Pura Vida – the Pure Life — is the slogan of Costa Rica. There really isn’t a better way to describe the Costa Rican lifestyle or feel you get when visiting Costa Rica, than one of enjoying pure nature. With 25% of the country’s land and several marine conservation areas designated as national parks, the “Ticos” have done a remarkable job of protecting nature and is well on its way to becoming the first country to achieve carbon neutrality.
So when is the best time to go to Costa Rica? For me, it’s whenever you can get there – but what you want to do and see will determine the best time to travel to Costa Rica and what to pack. The rainy season can be the very best time to visit Costa Rica – sound strange? It’s true – read on and see why!
Dry Season (December – April)
If you are looking escape cold winter weather in the US or Europe, you aren’t alone. Many birds migrate annually to Costa Rica for exactly the same reason. Up to 800 species of birds have been sighted in Costa Rica during the dry season. So if you are into bird watching or just love nature and would be wowed by the sight of one of the most beautiful birds in the world – the Resplendent Quetzal with its red breast and trailing plumage – January through March is an excellent time to visit Costa Rica.
This is also the very best time to plan a self-drive vacation, especially if you want to visit some of the more remote areas of Costa Rica. It is easier to drive back roads and to spot animals in the dry season when trees are flowering amidst the backdrop of golden hillsides, which are devoid of the lush growth seen in the rainy season. Hiking is easier because trails are dry, and it sure makes packing your shoes less messy when you pack up to head home. Plus, all hotels and resorts are open and offering their full range of services and activities.
Beginning in December, festivals and parades abound throughout the county, and Costa Rica’s bullring antics and wackiness get into full swing. One of the two annual humpback whale migrations happens in late January and early February when they come from the north to breed and give birth. You can see them blowing, slapping the surface with their pectoral fins, breaching or showing their enormous flute when they dive deep to feed. Whales just generate excitement!
If you plan to visit Costa Rica over the Christmas, New Year or Easter holidays, you will want to book your space well in advance – even one to two years in advance. Hotel space is limited, particularly at the beach, and Costa Ricans love their beaches as much as tourists do and flock to them during the holidays. But, you can’t ask for better weather that you get in Costa Rica than Christmas or Spring Break if you are looking for a sunny getaway.
Rainy Season (May – November)
After five months with rarely even a drop of rain, the “Ticos” and countryside are more than ready to drink in some moisture. The mountainsides come alive with the rain, changing from dull earth to hills alive with lush, green flora. Transition months of May and November are something to celebrate by the locals. And if you are wondering about where to travel during hurricane season, Costa Rica is a great choice, because it is only 10 degrees from the equator, well outside the normal hurricane belt.
This is the very best time to go scuba diving or snorkeling in the Pacific Northwest. The winds that howl from January to March are replaced by very light rains in May that flatten the seas giving mariners calm, warm water. Warm water in the Pacific replace the cold water currents found December through March, so you don’t need a wetsuit to snorkel. And it is an easy ride to get to the best spots for sunset cruises, snorkeling, fishing or diving without a lot of swells and wave action rocking on the boat, which is important if you don’t have good sea legs. And in June and July mating turtles dot the surface, so the females will soon be heading in to nest and lay hundreds of eggs along the coastal beaches.
The best months to beat the crowds, enjoy great weather and snap up great deals are May and August. And, bonus, August is the optimum time to see turtles nesting and the time when the humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic.
Many resorts in the Osa Peninsula close to remodel from September thru November due to heavy rains that fill rivers causing runoff to bleed into the ocean making activities like whale watching, scuba diving and snorkeling unavailable. But Guanacaste’s Northwest coast has no rivers draining into their ocean water. So it is important to know where the rivers are and where they drain when traveling in the rainy season.
But there is really great news if you know where to stay when you visit in September and October! Although these are the rainiest months along the Pacific beaches and in the Central Valley near the nation’s capital, it is the very best time to visit the southern Caribbean beaches and Northern region near Arenal Volcano. There is little rain, the temperature is divine, and you can find some killer bargains and specials!
You just have to know the best time to visit each area of the country, for Costa Rica may be a small country, but it is very diverse with dry forests, rain forests, cloud forests, mountains and beaches to choose from. So when is the best time to go to Costa Rica? You decide . . . any time you go it will be “Pura Vida,” indeed!