The climate of Costa Rica is almost as diverse as the landscape of this stunning country. Despite being less than 1,000 miles from the equator, Costa Rica has a range of different climatic conditions, some of which are affected by the delicate ecosystems that can be found across the country. Although it’s true that many parts of Costa Rica are hot and sunny, don’t make the mistake of assuming this will be the case wherever (and whenever) you visit, as the weather can vary quite widely from one region to the next.
Unlike North America, Costa Rica doesn’t have four distinct seasons. Instead, the country has two main periods – the dry season, and the green season.
The dry season, which runs from late November until late April, is also known as the high season or summer. During these months, the weather in many parts of the country is very warm and dry. However, in some provinces, seasonally cool winds offer some respite from the heat, particularly in January and February. Temperatures tend to reach their highest in March and April at the peak of the dry season.
In contrast, the green season, also known as the rainy season, runs from May through November. Although temperatures rarely drop below the mid-60s (around 18 degrees Celsius), the overall climate is much wetter, and torrential rains are far from unusual, especially in the afternoon. During June and July, Costa Rica often experiences short dry spells, but in September and October, the amount of rain can make getting around some parts of the country highly problematic, as landslides and other natural obstacles become more common.
Although Costa Rica’s seasons are reasonably well defined, the diversity of the country’s landscape means that some provinces experience significantly different weather than others.
For instance, Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s northwesternmost province, is the driest part of the country. Temperatures here rarely fall below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (around 29 degrees Celsius), and the region receives much less rainfall than other areas. During the dry season, it is not uncommon for Guanacaste to go several weeks without any rainfall at all, and even during the green season, precipitation is often limited to the occasional scattered afternoon shower.
However, some provinces receive more than their share of rainfall. Limon, Costa Rica’s easternmost province along the Caribbean Sea, is much wetter. At the peak of the dry season, the climate in Limon can be very humid and muggy, and during the green season, rainfall can be heavy. Typically, Limon’s climate is the opposite of other Costa Rican provinces. As such, the dry season runs from May to November, and the green season lasts from November through April. Even during the dry season, Limon tends to get more rain than other regions.
Depending on where you plan to visit, you could experience one or more of Costa Rica’s microclimates – highly concentrated areas where rainfall, temperature and other conditions vary depending on factors such as the terrain and elevation.
One of the country’s most famous microclimates, and a consistent draw for eco-tourists, is the rainforest. As the name suggests, these dense jungles receive a lot of rainfall, which is what helps so many different types of exotic plants and flowers thrive in these environments. This, in turn, can make conditions in the rainforest very humid. However, this can also depend on which rainforest you’re visiting.
Cloud forests, on the other hand, differ from rainforests in several ways. Elevation is the most important distinguishing factor between the two, as cloud forests are much higher than rainforests. It is the increased elevation of cloud forests that contributes to the mist and fog these beautiful forests are known for. In addition, cloud forests often feature dramatic shifts in altitude and topography – the difference between the tallest points and the shallowest valleys. This variety in topography results in heightened accumulation of atmospheric moisture and rainwater.
Of course, mountainous areas have their own microclimates. Reaching elevations of up to 11,000 feet in some areas, mountains and the surrounding countryside are often significantly cooler than areas closer to sea level. This is particularly true of mountains like Cerro Chirripo, the tallest point in Costa Rica. Even during the high season, temperatures at this mountain can plunge to between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (7-12 degrees Celsius). Not everywhere in Costa Rica is hot and sunny year-round!
Much of Costa Rica is covered in dry forest. As the name suggests, these areas receive little rainfall, even during the green season, and are typically found in southern Guanacaste and parts of the Nicoya Peninsula. Despite the relative lack of precipitation, many hardy plants, flowers and trees thrive in these environments.