Traveling in tropical countries during rainy season is intimidating and Costa Rica is no exception. With intense rains, strong winds and frequent swells during peak rainy season months, it seems like the best thing to do is avoid traveling in rainy season. However, it’s actually not that bad. (Read our post on why you should visit Costa Rica in rainy season).
Yes, it does flood in many parts of the Central Valley and you will probably run into some rainy days, but you can still have an incredible time in Costa Rica in rainy season as long as you come prepared (learning about the weather is part of it. Click here to read our Costa Rica weather guide.)
If you’re visiting Costa Rica in rainy season, here is our personal advice for a fun and safe trip.
Tips for Visiting Costa Rica in Rainy Season
Rainy season for most of the country is roughly beginning of May to beginning of December with the peak months September – November. It’s still hot and humid for the most part, except for high elevation areas which can get cold (around 60’s) at night.
However, on the Caribbean side, October is generally the driest so it’s opposite. Nonetheless, the Caribbean side tends to rain more so keep these tips in mind no matter what time of year you are visiting.
Always have your rain jacket with you
No matter where you are and what you’re doing, always bring your rain jacket with you. We learned this from personal experience. One day we were at the beach on a gorgeous day. Hot, sunny, just like dry season. Then all of a sudden, dark clouds came over and it started thundering and lightning! We got absolutely soaked as we had to run a mile up a hill to our car.
So just know that the morning may be super sunny with clear skies, but tropical weather means that it can go from blue skies to clouds and sun to downpour in a matter of seconds. Throw your rain jacket in your backpack or car so that you’ll be prepared for the sudden storms, especially if you’re in areas like Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon or Bijagua as it can get pretty cold when it rains being in such high elevation!
For rain jackets, we love our North Face Venture rain jackets, as they’re 100% waterproof, breathable and light.
Bring a real waterproof backpack or rain cover
We also sadly learned this lesson from personal experience. We brought our brand new camera on a hike to Cerro Chato where it poured the entire time. Though we put it in what claimed to be a waterproof backpack on the website, it was not and the camera drowned. After that, we researched thoroughly for a real waterproof backpack and found the Aqua Quest brand which we are obsessed with. Their backpacks are super durable and great quality, not to mention 100% waterproof.
The Aqua Quest Stylin Pro 30 is now our go-to backpack whenever we are doing activities or sightseeing in rainy season as it’s super spacious. It’s perfect for boat trips and the beach to protect our belongings.
I also recommend a waterproof phone case. Lifeproof is pretty good for iphone or you can also get the pouches which is what I use for my Galaxy s7 edge. Awesome and convenient to get photos for all activities like horseback riding, ziplining and tubing if you don’t have a GoPro or waterproof point and shoot camera.
Don’t drive long distances at night
Because most of the hard rains and thunder/lightning storms occur at night, don’t drive long distances after dark. Remember, sun sets by 6 PM every day in Costa Rica so plan your days accordingly. You can drive short distances like to town to get dinner but for any long drives (more than 30 minutes), I recommend avoiding it.
It is easy to get lost being unfamiliar with roads, even using Waze since there aren’t street names or clear signage and road conditions are not the best in some places. Also, it is normal for locals to walk or bike on the road at night without wearing reflectors not to mention sidewalks don’t really exist. You don’t want to get a flat tire or get lost at 9 PM in the rain, especially if you don’t have cell phone service.
Check Facebook pages of national parks or attractions before you go
If you’re planning on visiting some of the more rural areas in Costa Rica like Tenorio Volcano National Park where Rio Celeste is, make sure to check the Facebook pages of those places before you go. During hard rains, the trails may get flooded or washed out and they will post on Facebook updates on closures and conditions.
Also don’t count on being able to see volcanoes like Poas Volcano (currently closed), Irazu or Arenal during peak rainy season months unless you have time to wait or get lucky. It is usually super cloudy.
Rent a 4×4 and check road conditions
You need to check the road conditions of where you’re going. Roads to more rural destinations like Drake Bay, Ostional and Carate may also get washed out since they are unpaved and have big pot holes. There are also some rivers to cross that may get flooded.
So during rainy season it’s best to rent a 4×4 for those destinations including the Costa Ballena (Dominical, Uvita and Ojochal), Osa Peninsula and Monteverde as they also have unpaved roads that are steep and can get very slippery in heavy rain.
For Drake Bay, it is best to take the boat from Sierpe just in case there are very hard rains and the rivers get flooded.
Do activities and tours early in the morning
Since it is normal for it to rain in the late afternoon and night, it is best to schedule all your tours and activities as early as possible in the morning to take advantage of the early morning sun.
