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When To Go To Costa Rica According To Cost, Weather, Wildlife, And More!

When To Go To Costa Rica According To Cost, Weather, Wildlife, And More!

Last updated on June 20th, 2022 at 08:53 am EST

Wondering when you should go to Costa Rica? Know this.

There is no best time to go to Costa Rica.

“My cousin says July is the best time to go to Costa Rica.”

“I read somewhere online that February is the best time to go to Costa Rica.”

“I heard availability is tough to come by in late-December / early-January, that must be the best time to go to Costa Rica.”

Sound familiar?

It’s tempting to narrow the scope of your Costa Rica trip planning to the experiences of other travelers. After all, planning a vacation to Costa Rica can be overwhelming so why wouldn’t you want to save yourself time and energy by planning a trip that closely mirrors what other people feel is the best? In theory, this is a good plan; positive recommendations often lead to positive experiences. But what if your vacation budget, priorities, interests, and needs differ from those of other travelers? What if you spot positives in other people’s negatives, or vice versa? What if you realize that the word “best” is subjective and that you’re the only person who knows what’s best for you? Well then, you’ll realize how silly it would be for us (or anyone else) to answer the following question on your behalf: “When is the best time to go to Costa Rica?”

When we receive this question from travelers, our response is almost always:That depends.” Usually, a long conversation ensues, during which we invite the inquisitive individuals to prioritize the following:

  • Cost (i.e., saving money)
  • Weather (i.e., increased chance of sunshine and decreased chance of rain)
  • Wildlife and marine life (i.e., increased chance of spotting particular species)
  • Trip duration (i.e., the number of days/nights you are able to travel)

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to vacation without limits: spending lots of money, enjoying weather we’d describe as perfect, laying eyes on every species of wildlife we long to see, and traveling for as long as we like. Snap back to reality, and it’s more likely the case that money, weather, wildlife-spotting, and/or time has to give. Maybe you’re one of these types of people:

  • Your schedule allows you to travel whenever you want during the year but your vacation budget is tight
  • You’re able to travel at any time of the year but you only want to experience Costa Rica when the weather is most favorable or when you’re most likely to see a particular species of wildlife or marine life
  • Money is no object but you’re only able to travel during particular months or weeks in the year

Or, perhaps you’re a different type of person altogether. Someone who plays a unique game of tug-of-war between complete freedom and restrictive responsibilities. Regardless, here’s the takeaway: if you wish to determine the best time to go to Costa Rica, start by determining your priorities. Specifically, determine whether you feel it’s most important to save money, experience optimal weather, see a particular species of wildlife/marine life, or stick to a set vacation schedule. Once you know what you value the most, it will be much easier for you to figure out the Costa Rica travel season or month you should visit. Don’t miss the “Cost,” “Weather,” “Wildlife and marine life,” and “Trip duration” sections of this article for things to keep in mind while weighing the various priorities. If you’re curious about Costa Rica’s travel seasons in general, including the many pros and cons of traveling during each season, continue reading below.

Understanding Costa Rica’s travel seasons

If you’ve begun researching your Costa Rica trip, you’ve likely already come across several references to the “high season” and the “low season”. You may be surprised to learn that there are actually four, not two, travel seasons in Costa Rica; both the “high season” and the “low season” have a sub-season. It’s also important to note that each company in Costa Rica chooses for themselves which dates they consider to fall within each season. You may see the “high season” cited as beginning on December 15th by some companies and December 1st by others, for example. Here’s a quick chart to help you identify the typical timelines of each season.

