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 visiting during the Costa Rica rainy season. However, it’s actually not that bad. (Read our post on why you should visit Costa Rica in rainy season).
Yes, 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. 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.
Costa Rica 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.
Topical weather means that it can go from clear skies to a downpour in a matter of seconds. Throw your rain jacket in your backpack so that you’ll be prepared for the sudden storms. This is necessary for Monteverde, the Central Valley, 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
Don’t be like us and lose a brand new camera! We thought we put it in a waterproof backpack but it wasn’t and it died. The backpack couldn’t withstand the tropical rain at all.
After a lot of research, we found Aqua Quest and use them for our waterproof equipment. Aqua Quest Stylin Pro 30 is now our go-to backpack whenever we are out in rainy season. It’s perfect for boat trips and the beach to protect our belongings.
I also recommend a waterproof phone case if you want to use your cell phone or a waterproof action cam like GoPro or Sony Cam. Lifeproof is pretty good for iphone or you can also get the pouches which is what I use for my Galaxy s7 edge. They are awesome for activities like horseback riding, ziplining and tubing if you don’t have a GoPro.
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 since there aren’t street names or clear signage. Also, it is normal for locals to walk or bike on the road at night without wearing reflectors. And sidewalks don’t exist in Costa Rica! 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 Rio Celestes, 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 Costa Rica 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. You can read more tips for renting a car in Costa Rica and driving in Costa Rica here (and get our exclusive car rental discount).
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 Costa Rica packing rainy season 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 so in the end, it isn’t faster. 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. The shortcut wasn’t updated on Waze and the road was completely washed out. All there was was a stick and hastily handwritten sign with the word “CERRADO”. No signs for detours or anything in sight.
We ended up finding our way to the main road but it was a very stressful moment for us. It was around 9 PM at night and raining hard!
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.” This means that for the first 2 weeks, the weather dries up and there isn’t as much rain. This is also peak season since schools have mid-winter break 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. In 2018, the Guanacaste coast was hit by a tropical storm.
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 July – November. These are 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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