Steaming volcanoes, mist-shrouded cloud forest, beautiful beaches and some of the most spectacular wildlife on earth all awaits on a bucket list adventure to Costa Rica. But when is the best time to visit this incredible country?
With 12 distinct climactic zones and seasonal variations on the best time to see things like sea turtles or whales whilst in Costa Rica, we thought it would be useful to get some information from the very best source.
Roberto is our local host in Costa Rica, an expert on all things weather and wildlife in the country and passionate about showing guests the very best of his home country – and trust us when we say that’s a lot.
We caught up with Roberto, to quiz him on the very best times to visit Costa Rica on a wildlife or adventure holiday.
“So the first thing to consider is that Costa Rica is a tropical country, and like most tropical areas in the world, we have two seasons – a dry season and a rainy season.
However, Costa Rica is a bit different because it is very narrow and it has the Pacific side and then it has the Atlantic side, there is a central valley and high mountains that divide the country in two.
Because of all this, the weather on the Atlantic or Caribbean side is very different to the weather on the Pacific side.
The Pacific side and the central valley behave mostly the same, and then the Caribbean with the northern plains gets their own weather.
When are the Wet and Dry Seasons in Costa Rica?
So we have two main seasons, and then two areas that are different weather-wise.
So, everybody says, if you go on the internet or the official tourist board, the dry season goes from December through to March or the start of April. The transition from the rainy to the dry season happens in November and early December, and then the transition of the dry season to the rainy season happens in April.
So in May you would be there in the rainy season and in October you would also be. The rainiest time in the rainy season are the months of September and October, May and June are also very rainy and then in July we kind of get a small break, it’s kind of like a small dry season embedded there.
That’s a simple explanation, but many people forget about what I said before about the weather on the Caribbean side.
So many people want to come and go to Tortuguero or to the north or south Caribbean. They’ll go in January and it will be pouring down with rain because it’s very different.
So what happens over there is that the dry season is very unpredictable, in fact the whole Caribbean area is very unpredictable so there is no best time to visit this side of Costa Rica.
As a side note, I love to do scuba diving, and there is some good scuba diving in that area. I tried to plan some trips and of the three I tried, four were a failure.
Because you obviously need to plan the trip, so I would organise everything, everything would be ready and then literally the day before the diving company would ring and say “don’t even bother coming, there is swell, you’ll have no visibility in the water”, so it’s very unpredictable.
But the one thing that can be predicted is that the driest months on the Caribbean side are September and October. So here in Santa Maria, the central valley and even down on the south Pacific, whilst it’s raining and raining and raining it will be sunny up in the Caribbean.
So that’s one thing to bear in mind, some people will say while it’s raining in the Pacific it will always be sunny in the Caribbean, that’s not always the case. For example earlier this year I was in the Caribbean for three consecutive weekends, and I had very, very nice weather while it was raining a lot here, and then on the last day it was raining.
If you speak to the locals you will hear “yeah, in May, June you may get the odd good day” but what’s really predictable is that September and October are dry.
So that’s a good thing to keep in mind, because if we have itineraries that go there, the best time to promote them is now so that they go in September or October, and it’s even better because it’s low season. It’s up there with the best time to visit Costa Rica.
Popular Costa Rica Holidays
When is the best time to spot sea turtles in Costa Rica?
If you do a Caribbean and central itinerary in these September or October you are going to get good weather. What’s also good in terms of wildlife, is that the north Caribbean side has the Tortuguero area which is very touristic because they have the green turtle.
They nest there from July until October, so when people ask “when can I go and see turtles”, that’s a really good time and a good area.
We also have the leatherback turtle, which is the largest turtle in the world. In May it’s great not to go to Tortuguero but to go to kind of the next set of canals or the big river going into the Atlantic is the Pacuare River.
If you go to this Pacuare area it’s a really important area for nesting leatherbacks, it’s really easy to see them and leatherbacks are really endangered – so for wildlife lovers that’s a really big event, and it happens in May.
You always need to keep in mind though, that this is a tropical area, it’s the rainforest. If there were no people here in Costa Rica the entire thing would be rainforest, and it’s called rainforest for a reason – expect a rainy day any day in the year.
Some people arrive expecting glorious sunshine the entire trip and to be honest, that’s just not realistic.
When is the best time to see whales in Costa Rica?
Another important thing to know for wildlife is for the whales, the best months to visit are August, September, October, those are the good months to go to the south Pacific to see whales.
If you go anywhere on the Pacific side from August to October you will have a good chance of seeing them, if you go to the south Pacific you will see them almost for sure.
Humpback whales are the ones that come here, they’ve travelled up from South America and they come here to breed and raise their babies, then when they get to a certain size they go back to the south, usually by November.
There is also a small whale season in January and February, when the whales from the north come down, but you don’t see as many.
A Unique Turtle Nesting Sight
Going back to turtles, the smallest turtle in the world is the Olive-Ridley, and they have a behaviour that only they do.
They come nesting, in what we call arribadas, and it’s a massive nesting event. It happens with the moon, so starting in July through November, there are certain beaches, I think only about five beaches in the world, two in Costa Rica, two in Mexico and one in India.
They start arriving and start to nest in huge numbers, and it happens for four to five days per month with the moon.
So because it happens for consecutive days it happens in the daylight. Usually when you go to see turtles nesting it happens at night, but these guys just keep coming and coming and coming and coming.
It’s amazing, you can just go to the beach and see hundreds of turtles laying eggs at the beaches. That happens in the north Pacific, and because it happens with the moon it’s really hard to say “yeah come June 28th and you will see them”, you just can’t guarantee it but it happens.
You can set up a good time, you can look at the moon phases, and then take clients there for a few days, to give them the best chance that they see them.”
Dry Season on Pacific Coast and Central – December to April, July
Rainy Season on Pacific Coast and Central – May to June and August to November
Dry Season on Caribbean Coast – September to October
Hiking Season – Year round
Green and Leatherback Turtle Nesting Season (Caribbean Coast) – July to October
Whale Watching Season (Pacific Coast) – August to October
Surfing Season (Pacific Coast) – June to September
Here at Not In The Guidebooks, we want our travellers to experiences a destination as a local, getting under the skin of a culture to not simply visit, but experience authentic life. That’s why we put them in touch with local hosts and guides, who are more qualified than anyone in the world at providing a truly authentic, off the beaten track experience that will last long in the memory.