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.
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 2018.
Click to skip to the section.
- 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: Tropical Seasons
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.
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 90’s on the coasts. Average temperature in San Jose and cities are around low to mid 80’s. Nights cool off around 10-15 degrees.
- High winds in some areas, big swells on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts January and February.
- Sun for weeks!
- The Pacific coast gets extremely dry. Trees turn yellow, rivers dry up.
The hottest months are March and April for most of the country. On the coasts, temperatures soar into the low 100’s. Up in the mountains like the Central Valley and Monteverde, temperatures hover in the high 80’s.
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).
- 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.
- 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 rain in the afternoon and evenings.
- Average temperatures are around low 90’s on the coast. It gets really humid, even on the Pacific coasts where it’s normally dry.
- 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.
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 (the rainiest months) 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 more intense.
- 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 are come 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, more possibilities of accidents while driving.
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. For the past couple years, the rainy seasons have been particularly strong and have been starting early. 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 in elevation. In rainy season, temperatures are high 70’s and can get down to the 50’s. It is normal for it to rain all day in rainy season or be very cloudy with off and on showers.
It started raining very hard in San Jose April of 2017 so even though April is one of the hottest months, it still rained (but stayed hot).
“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 is September and October. The rainiest months are June and November. January – March are generally drier but keep in mind that it can rain at anytime of the year.
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 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 and Months
Costa Rica Weather 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 90’s and very dry.
Costa Rica Weather Tamarindo: Same as Liberia, reliable dry and rainy seasons.
Costa Rica Weather La Fortuna and Arenal: The weather in La Fortuna is also quite reliable. It is around 90’s in La Fortuna and does rain more during rainy season. If you are in the Nuevo Arenal area around Lake Arenal, it is cooler up there.
Costa Rica Weather 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.
Costa Rica Weather San Jose: The Central Valley (San Jose, Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela) has cooler temperatures than the coast since it’s around 1000 meters in elevation. Average dry season temperatures are 80’s 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 degrees.
Costa Rica Weather Montevede: The weather in Monteverde is much cooler than the rest of the country since it’s around 1500 meters in elevation. Dry season temperatures average around high 70’s and cools off to 60’s at night. Rains and storms quite hard.
January and February: Driest months of the year. Lots of winds, good for surfers because there are swells making big waves.
March and April: Hottest months for most of the country. Can start raining in April.
May and June: The transition months to rainy season. Can have random rains here and there but generally still hot and sunny.
July: July has a “little summer” around the middle of the month.
August: Starts raining more consistently.
September, October and November: Summer for Caribbean (except November), rainiest months for rest of the country.
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 so it’s not the best for kayaking, SUP, sailing or boating if you get very seasick. Tours still run but just know it is 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!
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 also 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.
The best times for rafting, tubing and waterfalls are May and June, right when the rains starts. The rivers and waterfalls get fuller but it’s not quite as full and it doesn’t rain as much. If you go towards the end of rainy season, the rivers and waterfalls will be probably too full to visit. Roads and national parks may also get rained out and closed (like Catarata del Toro and Rio Celeste).
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!
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