If it has been raining very hard, check with tour companies to see if they are still operating. They won’t operate ziplining tours if it’s lightning out or do night walks if it’s raining too hard.
Bring a battery pack and flashlight
If you’re staying in a budget hotel, hostel or guest house, bring a battery pack or two. During rain storms, the power may go out and for periods of time so it’s best to bring a battery pack so you can still have juice for your phones and tablets for entertainment. Additionally, a flashlight will be super useful for when the electricity goes out and if you have to walk at night.
You can check our rainy season packing list for more tips and essentials to bring.
When using Waze or Google Maps, do not take the shortest route
This is a tip for dry season travel as well but even more so in rainy season since it’s worst getting lost in the rain. We recommend using the app Waze for GPS, which works great in Costa Rica but make sure that you choose routes that go through main roads.
Waze is famous for choosing the shorter routes. However, it can sometimes be a back road through a very unpaved and hilly road so in the end, it isn’t faster and is more stressful (can you tell I’m speaking from personal experience?), especially if you don’t have a 4×4. Always make sure the route you choose is on main roads and if you accidentally miss a turn and it wants to re-route you to the “fastest” route, don’t listen to it. Go back to the main road.
This happened to us driving to Montezuma from San Jose. It took us through a “shortcut” which was actually through a private reserve with the worst roads I’ve ever seen in the middle of nowhere instead of taking us on the nicely paved longer route. The shortcut wasn’t updated on Waze and the road was completely washed out, with a stick and hastily handwritten sign with the word “CERRADO” planted in the middle. No signs for detours or anything in sight.
We ended up finding our way to the main road from the shortcut but it was a very stressful moment for us as it was around 9 PM at night and raining. Another reason why you should avoid driving long distances at night.
Costa Rica Rainy Season Months: Weather Conditions
People always ask us how bad is the rainy season in Costa Rica and are constantly checking the forecast. Don’t listen to the weather forecast when you look up the weather for Costa Rica in the rainy season months. It’ll say rain, thunder and lightning every day. If you want to see what the conditions are like, check the location tag on Instagram and Facebook to see photos people are uploading in real time.
Even though April is technically in dry season, it may still rain. This year, it started pouring down rain around late April in the Central Valley. It’s still very hot but if you’re visiting Costa Rica in April, particularly end of the month and staying mostly around the Central Valley (San Jose, Heredia, Cartago, Alajuela) area, keep in mind that it may rain.
What the weather is like in Costa Rica in May: May is when the rainy season is just starting for most of the country and in general, it may rain off and on. Days get cloudier but still hot and sunny.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in June: June is about the same as May. Sunny skies in the morning and afternoon, may get cloudy in late afternoon. Doesn’t rain every day usually, but may pour once in awhile. Very common for it to rain hard for about 10 minutes and then clear up. This year, May and June were rainier than the past several years and the country saw some good hard rains in June.
Guanacaste gets super humid after the first few weeks of rain.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in July: July has what they call “little summer” meaning that for about 2 weeks of the month, the weather dries up and there isn’t as much rain. Those two weeks are also peak travel season since locals have mid-winter break for schools and it is summer vacation for North Americans.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in August: Days go back to the sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons. Rain can start picking up more in the afternoons and nights and more often. Can rain pretty hard in the rain forest and cloud forest areas in Arenal and Monteverde.
What the weather like in Costa Rica September: September is the start of the rainiest months in Costa Rica (except for the Caribbean side). Do expect more cloudy and rainy mornings and nights.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in October: This is the driest and sunnier month for the Caribbean side but the worst for the rest of the country. Expect sudden rain storms during the day and it may rain late into the night. In high elevation areas, it can rain all day for consecutive days in a row.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in November: Still expect a good amount of rain throughout the country. We got soaked in Monteverde, Poas and Arenal in November but still got a couple hours of sun in the morning.
Things to do in Costa Rica During Rainy Season
Despite the rain, you can still do pretty much all the activities as you would in dry season. Just make sure to check with tour companies the conditions and if they’re still operating.
There are actually some activities that are better in rainy season than dry.
- White water rafting/tubing: Since the rivers are a lot more full, it’s way more fun to go rafting or tubing. Class 2 and 3 rapids turn into 3 and 4 easily!
- Coffee tour: The coffee harvest season starts around September to December/January and you can see the entire process and the machines at work. If you visit out of season, you won’t be able to see how the full process.
- Whale watching: August and September are two of the best months of the year to see humpback whales in Costa Rica.
- Turtles: Turtle breeding and mating season is also in rainy season with July – November the best months to see turtles nesting and babies hatching on shore. Out in the ocean, you can see them mating. Ostional and Tortuguero are two of the best places.
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