Though majority of visitors want to see Costa Rica in all its sunny glory, there’s something magical about Costa Rica in rainy season that isn’t there in dry season.
Here are 6 reasons why you should visit Costa Rica in rainy season and our personal rainy season travel tips.
When is Costa Rica Rainy Season?
First, let’s talk about when is the Costa Rican rainy season.
Rainy season in Costa Rica is generally beginning of May to end of November. The rainiest months in Costa Rica are September – November. As Costa Rica has over 20 micro-climates, temperatures and abundance of rain varies throughout the country.
Central Valley (San Jose, Heredia, Cartago, Alajuela)
In the Central Valley, during the day it is around low to mid 70s F (21-23 C) and at night, it cools off to around 65 F (17-18 C). These are areas such as San Jose, Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia. If you go up to the mountains, it gets cooler and tends to rain a bit more. This area starts raining around mid April.
Guanacaste Pacific Coast
On the Pacific coast (Guanacaste and Nicoya Peninsula), it is much drier. It is still very hot at around mid 80s (30 C) and very humid. It doesn’t really start raining hard until about September and it is mostly cloudy in mornings, rainy in afternoons and nights. May and June may see off and on random rains and is usually very cloudy.
Central and South Pacific Coast (Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Costa Ballena, Osa Peninsula)
For the Central and South Pacific coast (Jaco/Manuel Antonio/ Costa Ballena/Osa Peninsula), this area is very humid and tends to rain more. Average temperatures are around mid 80s (29 C).
Mountaineous Areas (Monteverde, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Gerardo de Dota, etc.)
In the mountainous areas such as Monteverde, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon and San Gerardo de Dota, it is much cooler. Temperatures are around low to mid 70s F (21-23 C) during the day and cools off at night to low 60s (15-16 C). It can get even colder if it’s windy.
Caribbean coast (Limon province)
The Caribbean side for Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo follows a different weather pattern. The rainiest months normally are June and November but this area can rain any time of the year. October is usually their summer month!
When it comes down to it, rainy season in Costa Rica is not as bad as people expect or think it is. Average temperatures in Costa Rica don’t vary too much.
For more information, you can our Costa Rica’s weather post. Now let’s get into why you should visit Costa Rica in rainy season!
Wildlife Watching Galore
Although you can see wildlife in Costa Rica any time of the year, there are certain times where you can witness natural phenomenons that only happen during rainy season. Wildlife watching during Costa Rica rainy season is excellent when it comes to marine wildlife.
One of the best scuba diving spots in Costa Rica, the Bat Islands, is only accessibly during rainy season (May – November). The islands have an extremely healthy and large population of bull sharks and manta rays!
If seeing turtles is high on your bucket list, then you must visit Costa Rica in rainy season. Ostional Wildlife Refuge experiences a mass gathering of nesting turtles (called arribadas) during this time of year.
These arribadas are best in September, October and November. Thousands of turtles come onto shore to lay their eggs during arribadas! In Tortuguero, another excellent destination for turtles, the nesting season is May – November right during rainy season. Additionally, if you go boating you may see turtles mating in the water!
Whales and dolphins
If you want to see whales, good news! Costa Rica has a long humpback whale season and the best months are August and September. In Uvita, they hold the whale and dolphin festival in August for special rates to see these amazing animals!
There are several places in Costa Rica for whale watching such as Drake Bay, Manuel Antonio, Gulf of Nicoya and Marino Ballena National Park. We have even seen humpback and pilot whales in the Gulf of Papagayo!
It’s So Green!
There’s a reason why they say green is nature’s color and makes people feel refreshed and calm. When we lived in Playas del Coco, we would go months and months without a drop of rain meaning all the grass and hills were yellow and dry like a desert. But as soon as we got a few good hard rains, Coco transformed into this lush, verdant beach town.
Colorful flowers blossomed overnight, grass turned moist and lavish and you could almost hear the trees sigh with relief. Everyone who lives in Coco prays for rain, completely opposite of what the tourists wish for and when it does, we are elated and thankful. Costa Rica in rainy season is unbelievably green!
