Caribbean.
How to prepare for rainy season:
- Even though it may be cloudy out, still put on sunscreen. Being so close to the equator means the sun rays are intense even if it’s cloudy.
- Bring lots and lots of mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes thrive during rainy season since they breed in stagnant water.
- Bring waterproof/water repellent equipment, especially if you have any electronics. You need to be prepared because rain storms start suddenly and unexpectedly so bring a waterproof backpack, jacket and lots of plastic bags.
- Bring a warm jacket, waterproof jacket and long pants if you will be in San Jose, Monteverde, San Vito, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Nuevo Arenal, Grecia and anywhere up in the mountains.
- Get travel insurance! I recommend this for any time of the year in Costa Rica but especially rainy season. Rainy season brings more slippery roads, more mosquitoes and more possibilities of incidents.
The weather during rainy season can change in a blink of an eye. It can be incredibly sunny one minute and then pouring down rain with lightning the next. Always be prepared when visiting in rainy season to protect your equipment, especially your electronics.
How much does it rain in Costa Rica?
How much it rains in Costa Rica depends on which part of the country it is. Some areas rain quite a bit more than others but when it rains, it rains hard.
In 2016, we had Hurricane Otto end of November. In October 2017, we had Tropical Storm Nate that hit hard the Northern Guanacaste coast. There were hard consistent rains for most of August – December. and it also rained quite hard in May and June.
The Pacific Coast stays quite hot even in rainy season. Guanacaste has the longest season of dry months and the northwest areas are extremely dry so they don’t experience a heavy rainy season until August or so.
However, when it rains, it rains hard! You can see in the video below how hard it’s raining in Playas del Coco in October.
Generally on the coasts it is sunny in the morning and rains in the afternoon and night. The South Pacific and Osa Peninsula are more humid areas so it tends to rain more down there. It can rain in January or February and it can rain from morning until night in September – November.
If you are in the city like San Jose or the cloud forests of Monteverde, it is a lot colder since you are at around 1000-1500 meters (3200 – 5000 feet) in elevation. In rainy season, temperatures are high 70s (25 C) and can get down to the low 60s (16 C) It is normal for it to rain all day in rainy season or be very cloudy with off and on showers.
These areas can also start having sporadic rains in April.
“Little Summer” and Shoulder Months
Though rainy season is generally from end of May to beginning of December, there sometimes is a “little summer” in the middle of July. It becomes very sunny and dry like dry season. Just remember that it’s tropical weather which is unpredictable so you should still come prepared for rain.
Shoulder months are May, June and end of November/beginning of December when the weather is transitioning from dry to rainy and vice versa. You may run into rain in June especially up in the mountains but the coasts will still be nice and hot and may have small off and on showers.
The Caribbean experiences a very different climate than the rest of Costa Rica, it’s actually the opposite! It doesn’t have the typical dry and rainy season. Instead, it is normal for the Caribbean side to rain almost all year long as it is always humid. This keeps the forests nice and lush.
The summer months on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica are September and October. The rainiest months are June and November. January – March are generally drier.
We visited Tortuguero in November and had short heavy showers in the late afternoon but beautiful sunny mornings and early afternoons. In September we ran into storms, had off and on sunny days in November and cloudy days in December.
Costa Rica Weather Forecast
It is hard to find an accurate forecast for Costa Rica in rainy season since the weather changes sporadically. I know our iPhone weather app is completely inaccurate. It has shown Tamarindo having thunderstorms in March when it was totally clear, sunny and dry. Dry season is fairly consistent (sunny every day) but it is helpful to know the weather in rainy season or the Caribbean coast.
There are a couple of sites that can give you a very close prediction. Wunderground is one we like to use.
If you are visiting in rainy season, I also recommend looking at Windy.com. It’s useful for wind and precipitation. This is a good Costa Rica weather radar. Click on “Wind” to change it to Rain, snow, temperature or another factor.
Another site that is super useful and can give you more local information is the IMN (Instituto Meteorológico Nacional de Costa Rica). They have stations throughout the country and has more detailed information for specific places (regional locations).
An app I use to see what the weather is like in Costa Rica at the places I’m going is Instagram. I look at the hashtag or the location on Instagram to see recent photos posted by other people so I can get an idea of what the weather is like.
This has been extremely helpful because a lot of people will also write in their captions something like “Been raining the past couple days in Puerto Viejo but finally got a sunny day today!” And you can also leave comments and ask them how it’s been.
What the Weather is Like in Certain Locations
Liberia: Liberia has reliable dry and rainy seasons. During rainy season, it is normally sunny in the morning, rainy in the late afternoon and evening. Rainiest months are August – November. Dry season temperatures are around 90s (32 C) and very dry.
