Everyone knows that the best time to visit Costa Rica is in dry season, from mid-December through April or so, when the sun is shining and prices are at a premium. Or is it?
Costa Rica is a popular destination, and as anyone trying to plan a trip for the Christmas and New Years holiday knows, that can have a few downsides. For instance, everything is already booked months out, except the most expensive or least desirable options.
So what’s a traveler to do? What you should think about is visiting Costa Rica in the rainy season. Or, as some of us like to call it, the “Green Season.”
If you ask any local or expat, you’ll soon learn that the first shower of Green Season makes for one of Costa Rica’s favorite days of the year. The dry heat of summer breaks, the umbrellas come out, and all sorts of tropical fruits come into season. The crowds of tourists evaporate, costs come down and Costa Ricans can visit their own national treasures.
The eagerly anticipated rains start sometime between early May and mid-June, beginning at the southern part of the country and gradually working their way north. The dry tropical forests of Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula (in the far northwest of the country) are the last parts of Costa Rica to get drenched, and the first to dry out. They also remain the sunniest throughout the rainy season.
If you’ve visited Guanacaste in dry season, you’ve probably noticed that most vegetation is brown and barren, with leaves dropping from the trees (much like autumn in more temperate climes) by December. Not so in rainy season: In June, many trees burst into colorful blooms, followed by the bright green foliage that carpets the Pacific shore; it’s so much more beautiful that you may never come back to Costa Rica in dry season again.
Note that the Caribbean Coast doesn’t really have a distinct rainy season. It’s a bit wetter between June and December, usually, but the east coast is always rainy and humid no matter when you plan to visit Costa Rica. If you’re coming here during Green Season, consider spending some time on the east coast.
While June through August, and November through early December, are fine (if a bit wet) for traveling, rains are heaviest in September and October. That’s when Green Season becomes a real issue for travelers. Roads wash out, flash floods wreck schedules and it can rain all day, for days on end. You can still travel during this time, but leave plenty of leeway for delays and hassles.
The rest of rainy season, however, is much less intense. Rains come most afternoons around 2pm or 3pm, and last for a couple of hours. You’ll want to carry an umbrella at all times, just in case, but most travelers (especially early risers) will still be able to get a great tan. The best strategy is to check the weather; it will often be rainy in one area but sunny elsewhere in this tiny country of micro-climates. And, since tourists are few and far between, you don’t really need to make reservations like you would in high season. Just jump on a bus and go.
Some activities will, of course, be compromised. For example, snorkeling and diving on the Pacific Coast won’t be as rewarding, because visibility is much lower. Horseback rides in extremely steep, muddy areas will be off limits, or limited to expert riders only.
However, this is the best time of year to see nesting sea turtles, which arrive in huge numbers to the Costa Rican coast throughout rainy season. Not a bad tradeoff!
Obviously, visiting Costa Rica in the rain isn’t for everyone—if you like your vacations as convenient and hassle-free as possible, or simply detest hiking or going to the beach in a drizzle, give Green Season a miss. But if you’re one of those travelers who doesn’t mind giving your flip flops and umbrellas a workout, or who simply wants to see increasingly pricey Costa Rica on the cheap without crowds of tourists wrecking the view, rainy season may be perfect for you.