Whenever we talk to travelers who have only been to Costa Rica in dry season, they are shocked to hear how green it gets as this is their normal view in Guanacaste.
If you’re planning on traveling in Costa Rica on a budget, rainy season is definitely the best time to visit. Hotels in Costa Rica normally have three different seasonal rates: low, high and peak. Low is rainy/green season, high is dry season and peak is during Christmas/New Years and Semana Santa (Easter week).
Low season rates can be a good amount less than high season. For example, a hotel that is normally $100 USD a night in high season may be $80 USD a night in low season! Same goes for car rentals. Additionally, some tour companies or restaurants may run promos in the lowest months of September and October. When we visited Manuel Antonio in October, a ton of restaurants had 30-50% off their entire menu (cash only).
Be aware that mid-summer break in July (second week of the month) is considered high season due to North America summer vacation. When we traveled to La Fortuna with my parents, it was hard to find hotels since many of them were full and prices were normal like high season.
The cheapest times to travel in Costa Rica are the shoulder months of May, June, September and October. You can find great deals during that time.
Rivers and Waterfalls are Fuller
Water levels are much lower during dry season and water sports such as rafting and tubing aren’t quite as exciting. We’ve gone white water rafting and white water tubing in both dry and rainy season and we have to say hands down, rainy season is way more fun! The rapids are much more thrilling to raft through with gushing waters and dark green jungle surrounding you.
Same with tubing. With low water levels you don’t bounce around nearly as much as rainy season when the rivers are full. Still fun in dry season but definitely more in rainy!
Likewise, waterfalls are normally drier and smaller in dry season, especially in Guanacaste and Nicoya Peninsula. During rainy season, the waterfalls fill up! There’s nothing more breathtaking than seeing a huge waterfall dropping from a tall cliff. It’s not quite as impressive when it’s a tiny stream.
But Keep in Mind…
However, one downfall to visiting waterfalls in rainy season is the color. La Fortuna waterfall is actually a pretty bright green/blue but in the photo it looks grey. The color change is due to the sediment and dirt run off from the rain. Keep this in mind if you plan to visit Rio Celeste, when it’s raining very hard, it may not be the beautiful sky blue color.
We all love sunny days and clear skies but sometimes (and I mean many times), it can get way too hot. Guanacaste and Nicoya Peninsula are two of the hottest areas in Costa Rica and it stays in the high 90s and 100s (36-38 C) for weeks on end. Roads get super dusty, the air is stale and dry and it is just damn hot.
The first few rains make the air very humid but when rainy season is underway, temperatures drop a little bit and that little bit is enough to feel the difference. One of our favorite things to do is to lay on our hammock on our balcony, watching the rain fall at night.
Enjoy Beaches All to Yourself
Rainy season means less tourists and Yeison and I have had beautiful beaches all to ourselves many times during this time of year. Even places that are normally very busy like Manuel Antonio empty out once September and October roll around.
Rent a car, explore and you can find beautiful beaches all to yourself! It’s one of the best parts about the Costa Rica rainy season.
A Few Extra Reasons
You will experience the typical humid tropical climate and you’ll really feel like you’re in the jungle!
You can see intense lightning storms. I have never seen such crazy lightning strikes before!
If you’re a scuba diver, some of the best sites are only accessible in rainy season or have the best visibility during that time. There is also more wildlife to see in the water. You can read about my experience scuba diving in rainy season in Costa Rica here.
Tips for Visiting Costa Rica in Rainy Season
- In rainy season, it is generally sunny and dry in the morning and rainy in the late afternoon and nights. So it’s better to schedule your activities in the morning.
- Consider visiting destinations that are not far from the international airports in Costa Rica. That way you don’t need to worry about driving long distances in the rain.
- We don’t recommend to drive after dusk during rainy season because it tends to rain more at night. If your flight lands after 3-4 PM and your next destination is 3 hours way, stay a night near the airport and then leave early the next morning.