Tourism seasonDegree of tourismTimeline
High seasonThe high season receives the greatest number of foreign visitors Mid-December to April
Low seasonThe low season receives the fewest number of foreign visitorsMay to mid-December
Peak / Holiday season (a sub-season of the high season) The peak/holiday season receives a surge of foreign visitors and represents the busiest part of the high seasonLast two weeks of December to the first two weeks of January, as well as the week of Easter
Shoulder season (a sub-season of the low season)The shoulder season receives a surge of foreign visitors and represents the busiest part of the low season July (sometimes the end of June) to August

Pros and cons of traveling during Costa Rica’s high season

There are plenty of reasons to travel to Costa Rica during the high season. There must be, otherwise, thousands of foreigners wouldn’t flock here during the period, which is nicknamed the “busy season.” If you’d rather visit Costa Rica when fewer people do, you’ll find travel during this season has a few caveats that you may feel are disadvantages. Here’s a quick chart to help you identify some characteristics of Costa Rica’s high season, which you may view as pros or cons.

CharacteristicWhat to expect
CostOn average countrywide, the most expensive time to travel to Costa Rica is during the high season, especially during the peak/holiday sub-season (see the “Cost” section below for details).
WeatherOn average countrywide, Costa Rica’s most favorable weather is experienced during the high season (see the “Weather” section below for details).
ViewsSunny skies, less cloud cover, and little rain experienced during the high season help keep views of Costa Rica nice and clear. Views captured during adventure and nature tours, atop volcano craters, and at several miradors (viewpoints) around the country are likely to be Instagram-worthy.
LandscapeCoinciding with Costa Rica’s summer / dry season, the high season is when some parts of the country appear brown and brittle. In particular, some areas that house dry forest ecosystems (like several beach destinations along the northern Pacific coast and the Nicoya Peninsula, for example) don’t reflect Costa Rica’s quintessential lush, green landscape.
Road conditionsRoad conditions are at their best during the high season, thanks to favorable weather. This translates to fewer road closures due to landslides, fewer river crossings, and fewer bumpy roads caused by potholes.
Water levelsCosta Rica experiences below-average amounts of rainfall during the high season, which means water levels around the country tend to be lower. This often means that waterfalls (for swimming in and canyoning beside) are less robust, white-water rafting excursions are less intense, and other water-related activities (such as kayaking tours and boat tours) operate without issue.
TerrainHike conditions are at their best during the high season, thanks to favorable weather. This translates to generally dry trails, and fewer trail closures due to landslides, floods, or fallen trees.
TourismCosta Rica is packed with foreign visitors during the high season, especially in popular tourist destinations. This translates to larger group sizes for organized tours; above-average numbers of hikers on popular nature trails, guests in hotels, and diners in restaurants; fuller transportation vehicles (i.e., shared shuttle services, domestic flights, water taxis, ferries, and local buses); and higher levels of noise.
AtmosphereBustling with visitors, the high season exudes active and exciting energy. For some people, being surrounded by other travelers provides a feeling of comfort, as opposed to a feeling of desolation that empty destinations and empty hotels sometimes offer. Other people avoid travel during the high season in favor of visiting at a time when few other people are around.
ClosuresMost tourism businesses operate nonstop (according to their maximum hours of operation) throughout the duration of the high season. Few tourism businesses close temporarily, reduce their hours of operation, or renovate during the high season.
Availability (accommodations)Accommodations (i.e., hotels) fill up fast for overnight stays during the high season (especially during the peak/holiday season), sometimes months in advance.
Availability (tours / activities)Though most tours/activities don’t sell out during the high season, preferred tour times and tour guides can, unless you book them in advance. Since many tours and activities require a minimum of two participants to run (year-round), single travelers typically benefit from visiting during the high season when there are plenty of other travelers around to share experiences with.
Availability (transportation services)Though most transportation services (including shared shuttle services, private transfer services, domestic flights, water taxis, and ferries) don’t sell out during the high season, preferred departure times and routes can, unless you book them in advance.
Availability (rental cars)Though not all car rental agencies sell out of vehicles during the high season, most sell out of 4×4 vehicles, sometimes months in advance.

Pros and cons of traveling during Costa Rica’s low season

Far fewer people travel to Costa Rica during the low season (otherwise known as the “off-season”) than during the high season. Visit during the low season and you’ll be seduced with several rewards (the most influential being low costs and availability flexibility) that aim to make up for the period’s wavering and often wet weather. Here’s a quick chart to help you identify some characteristics of Costa Rica’s low season, which you may consider to be pros or cons.

