Costa Rica at its Greenest
Most are aware of Costa Rica's tropical climate due to its location in Central America, near to the equator. Many might also know that, because of this environment, Costa Rica enjoys just two seasons annually as opposed to four. The dry season lasts from mid-November through April, and the rainy season lasts from May to mid-November. The latter is also referred to as the "green" season due to the brilliant vegetation that thrives during this period.
Travelers often opt to visit during the dry season. Peak crowds hit in December, with folks continuing to come during January and February and (for many North Americans) during spring break. What those tourists don't know? The green season is long, and the weather actually varies quite a bit during these months. The conditions also change depending on the region, and in some places in Costa Rica, there isn't much difference between the two seasons at all.
Let this be your primer on how to get the most out of Costa Rica during its perceived "off" season. But don't stop there—after deciding when you want to visit, let our other in-depth guide help you decide how long to spend in Costa Rica.
Benefits of Visiting During Green Season
The most obvious reason to visit Costa Rica during the rainy season is that it's cheaper. You're going to pay much less for accommodations than you will in the high season. Prices vary depending on the region, but it is not uncommon to find hotel rooms offering stays over 50% less than they would during the high season (although the typical discount is between 15-30%).
But there's more allure to the green season than price alone. You can count on cooler temperatures during the rainy season, too. Everyone loves some good beach weather, but if you're planning on visiting Guanacaste Province (more on this below), you're looking at over 90°F temps during the high season. It often even cracks 100°F. Sure, you may catch a rainout on some beaches during the green season, but you can at least rest easy in the fact you won't get beaten down by the sun.
And of course, there are fewer people to contend with during the green season. Low tourist numbers means you get more of the natural beauty to yourself. You're likely to get a few days of sun during your stay, and if that coincides with your beach time, you'll be happy that the sands won't be overcrowded.
Best Time to Visit During Green Season
Within the green season, there are certain times that are better than others. There is a so-called "sweet spot" in July and the beginning of August. This "mini dry season" sees significantly less rainfall (especially on the northwest Pacific coast) and is an ideal time for wildlife spotting and activities. Be aware that tourism also picks up a bit during this time as well.
Where to Go
As mentioned above, the weather changes by region in Costa Rica. If you're planning a trip to the Caribbean side and northern plains, you can expect temperatures in the 70s and 80s year round with high humidity. However, in the northern Pacific region, there is less humidity and it's drier. This fluctuates little throughout the year, and although the northern Pacific coast does receive some showers during this time, they are typically lighter and don't last as long as those in other parts of the country.
Some parts of Costa Rica remain drizzly and overcast all year. Case in point: the famous cloud forests of Monteverde. This region sits at an altitude of 4,600 feet above sea level, which results in perpetual cloud cover. Nowhere is this more striking than at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, a 26,000-acre protected area filled with hiking trails and suspension bridges. It draws thousands of tourists a year and can be enjoyed anytime.
Read more about the region in our Ultimate Guide to Monteverde.
Aching for some Costa Rican surf but the rain's giving you the blues? You can always try your luck on the southeast Caribbean side of the nation, in the village of Puerto Viejo. There's a rich Afro-Caribbean heritage here, as well as some great surf breaks (particularly at Salsa Brava beach). It's not guaranteed that the skies will be clear when you arrive, but this area is typically one that remains sunny even through the rainier months. October might just be the best month to visit.
Read more about catching waves in Costa Rica in this article on Surfing Beaches for Every Skill Level.
Guanacaste Province is located on the northwest Pacific side of the country. It's home to the famous Gold Coast, a section of beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula that include the tourist-heavy surf villages of Nosara and Tamarindo. This is an area of the country that remains reliably hot and dry all year—there's very little rainfall even in the rainy season. So if you want to beat the crowds while avoiding the heat of the dry months, come during the green season.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Guanacaste Province for more details.
You can enjoy certain activities, like waterfall hikes and canopy tours, in Costa Rica all year. Some, such as surfing and beach activities, are ideal during the high season. Then there are others, like rafting and turtle spotting, that are best experienced during Costa Rica's green season.
If there's one activity tailor-made for Costa Rica's green season, it's rafting. During the dry season, the rivers are lower and the scenery on many routes turns drab. However, by June, the rivers are raging and the greenery along the banks is in full bloom. That's not to say the only options are for adrenaline junkies (like the wild class IV rapids on Reventazon River). No, entire families can enjoy a trip down these waterways. For example, the Savegre River, which passes through Manuel Antonio National Park, features class II and III rapids ideal for kids as young as eight. There's also some prime wildlife spotting along the banks—you'll see howler monkeys, tapirs, and perhaps a crocodile or two.
Spotting whales is an activity you can indulge in throughout the year in Costa Rica—in certain places. When traveling in the green season, be sure to head down to the Osa Peninsula, to the remote Bahía Drake (Drake Bay). This coastal village straddles Parque Nacional Corcovado to the south, but it's from Drake that you can view the whales. It's just offshore that humpback whales migrating from the south pass by during the months of July to November. In this area you can see them engaged in mating or, if you're lucky, giving birth to calves. Bahía Drake is accessible via airstrip from San José.
Read more about wildlife spotting in this Ultimate Guide to the Osa Peninsula.
The rain may ruin beach conditions for humans, but it won't stop the turtles. Many parts of Costa Rica's coastline are havens for mother sea turtles looking to lay their eggs. There's a famous turtle sanctuary located in Guanacaste Province, just outside of the coastal hotspot Nosara. It's called the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, and it was established in 1983 to protect nesting sea turtles from poachers.
The reserve's nine miles of beach is one of the few areas in the world where a dramatic natural event called an arribada ("arrival") occurs. From July to December (and most frequently in September-November), thousands of female olive ridley turtles crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. They typically do this the night before the new moon, when the sky is darkest. You can visit the refuge on an official tour with a guide. For more turtle spotting, consider visiting Parque Nacional Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast. Leatherback and green sea turtles also lay their eggs here at night, and they do so from mid-July through Mid-October.
In many areas during the rainy season, the water levels can lead to impassable road conditions, especially in the more remote areas of the country, like around the Osa Peninsula. Take this into consideration if you're planning a road trip in Costa Rica.
Be sure to bring mosquito repellent, too. This is recommended even in the dry season, but during the wetter months, when mosquitos are breeding constantly, it's downright mandatory.
Finally, bring as much waterproof gear (packs, clothing, etc.) as you can manage. Be prepared to get wet, and have fun!