Ask locals about the best time to visit Costa Rica. They never choose the dry season months that are most popular with tourists.
January through April have dry, hot, sunny weather every day on the Pacific beaches – but insiders prefer the secrets of the (not as wet as you think) rainy season.
The biggest secret is that “rainy” is all wrong, conjuring visions in the minds of travelers from up north of weeks of dreary, gray, rainy days. The truth is literally the opposite with three quarters of the rain falling overnight. There is daytime precipitation but often mornings are bathed in tropical sun and afternoon thundershowers (aguaceros) build to stunning sunsets into the ocean.
Dreary and gray couldn’t be further from the truth either. The rain washes away the dust and dead brown leaves that fall in the deciduous forests every dry season and the moisture transforms the arid landscapes back to jungle. Trees burst with lush new foliage in a veritable thesaurus of greens – emerald, olive, chartreuse and jade.
Besides swapping desiccated tan landscapes for tropical lush there are other reasons locals love vacationing then.
Uncrowded – Costa Rica has become an extremely popular destination and longtime visitors like us avoid the crowds by coming in May through November. The lowest numberd of visitors are in September and October.
Cooler – the rains also drop temperatures a few degrees from scorching to pleasant warm days and nights that can be comfortable with the windows open to the ocean breezes and sound of the waves instead of the hummmm… of air conditioning.
All the water is very warm year round and you never need a wet suit for surfing the Pacific or Caribbean or rafting the whitewater rivers in the middle.
Wildlife Spectacles – It’s not often you get a chance to see a National Geographic Moment in person and it’s not in the dry season. Starting in June and peaking in September and October the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle arribadas are a spectacle only occurring on a couple of beaches in the world. Tens of thousands of females struggle up Playa Ostional in Costa Rica to scrape out nests in the sand and deposit about 80 round white eggs.
Slightly less dramatic but just as predictably each night in the same season Atlantic Green Sea Turtles come ashore by the hundreds at Tortuguero on the Caribbean side. Because the incubation period is only about 50 days if you visit in September or October you’re practically guaranteed to see babies hatching out and running to the waves as well.
Hundreds of migratory birds species are arriving as are the Antarctic Humpback Whales that give birth in the warm Pacific waters. They are often seen breaching and spy hopping right from the beach.
Drier & Sunnier – with all the great things we’ve said about low season travel you might be skeptical when I tell you the rainy season is also actually drier and sunnier, but it’s true. The moist trade winds pile against the central mountains bringing rain to the Pacific side but leaving dry air to push across the Caribbean making September and October two of the driest sunniest months there.
Playas Chiquita, Cocles and Pichiri south of Puerto Viejo and north of Punta Uva are the quintessential Caribbean paradise and it’s the perfect time to visit.
The final secret we’ll leave you with is that Arenal is on the Caribbean side of the continental divide and volcano viewing is much better through the clear rain washed air at the end of the year than during high season.