Costa Rica Weather: This Tropical Country is Full of Surprises

Of all the reasons expats and tourists are attracted to Costa Rica, the weather is definitely one of the main ones. The entire country enjoys a warm climate year-round, as you would expect from a tropical destination. But even in this small country, about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire put together, there are a great variety of climates in Costa Rica.

Because Costa Rica is so close to the equator, the sun is much brighter here, so you can sunburn much easier than in North American or Europe. Be sure to wear sunscreen or a hat when outdoors.

A Wide Variety of Climates in Costa Rica

Costa Rica weather is greatly influenced by location.

In the Central Valley, the region in the middle of the country around the capital, San Jose, temperatures average in the mid-70s year-round. It doesn’t get colder than the high-60s late in the evening—just enough to wear a light jacket or sweater. And absolute highs are in the mid-80s.

This mild climate (some say one of the best in the world), in the middle of the tropics, is possible because of the altitude. Much of the Central Valley is at 3,000 feet or above. No wonder that about 70% of Costa Ricans live in this region, along with the majority of expats.

You get a much different climate on the coast in Costa Rica. As you drop in altitude towards the ocean, temperatures and humidity start going up. Average temperatures on the Central and Southern Pacific zones are in the mid to high 80s, with some days reaching the 90s. It cools off at night, but not much. The ocean breezes help, especially if you head up into the mountains and hills on the coast.

On the Caribbean coast, the year-round average is in the low to mid 80s, with temperatures reaching the 90s regularly. Much of the Caribbean coast also stays wetter most of the year. (More on the dry versus the rainy season below).

The Northern Pacific, known as the Gold Coast, is home to a number of major resorts and a large expat population. It’s generally drier and sunnier than the rest of the country.

Spring-like weather in Costa Rica

The highlands around Lake Arenal enjoys spring-like temperatures year-round, from the high 60s to high 80s.

Even within certain geographic areas there can be quite different climates within a 10-minute drive. Especially in mountainous areas, microclimates at higher altitudes can bring average and low temperatures down 10 or more degrees and more rain. And even the day-to-day weather can be different, with rain at the higher elevations and a sunny day below.

Above 5,000 feet, where only a few people live, rainfall can be extreme and temperatures can dip into the 50s.

Costa Rica Weather: Two Seasons

As far as Costa Rica weather goes, there are only two seasons. Summer, known as “verano,” or the dry season, runs from December to late April. The rainy, or green season, known as “invierno” (literally “winter”) to the locals, is the other half of the year. The Caribbean coast, especially the southern portion, does not experience such distinct seasons as the rest of the country. It is generally rainier year-round, with a “mini-dry season” generally in September and October.

The Dry Season

During summer, you’ll get clear blue skies all day every day. In the Central Valley, for instance, the weather is perfect. Prices for flights, hotel stays, and activities are higher for travelers at this the time of year.

The Green Season

During the green season, the skies tend to be clear in the morning and early afternoon, with the rain and thunderstorms coming in mid- to late afternoon, sometimes early evening. There is a downpour for an hour or so and then it stops.

The temperature during Costa Rica’s “winter,” although a bit cooler, doesn’t really drop that much.

Rains come like clockwork, so locals and long-time residents run errands in the first part of the day, making sure to be inside when the rains come.

Without rain, Costa Rica wouldn’t be home to such lush plant life and bountiful agriculture. Nor would it be home to such a diverse set of animal species. It’s quite a sight to see the hills and fields turn such a great variety of green during this time of year.

Weather in Costa Rica: Average Rainfall per Year

The rainy season extends nation-wide, although some areas get more rain on average than others. The Central Pacific zone, home to large rainforests, receives between 120 and 160 inches of rain per year. At the extreme Southern Pacific coast, near the border with Panama, that jumps to 160 inches to 240 inches per year. This includes the vast national park on the Osa Peninsula. The dry season tends be shorter here.

On the flipside, the Northern Pacific region, including much of the Guanacaste province and the Nicoya Peninsula is much drier, receiving only up to 80 inches of rain per year. There is also less humidity than other areas.

The eastern edge of the Central Valley, around Moravia, is also wet, with average rainfall reaching above 200 inches per year. Similar rainfalls can be found in the northern side of the Central Valley up to the northern Caribbean coast.

If you’re thinking of a move here, it pays to keep the Costa Rica weather in mind. Be sure to visit any area you’re thinking of moving to in both the rainy and dry season, if possible.

And there are trade offs: being minutes from the beach generally means higher temperatures and humidity. If you stay inland in the Central Valley, you can expect one of the most perfect climates in the world—with the beach a short drive away.

For visitors, the best time to take advantage of perfect Costa Rica weather is December and January. The lush greenery of the rainy season is still evident, but the sky is clear.

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