Costa Rica is a small country, but its varying geography creates a constantly changing panorama for travelers. The chain of mountains that forms a backbone down the length of Costa Rica starts in the north with the Guanacaste Cordillera (cordillera is the Spanish term for mountain range), continuing through the Tilardn Cordillera (location of Montevercle and Arenal), and Central Cordillera (Iraz6, Poas Braulio Carrillo). The southern Talamanca Cordillera is the highest in the country.

The Pacific coastline is almost 780 mile,-, (1,254 km); the Caribbean, only 132 miles (212 kni). I filly peninsula jut out from the Pacific coastline; there are two large gulfs many small coves and bays, and two major commercial ports: Puntarenas and Puerto Caldera On the Caribbean, a natural harbor exists only in the Main Limon area. The largest area of lowland plains in the country, which stretches back from the northern coastline almost to Limon makes LIP about one-fifth of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica lies in the tropics between 8 and I degrees north of the equator, about the same latitude as the southern tip of India. Because Costa Rica is a small country without much latitude variation, you might expect the climate to be relatively uniform, but the rugged mountain chain's effect on factors such as wind, rain, and temperature creates many microclimates.

Some rules of thumb, however, can be helpful. In general, temperatures are moderate, varying more With altitude than time of year. Most people are surprised to learn that frost and ice can occur on some of the loftier peaks. Temperatures are somewhat higher on the Pacific side than on the Caribbean at the same elevation. (There are more clouds on the Caribbean watershed year-round than on the Pacific.) At sea level on either side, the annual average is always above 75'F (24'C). Some of the highest peaks in the Central Mountain Range and Talamanca Mountains average 54'F (12'C), though temperatures can fall below freezing.

Temperature variation is much greater from night to day than from season to season: difference in daily temperatures averages 14'F to 18'F (8'C to 10'C). From November to January, cold air from the north can funnel down through the mountains of North America. Though much weakened by the time they get to Costa Rica, the breezes bring a bite to the air. This is one of the few places in the world where polar air gets this close to the equator. The warmest months are March, April, and May.

Spring and fall have little meaning here; the seasons are called verano (summer) for dry season months, generally from December through April, and invierno (winter) for wet months, generally from May through November. The country's most prevalent rainfall pattern is in the range of 79 to 158 inches (2,000 to 4,000 mm). Precipitation can come in the form of a tropical downpour - a gully-washer complete with impressive lightning and thunder-or a steady rain. The downpour is called an aguacero; a continuous rain for several days is a temporal.

On the Pacific side, particularly from the central to the northern area, September and October are wettest, with the length of the wet season increasing the farther south you go. Rainfall amounts vary from less than 59 inches (1,500 mm) in the northwest and central part to more than 190 inches (4,800 mm) in the south.

On the Atlantic side, the rainy season can begin in late April and end in January, with December and January the wettest months. When it's rainy in the rest of the country in October, the southern Caribbean can be sunny. Annual rainfall averages are higher here than on the Pacific side. Heaviest rainfall is inland on the eastern (windward) face of the northern mountains: it may exceed 355 inches (9,000 mm) per year. Elsewhere in the lowlands, annual rainfall averages from 118 to about 200 inches (3,000 to 5,000 mm).

Even in the wet season, rain will not fall all day every day. It usually begins in early afternoon in the Central Valley and other highland areas and later in the afternoon in the Pacific lowlands. Rain can drum steadily at night in the Atlantic lowlands and valley bottoms.

Each season has its beauty and its particular cares. In wetter times plant life is profuse, with a vibrant greenness that seeps into the soul. In the dry season a subtler background is a perfect canvas for orchids, bougainvillea, and reina de la noche (queen of the night), with its large white or pink trumpet-shaped flowers, as well as for deciduous trees that flower only then.

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