- You don’t necessarily need to pre-book all your activities if you want to wait and see how the weather is.
- Check Facebook pages of the tour you’re doing, hotels you booked and places you’re visiting. They may post updates on conditions.
- Bring mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes are absolutely awful in rainy season. Read our post about our favorite bug repellents for Costa Rica.
- Pack accordingly. Be prepared for sudden rain so it’s best to bring waterproof gear. We never leave without our Aqua Quest backpacks! Read our complete guide to packing for Costa Rica during rainy season.
- Always have your rain jacket with you.
- Don’t forget sunscreen. Even if it’s cloudy, the sun is still strong.
- If you plan on renting a car, rent a GPS or use Waze/Google Maps on your phone. It’s pretty hard to see road signs when it’s pouring rain. The last thing you want to happen is to get lost or stuck in a thunderstorm. We also recommend to get a Costa Rican prepaid SIM card so you can make phone calls in case of emergency.
- When using GPS, do not take the shortest route or that detour. Most of the time, it is through an unpaved road. If you miss a turn, go back to the main road. Always take the paved route and check road conditions.
- Don’t drive long distances at night.
- Rent a 4×4 if you’re going to rural areas. These are places like Monteverde, Bajos del Toro and Osa Peninsula.
- In some areas, the power may go out during rain or thunderstorms. Bring a battery pack to keep your phone charged. A headlamp or flashlight will also come in handy.
Costa Rica Rainy Season Months
Although April is in dry season, it may still rain in places like the Central Valley, La Fortuna or South Pacific. It’s starts getting very humid in April!
What the weather is like in Costa Rica in May: May is our shoulder and transition month. It may rain off and on sporadically and some days may be rainier than others in the rainforest and mountain areas. Days are still hot, though cloudy and humid. It may rain very hard for 10 minutes and then be super sunny for the rest of the afternoon.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in June: June is about the same as May but the rains may become more common. Tends to rain more on the Caribbean coast in June.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in July: July has what the locals call “little summer.” This little summer is around mid-July and the weather tends to dry up, as if it’s dry season. It even has clear blue skies and little humidity. Although it can still rain in July in the rainforest areas, it is generally drier and a great month to visit Costa Rica.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in August: It starts going back to the typical rainy day with sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons. Rain can start picking up more in the afternoons and nights and more often towards mid to end of August. Starts to rain more in the rainforest and cloud forests.
What the weather like in Costa Rica September: September is the start of the rainiest months in Costa Rica. Expect more cloud and rainy afternoons and nights. Starts to dry up in the Caribbean. September and October tend to be the coldest months in Costa Rica.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in October: This is the driest 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. On the Pacific coast you will still get dry but cloudy mornings but by afternoon, it’ll start raining. In 2018, the Guanacaste coast was hit by a tropical storm in October!
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in November: Still expect a good amount of rain throughout the country. Starts transitioning to dry season but can still rain in the afternoons and nights in the higher elevation areas. The coast will have hard rains at night. At the end of November 2017, the Costa Rica Northern Coast got hit by Hurricane Otto, the first hurricane since 1996.
What it’s like to travel Costa Rica in December: Beginning of December is very nice as it is drying up. It can still rain here and there beginning of December but by the end of December, it’s not common to have the super hard rains. It usually gets very windy in December throughout the Central Valley and North Pacific coast. If there is a cold front up north in the Atlantic, the Central Valley will also be affected.
Best Things to do in Costa Rica Rainy Season
Fishing in Costa Rica is generally very good in rainy season, especially for mahi mahi and tuna.
White water rafting and tubing: Rivers are fuller like I mentioned before so it’s a lot more fun! Take note if you’re visiting September – November though the weather may get too crazy. Tour companies will cancel rafting tours if the rivers are too full or weather becomes dangerous so if you visit those months, be aware that it may happen.
Coffee tours: The coffee harvest season starts around September to December/January so you can see the entire picking, separating and processing procedure.
Museums: On a rainy afternoon in San Jose, you can visit the indoor museums and Central Market.
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