Spending Christmas in Costa Rica is a dream vacation for many people but you will need to do a bit more extra planning. If you plan to visit Costa Rica over the winter holidays, here are some very important things to know about visiting Costa Rica during Christmas and New Years.
Costa Rica is a Catholic country so Christmas is very much celebrated here. Christmas is mainly spent on the night of December 24th at church or at home with family and then December 25th is the day to go out, party and hang out with friends.
In touristic destinations, everything is open on December 24th and December 25th. As December 25th is a holiday, government institutions will not be open (banks, etc.). Many establishments may have limited hours on December 24th (they usually close early).
Know About Costa Rica Before You Go
Costa Rica is in Central America.
Central Standard Time (GMT-6).
Voltage 110 W.
Official language is Spanish. Many indigenous languages are spoken.
Currency is called the Colon.
Capital city is San José.
Drives on right hand side of road.
Two main international airports: San Jose International Airport and Guanacaste Airport.
Costa Rica is Very Expensive During Christmas and New Years
First and foremost, the Christmas and New Years holidays are the most expensive times to visit Costa Rica. Flight prices are super high, hotels that normally cost $100 USD a night may cost $200 USD a night over the winter holidays. Car rentals that are normally $50 USD a day may increase to $150 USD a day during Christmastime. If you are visiting Costa Rica during Christmas, you will need to have a bigger budget.
If you’re traveling on a very strict budget, then I would personally recommend to reschedule to a cheaper time or book super super early to lock in cheaper prices (like a year out). Find out how to save money traveling in Costa Rica here.
Book Everything At Least 4-5 Months Out – Do NOT Wait Until Last Minute
Availability goes SUPER fast during Christmas and New Years in Costa Rica. I know some vacation rentals and hotels that book out out a year in advance. This is especially true for beach towns and for the nights of the Dec 24th, 25th and 31st. By September, many popular hotels in the main tourist destinations will have already booked their Christmas dates. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, luxury boutique hotel or luxury vacation rental, reserve at least 6 months out to save your rooms and get the best price.
Car rental availability is the same and since these price fluctuate, booking earlier is better. If you wait until the week before your Christmas vacation to rent a car, availability will be extremely slim pickings. You may find that the only choice you have are the big premium, super expensive cars. Maybe you can find a 4wd or sedan, but it will be super expensive regardless. It also may not be with a reputable company.
Then for tours, availability is also slim. Book any tours you know you want to do as soon as possible to guarantee your space. This is especially important for private tours, animal rescue centers that run tours like Jaguar Rescue Center and popular parks such as Sky Adventures, La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park, Diamante Eco Adventure Park, Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Hacienda Guachipelin. Booking tours? Check out our Costa Rica tours discount here!
The longer you wait, the less choices you will have and the more you will pay.
Everything is Open During the Christmas Holidays
As Christmas is such a big holiday in Costa Rica and December 25th is typically the day that families and friends hang out outside, everything is open like restaurants, tours, etc. However, public services will not be open on that day nor on January 1.
Since December 24th is the day that families get together and churches have night services, many things close early on December 24th. This is very important to keep in mind in case you are landing in the late afternoon or at night on December 24 – there may be very limited restaurants and services open, even supermarkets will close early.
Check Cancellation Policies as Some Policies are Different for Christmas
Some places have different cancellation policies and booking policies during Christmas and New Years. For example, their normal cancellation policy may be 24 hours in advance but over Christmas, it may be 15 or 21 days in advance.
Always ask what the cancellation policy is for Christmas and New Years. You should ask for cancellation policies whenever you travel regardless if it’s Christmas or another time of year.
If You Plan to Visit a National Park, Buy Your Park Ticket Early!
Many popular national parks in Costa Rica require visitors to purchase park tickets online before their visit. These are Manuel Antonio, Tenorio Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja, Tortuguero, Chirripo, Irazu, Isla San Lucas, Tapanti and Poas. You can not purchase tickets for these parks upon arrival.
Manuel Antonio National Park, Tenorio Volcano National Park (Rio Celeste) and Poas Volcano National Park are three of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica and visitors must purchase their park tickets beforehand in order to enter. Make sure you do this as soon as you can because the parks have a maximum capacity and they will sell out for Christmas and New Years days in advance.
Costa Rica Christmas Weather is Usually Very Nice
Christmastime normally has really nice weather in Costa Rica. December is the beginning of dry season, right during the transition time between rainy to dry season. The rains will start letting up and by the end of December, normally the skies are clear and sunny.
As for temperatures, it’s usually around 85 F to low 90s F (29 – 34 C) on the coasts. In the Central Valley, country side and mountains, it’s around 75 F (24C). However, in rainforest areas or mountains, they may still have some on and off rains in December so make sure you still pack a rain jacket. Get our Costa Rica packing list here!
Something else to know about visiting Costa Rica during Christmas is that it is very windy. This is normal, in Costa Rica we call them vientos navideños (Christmas winds). You will need to be careful if you plan to do any ocean activities (surf, sail, etc.) or hike up mountains because it does get extremely windy.
Read more about Costa Rica weather here.
Beach Towns are VERY Crowded
As you can imagine, most tourists want to go to the beach for Christmas in Costa Rica. This also applies to the locals so during Christmastime, city Costa Ricans flock to the coasts. Popular beach towns like Jaco, Tamarindo, Flamingo, Manuel Antonio and Playas del Coco are absolutely packed.