CharacteristicWhat to expect
CostOn average countrywide, the least expensive time to travel to Costa Rica is during the low season, especially during months that fall outside of the shoulder sub-season (see the “Cost” section below for details).
WeatherWith the exception of southern Caribbean destinations, Costa Rica’s least favorable weather is experienced during the low season (see the “Weather” section below for details).
ViewsCloud cover and sporadic rain experienced during the low season can mar otherwise beautiful views captured during adventure and nature tours, atop volcano craters, and at several miradors (viewpoints) around the country.
LandscapeCoinciding with Costa Rica’s green/wet/rain season, most of the country appears lush and green during the low season.
Road conditionsRoad conditions are at their worst during the low season, mainly at the end of the season (in October and November). Thanks to the period’s soggy climate, you may experience road closures due to landslides, river crossings, and bumpy roads dotted with potholes.
Water levelsCosta Rica experiences above-average amounts of rainfall during the low season, which means water levels around the country tend to be high. Water levels can also be low one at one moment and high the next. This means that waterfalls (for swimming in and canyoning beside) can be powerful, white-water rafting excursions can be intense, and other water-related activities (such as kayaking tours and boat tours) may require tour modifications. Though rare, in some cases dangerous water levels result in tour and activity cancellations.
TerrainHike conditions are at their worst during the low season, mainly at the end of the season (in October and November). Thanks to sporadic rain, you may experience muddy and debris-filled trails, or trail closures due to landslides, floods, or fallen trees.
TourismCountrywide, Costa Rica receives significantly fewer visitors during the low season than during the high season. This translates to smaller group sizes for organized tours; below-average numbers of hikers on popular nature trails, guests in hotels, and diners in restaurants; fewer occupants in transportation vehicles (i.e., shared shuttle services, domestic flights, water taxis, ferries, and local buses); and lower levels of noise.
AtmosphereVoid of hordes of visitors, the low season gives off a low-key and often solemn vibe. For some people, visiting less busy destinations provides a freeing feeling of traveling off the beaten path. Other people avoid travel during the low season in favor of visiting at a time when Costa Rica doesn’t feel empty.
ClosuresSome tourism businesses (mainly in coastal destinations) modify their operations during the low season. Tourism businesses may close temporarily, reduce their hours of operation, or renovate during the low season.
Availability (accommodations)Apart from popular accommodations, most hotels don’t sell out during the low season. Many hotels do sell out for stays during the shoulder season, however, sometimes months in advance.
Availability (tours / activities)Most tours/activities don’t sell out during the low season. Still, book tours/activities as soon as you decide on them to increase your chance of obtaining preferred tour times and tour guides. Since many tours and activities require a minimum of two participants to run (year-round), single travelers sometimes struggle to participate in tours/activities during the low season as there often aren’t other travelers around to share experiences with.
Availability (transportation services)Most transportation services (including shared shuttle services, private transfer services, domestic flights, water taxis, and ferries) don’t sell out during the low season. Still, book transportation services as soon as you decide on them to increase your chance of obtaining preferred departure times and routes. Some transportation service providers (such as shared shuttle service providers and domestic airlines) reduce the number of services they offer during the low season, so there may be fewer departure times available to choose from.
Availability (rental cars)Most car rental agencies don’t sell out of vehicles during the low season. 4×4 vehicles are the first to go, however, so it’s a good idea to book a rental car as soon as you decide on it to increase your chance of obtaining this vehicle type.

Cost

When is the best time to go to Costa Rica if saving money is your priority

Answer: May, June, September, October, or November

Changes in Costa Rica’s travel seasons don’t just indicate shifts in tourism, they also indicate shifts in pricing.

Travel to Costa Rica is least expensive during the low season, especially during non-shoulder-season months (i.e., May, June, September, October, and November) when accommodation prices are at their lowest. Tours (i.e., activities, attractions, and excursions) and transportation services (such as shared shuttle services or private transfer services) tend not to lower their prices during the low season.