Tamarindo: Tamarindo is about the same as Liberia, reliable dry and rainy seasons.
La Fortuna and Arenal: The weather in La Fortuna is also quite reliable. It gets hot in La Fortuna! If you are in the Nuevo Arenal area around Lake Arenal, it is cooler up there.
Puerto Viejo: Since Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean coast, the summer months are September and October and rainiest are June and November. Always humid.
San Jose: The Central Valley (San Jose, Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela) has cooler temperatures than the coast since it’s around 1000 meters (3200 feet) in elevation. Average dry season temperatures are 80s F (29 C) and it rains very hard in rainy season. If there is a cold front up north, the Central Valley is usually affected. In 2018, there was an intense cold front in January and San Jose got as cold as 50 F (10C ) at night!
Montevede: The weather in Monteverde is colder since it’s around 1500 meters (4900 feet) in elevation. Dry season temperatures average around high 70s (26 C) and cools off at night. Can have light showers and sprinkles during dry season which is why you will see lots of rainbows in Monteverde.
Costa Rica Weather January and February: Driest months of the year. Lots of winds, good for surfers because there are swells making big waves.
Costa Rica Weather March and April: Hottest months for most of the country. Can start raining in April but very hot, gets more humid.
Costa Rica Weather May and June: The transition months to rainy season. Can have random hard rains here and there but generally still hot and sunny.
Costa Rica Weather July: July has a “little summer” around the middle of the month. Generally dries up a bit, still hot.
Costa Rica Weather August: Starts raining more consistently. Still get dry mornings but can get pretty cloudy and rainy in the afternoon.
Costa Rica Weather September, October and November: Summer for Caribbean (except November), rainiest months for rest of the country.
Costa Rica weather December: Costa Rica’s weather in December starts to transition to dry season. The “Christmas winds” start and can still rain in high elevation areas like San Jose, Monteverde, etc.
If you’re not sure when to visit Costa Rica for the weather, read our post “Best time to visit Costa Rica.”
Best Activities to Do During Dry Season
Dry season is perfect for those who want to soak in the sun all day long. Beach lovers will love dry season! It’s also great for hiking because you won’t have to worry about getting rained out or going as early as possible to avoid rain.
The best activities surfing, hiking, beach hopping, canyoning, boat rides, waterfalls and ziplining. You won’t have to worry about rain at the beach at all.
However, January and February are usually very windy. Additionally, because it is very windy during those months, the water can sometimes get very cold but the cold does bring more wildlife since it stirs up the nutrients. We saw bio-luminesence and krill in February in the Gulf of Papagayo due to the cold water!
On the other hand, those months usually have big swells which is great for surfers.
If you love birds, February – July are excellent months to see the Resplendant Quetzal in Monteverde as it is their mating months. Wildlife watching on rivers is also the best during this time because all of the migratory birds are in Costa Rica. This is the best time to go to Palo Verde National Park, Rio Tarcoles, Sierpe Mangrove and Rio Tempisque.
Best Activities to Do During Rainy Season
Wildlife watching is best in rainy season. Peak turtle egg laying season is August – December in Tortuguero National Park and Ostional Wildlife Refuge. Peak humpback whale watching season in Costa Rica is August and September.
Water activities are also very good. White water rafting is incredible because the water level is high. In dry season, it is normal for rivers to turn into Class 2 and 3 rapids and in rainy season, they turn into Class 3 and 4! But sometimes, it can be too rainy and tour companies can’t run the tour because it’s dangerous.
Waterfalls can get too full in rainy season. We visited Nauyaca waterfalls in August and it was so full, we couldn’t swim or do anything. Our experience was the same at La Fortuna waterfall. Rio Celeste, the sky blue river turns a cloudy brown after hard rains and they may have to close the park if there are hard rains. Waterfalls are better to visit in dry season even though they may not be as full.
Tip for activities and tours during rainy season: Go as early as you can in the morning. Since average rainy season days are sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon, you will have better weather in the morning. When we were in Monteverde in September, my parents went ziplining at 11 AM and they were absolutely soaked to the bone when they finished. If they went at 9 AM, they would have had sun the whole time.
Since I know not everyone is stoked about rain, I wrote a post about 6 reasons why you should visit Costa Rica in rainy season. I’m a little biased because I actually love the rain but Costa Rica is still as magical and amazing in the rain as it is in dry season.
Want to know more about Costa Rica? Check these posts out!
If you like this article, follow us on Facebook for more Costa Rica travel tips and inspiration!
There are affiliate links in this post.