And it is not just December 24, 25 and 31st that are very busy. The Costa Rican school summer vacation starts around mid December and many locals will take the whole month of December off. Likewise, many families from the US, Canada and Europe will spend their entire 2 week winter vacation in Costa Rica.
As Costa Rica is a Catholic country, December 24th is usually spent at home or church with family. Christmas day is usually spent outside. December 31st is party day. January 1st is the tending-to hangovers-and-getting-ready-to-go-back-to-work-day.
On the other hand, usually the cities are empty because all the city Costa Ricans left for vacation. So if you’re interested in visiting San Jose, Christmastime and New Years is a good time. However, some things may not be open on December 25th or January 1st, so just check hours and plan accordingly.
If you visit over Christmas or New Years to popular beach towns, expect to have a more “Cancun” like experience. Beaches will have concerts, raves and parties all night long.
On December 31st, you’ll be able to see fireworks on the beach.
Public Buses Get Packed
If you’re taking the public bus in Costa Rica, you need to get there at least 2 hours in advance to purchase tickets and save your spot for cross country routes that don’t allow you to buy tickets beforehand. This is especially important if you are traveling on a Friday or the weekend. All the buses will be packed with locals going on vacation, particularly to the coasts.
Some bus routes let you purchase tickets the day before. If you can, do it. If you can purchase your bus ticket online, do it. Some bus companies allow you to buy tickets online in advance.
Plan for Longer Driving Times
If you’re landing in San Jose International Airport and heading to the beach towns like Puerto Viejo, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo or the Guanacaste coast, plan for much longer driving times. See what the drive from San Jose to Tamarindo is like here.
Since all the city Costa Ricans are also on vacation and majority go to the beach (specifically Guanacaste, Jaco, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Viejo), double your driving time if you inconveniently land on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday and are driving during the day.
Use Waze as your GPS and bring plenty of snacks and drinks in the car. Fill up on gas before you leave to make sure you start your journey with a full tank. Pack your patience and switch drivers every couple hours. The normal 4 trip from SJO Airport to Tamarindo may well turn into 10 hours (no joke).
Immigration and Customs Will Take a Lot Longer…
…Especially if you are landing on the weekend around noon. Many international flights land at the same time so immigration and customs at SJO and LIR Airport will take a longer time. I know people that took 2-3 hours to get through immigration and customs when they landed on the Saturday before Christmas.
Therefore, if you are taking a shared shuttle, local flight or the public bus, make Plan B and C in case you get stuck in immigration and won’t make it.
This is one of the advantages of booking a private shuttle service in Costa Rica as the driver will wait for you until you exit the airport even if it takes a long time.
If you rented a car and your flight is delayed or canceled, make sure you notify your car rental ASAP. If you don’t, they may cancel your car rental since you will be considered a *no show* and give your car away.
Petty Theft and Pick Pocketing is More Common During Christmas in Costa Rica
If you’re going to be out partying, please do take extra care of your valuables and belongings. Pick pocketing and petty theft increases a lot during this time of year, as thieves take advantage of inebriated and unaware tourists.
Do not leave ANYTHING in your rental car, always roll up windows and lock your doors, keep your belongings close to you where you can see them and never let your credit card out of sight when paying.
Read more tips on staying safe in Costa Rica.
Stock Up on Groceries
If you’re staying at a vacation rental and plan to do a lot of cooking, as soon as you can, head to the supermarket and stock up on groceries. We live near Tamarindo and always stock up on groceries right before the influx of tourists because the supermarkets are always crazy busy during the winter holidays.
There have been times when there weren’t any toilet paper, paper napkins or local produce because there were SO many people. We’ve also waited up to an hour to check out! To avoid long lines and empty shelves, go shopping early in the morning right when the market opens or right when it’s closing.
Supermarkets will be open on Dec 24, 25 and 31 but most likely with limited hours. Normally they close earlier on Dec 24th and the 31st.
Read more about grocery shopping in Costa Rica here.
Avoid Going In/Out of San Jose on December 26
December 26 is when the city celebrates Tope, the festival of the beloved Costa Rican horses (the day is called Día del Caballista Naciona). This horse parade usually starts at 1 PM and they start shutting down streets by noon, so if you need to go in and out of San Jose on December 26, try to reschedule your trip to December 25/27 instead.
An estimated 5000 horses and riders prance their way around the streets of Costa Rica’s capital city, showing off their skills and boasting festive costumes. If you’re already going to be in San Jose on that day, definitely check it out! But either avoid transiting through San Jose or arrive/leave very early.
Please Don’t Forget to Pack Your Patience
In the end, if you’re visiting Costa Rica for Christmas and New Years, please pack your patience. You may need to wait in a very long immigration and custom line, it may take longer to pick up your rental car, there may be a long line to check in to your hotel, you might need to wait awhile to get gas.
That is the reality of visiting Costa Rica for the winter holidays as it is our busiest time of year. You will still have an amazing time, just make sure to have a bit more patience and understanding.
In case you want to visit during a less busy time, check our post for best times to visit Costa Rica!
Costa Rica Vacation Checklist
- First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
- Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
- Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
- Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
- Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
- Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.