Though prices for international flights to Costa Rica change regularly, flights during Costa Rica’s non-shoulder-season months (i.e., May, June, September, October, and November) may be the cheapest as they align with less popular travel months. Travel during non-shoulder-season months (i.e., May, June, September, October, and November) also avoids paying inflated costs for flights during popular travel periods, including March break, Christmas, New Year’s Eve/Day, and the North American summer season.

If maintaining a tight budget is your top priority, limit your travel scope to the months of September, October, or November (when Costa Rica’s low season corresponds with low international airfare prices), followed by May and June (when Costa Rica’s low season corresponds with reasonable international airfare prices). If you prefer to travel during July or August, you’ll likely pay a mix of low season and shoulder season pricing on items in Costa Rica, and average or above-average international airfare prices.

Avoid travel during December (mainly mid-month to the end of December), January, February, March, and April. If you visit during these months, you’ll likely pay top dollar for flights and accommodations, especially if you plan to travel during the last two weeks of December, the first two weeks of January, or the week of Easter.

Weather

When is the best time to go to Costa Rica if experiencing favorable weather is your priority?

Answer: January, February, March, or April (countrywide) or September or October if you’re headed to destinations in the southern Caribbean

If your vacation schedule is wide open, let the weather be your guide!

Costa Rica’s high season and low season (and subsequently, the shoulder season and peak/holiday season) are loosely defined by the weather. In most parts of the country, the start of the green/wet rain season (Costa Rica’s winter season) coincides with the beginning of the low season, and the start of the summer / dry season coincides with the beginning of the high season. Here’s a quick chart to help you connect Costa Rica’s typical weather seasons with the country’s tourism seasons.

Tourism seasonWeather seasonTimeline
High season (including the peak/holiday season)Summer / dry season experienced across most of the countryMid-December to April
Low season (including the shoulder season)Green/wet/rain/winter season experienced across most of the country; southern Caribbean destinations experience summer / dry season weather during September and OctoberMay to mid-December

Across most of Costa Rica, the weather is favorable during the high season, especially during later months (i.e., February and March), when the rain season has completely petered out. By “favorable” weather we mean plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and little rain. It’s the ideal climate if you’re looking to have a quintessential tropical travel experience.

The above said, it’s important to note that Costa Rica is inhabited by rainforests and other ecosystems that rely on significant levels of rainfall to survive. Thanks in part to rain, Costa Rica is regularly lush, green, and filled with wildlife, save for areas that are home to dry forest ecosystems that turn golden brown during dry periods. Rain can (and does) occur at various destinations around Costa Rica, at various times throughout the year. If you wish to avoid the rain as much as possible, pay as much attention to where you go as when you go. Destinations along the northern Pacific coast tend to be the driest, on average, throughout the year.

If experiencing ideal weather in Costa Rica is your top priority, visit during the months of January, February, March, or April (when Costa Rica’s high season corresponds with the summer / dry season), or else during September or October if you plan to visit southern Caribbean destinations (Limon to Manzanillo). If you prefer to travel during transition months (May and December), when seasons shift in Costa Rica, the outcome could go either way. Sometimes seasons change early and sometimes climate shifts take place later than expected, so know that it’s tough to predict the weather during these months.

If either pricing or your vacation schedule prevents you from traveling during Costa Rica’s high season but you still want to access the most favorable weather possible, consider visiting during the months of July or August. Costa Rica often experiences a veranillo (little summer) during these months which provides a bit of relief during the long green/wet/rain season.

Avoid travel during June and November, as well as during September and October if you don’t plan to visit southern Caribbean destinations. If you visit during these months, you’ll most likely experience below-average periods of sunshine and above-average periods of rain (fortunately, temperatures tend to remain warm). But don’t feel discouraged, there’s still plenty of great weather that sweeps through Costa Rica’s green/wet/rain season, even though there’s more of it to be had during the summer/dry season.

