For such a small country, Costa Rica has an astonishing variety of climates. From the
misty mountaintops of Talamanca and Monteverde to the dry northern Guanacaste province,
from the permanent spring weather of the Arenal area to the jungle lushness of the
Caribbean Coast, Costa Rica has every kind of climate one might desire. The exception is
frozen snow and bitter cold; but you don't want that anyway. Yes, there are seasons, but
the differences between them are minimal, mostly measured in differences in rainfall
rather than in temperature variation. Unlike many other world vacation spots, Costa Rica
isn't an one-season destination; almost any time of the year can be a perfect time to
visit. For those who live here full-time, the seasonal changes add space to retirement.
September and October are probably the least popular months, though, for these are the
In Costa Rica people transpose the meanings of winter and summer. They call the months
of December, January, and February "summer," or the "dry season." These are the months
that children take their "summer vacation" from school. To a Costa Rican, "winter" means
June, July, and August! Conversations can become very confusing when Costa Ricans and
North Americans discuss the seasons, with summer and winter having opposite meanings for
each. To avoid misunderstandings, I generally say June, July, and August" instead
of "winter," or better yet I?ll say "dry season" or "rainy season" then everybody knows
what I mean.
The dry season, which actually begins around the end of November and lasts until May,
isn't parched and arid, as the name might imply. Occasional showers keep plants and
lawns pleasantly green and flowers blooming in the higher parts of the mountains, where
most folks live. On the Caribbean Coast and the area around Lake Arenal, the "dry
season" is just a figure of speech rain knows no seasons here. Some Pacific coastal
areas are truly dry January through April, very much like California summers, when rain
The "winter" months of June, July, and August also referred to as the, green season are
cooler than the "summer" months. This is because of frequent rains and almost daily
afternoon cloud cover.
A common misconception is that "rainy season" means continuous downpours. Typically,
even in the most rainy parts of the country, the day begins with glorious sunshine, with
blossoms glowing in the sparkling clean air and birds singing happily, then clouds roll
in after lunch, and rain starts falling between 2:00 and 4:00 P.m. (In some places you
can almost set your clock by it.) A heavy downpour sends people indoors for a couple of
hours (an ideal time for a nap!). Then sunshine returns, and the world is once again
refreshed. Other sections of the country enjoy sunshine all day, with the rain falling
mostly at night. This is the "best" rain, for falling asleep to the drumming sound of
raindrops on a metal roof is a delight. Seldom does it rain every day; several days in a
row can be perfectly dry.
Because most North Americans customarily think of the tropics as a place to visit in
their winter season to escape the snow and ice of their homelands they are often
surprised to find that the rainy months of June, July, and August are the favorite time
of year for many who live in Costa Rica. "You can't really appreciate this country until
you've experienced our winter months," says Graham Tenshaw, an expatriate from
England. "Everything is green now in January, but when the rains start in May, the grass
changes to an even brighter emerald color. Flowers that bloom only in July and August
are absolutely stunning. Winter is my favorite time of year.
To further complicate matters, what is true of the mountain valley environment around
San Jose isn't necessarily true on the Caribbean side, which can he flooded with
sunshine while the capital is awash in aguaceros (rainstorms) and vice versa. The truth
is, no matter what time of year you choose to visit, you're guaranteed a serving of nice
sunny weather and probably some rain as well.
Seasons in the tropics are largely determined by altitude. At ocean level the climate is
a year-round summer; at moderate elevations year round spring is a better description.
The higher you go, the cooler it gets. A sweater or jacket can be worn almost every
evening of the year in higher elevations. Your travel wardrobe should include shirts,
sweaters, and jackets you can peel off or pile on, depending on whether you're dining at
a beach restaurant, visiting a volcano, or traveling somewhere in between. Be sure to
bring rain gear and sturdy shoes if you plan any jungle exploring, plus sunscreen for
visits to mountains or beaches, the tropical sun is persistent at all altitudes.
On the northwestern Pacific side, the dry season is exactly that, with very little rain
falling from early December until the beginning of May. The grass turns brown, and many
trees lose their leaves, just as they do in North America in the winter. But the reason
for leaf loss is to conserve water, not because of frost and freezing weather. Most
trees are evergreen, but even some of these lose a portion of their leaves. It isn't as
bleak as it sounds, for many of these trees replace leaves with brilliantly colored
blossoms, as this is the time of year to attract bees, butterflies, and other
Even on the dry Guanacaste Coast, you'll find microcosms of green environments tucked
away in the interior valleys, where sporadic rains are coaxed from the westerly Pacific
winds. Farther south along the Pacific Coast, the dry-season rainfall is even more
frequent, keeping things pleasantly green during the driest months.
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