If the weather is your greatest priority and sunshine (coupled with little chance of rain) is what you are looking for, then travel during January, February, March, or April is what you should aim for. If you are unable to travel at this time of year (or Costa Rica’s high season prices are more than what you feel comfortable spending), then opt to visit in July or August. Although in the middle of the green/wet/rainy season, these two months offer better weather than May, June, September, October, and November, and are a less expensive alternative to summer/dry season travel.

Curious about the weather in Costa Rica? Read our related blog post:

La Fortuna Weather: Does It Rain In The Rainforest During The Rain Season?

Wildlife and marine life

When is the best time to go to Costa Rica if spotting wildlife or marine life is your priority?

Answer: see the charts below!

If you’re coming to Costa Rica with the hope you’ll see particular wildlife or marine life species, it’s best to schedule a visit when the species is most commonly spotted. Though tons of wildlife and marine life can be seen year-round in Costa Rica, including sloths, monkeys, jungle cats, dolphins, and more, some species are only seen (or most likely to be seen) at certain times of the year. These can include species of birds, sharks, rays, whales, and sea turtles, among others. Here’s a quick chart to help you identify when specific species of wildlife and marine life are most likely to be spotted in Costa Rica.

Birds

Wildlife activityOptimal season
Bird-watching of resident species at Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Cano Negro (the Cano Negro Mixed Wildlife Refuge)May to December
Bird-watching of migratory species at Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Cano Negro (the Cano Negro Mixed Wildlife Refuge)January to April
Bird-watching of resident species at Parque Nacional Palo Verde (the Palo Verde National Park)May to December
Bird-watching of migratory species at Parque Nacional Palo Verde (the Palo Verde National Park) January to April

Sharks, rays, and whales

Marine life activityOptimal season
Spotting bull sharks in the water around Islas Murcielago (the Bat Islands, also known as “The Bats”) May to November
Spotting giant manta rays in the water around Islas Catalina (the Catalina Islands, also known as “The Cats”) November to May
Spotting humpback whales along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastDecember to March (whales migrating from the north) and July to October (whales migrating from the south)
Spotting sharks and whales in the Pacific Ocean around Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) May to December

Sea turtles

Marine life activityOptimal season
Spotting leatherback sea turtles nesting on Playa Grande within Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas (the Las Baulas National Marine Park)October to March (December and January are the best months)
Spotting olive ridley sea turtles nesting on Playa Ostional within Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional (the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge) May to December (August to December are the best months)
Spotting olive ridley sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, and green sea turtles at Parque Nacional Tortuguero (the Tortuguero National Park)March to October
Spotting olive ridley sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, and hawksbill sea turtles at Refugio de Vida Silvestre Camaronal (the Camaronal Wildlife Refuge) June to December

Trip duration

When is the best time to go to Costa Rica if available vacation time is your priority?

Answer: Whenever you can!

Many Costa Rica travelers aren’t just limited by the number of days they can travel, but also when they can travel, down to the season, month, week, or day. If you’re this kind of traveler, and the timing of your Costa Rica getaway is pretty much determined for you, don’t sweat. There may be little room for you to consider why other people think particular periods are the best time to go to Costa Rica, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of the time you have in the country.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: Costa Rica is beautiful, regardless of whether you’re able to experience it for 5 days or 50 days, in November or February, during rainy periods or sunny days. Furthermore, there is no bad time to go to Costa Rica. There are less expensive times to visit, and there are periods when the country experiences below-average amounts of rainfall, but the quality of experiences to be had here is worth paying inflated costs and putting up with some cloudy or drizzly days.

Need help determining where to go in Costa Rica? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Where To Go In Costa Rica: Determining The Best Places To Visit During Your Trip

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What time of year do you think is the best to travel to Costa Rica and why?

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When To Go To Costa Rica According To Cost, Weather, Wildlife, And More!
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When To Go To Costa Rica According To Cost, Weather, Wildlife, And More!
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Debating when to go to Costa Rica? We outline the best times to visit if you want to save money, have great weather, see wildlife, and more!
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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