Best Time to Visit Costa Rica and Avoid Heavy Rain
Today didn't seem like the best time to visit Costa Rica.
The clouds looked so ominous that Noah himself might have skipped building the ark.
These near-black monsters lay on top of each other as if competing for the tallest clouds in the sky.
On our day at Limon, rain stood ready to drench this Costa Rica cruise port. Fortunately, we could return to our ship once the deluge arrived. Maybe we could just float around the city.
Oddly, it didn’t rain all day. Even more oddly, it was one of the best months to visit Costa Rica and avoid heavy rains.
Such is the weather in Costa Rica during many times of the year. Some parts of this Central American country don’t have a rainy season and a dry season. They have a rainy season and a rainier season.
Knowing when to go can make a difference for cruise visitors who want to explore one of the most popular and wettest eco tourism destinations in the Western Hemisphere.
Vacationers flock to the country for week-long explorations of the country’s rain forests, hiking, rafting and other natural attractions. It also is a major destination for both western Caribbean cruises (going to Limon) and Pacific coast cruises (going to Puntarenas).
Unlike most Caribbean destinations, people come to Costa Rica for what the rain creates.
With that in mind, here are six tips on the best time to visit Costa Rica:
- September and October are the best months for Limon while July is the worst.
- Limon temperatures are not a factor because they remain steady.
- Puntarenas has a distinct dry season from December through April.
- The worst months to visit Puntarenas are May through October -- especially September.
- Like Limon, Puntarenas has steady temperatures throughout the year.
- Weather in the popular capital of San José has more in common with Puntarenas than Limon.
Read more below about other months to visit or avoid for Limon and Puntarenas.
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Limon Monthly Weather
The Limon cruise port on the east coast has two windows of time when the rain lets up a bit.
The first window is during February and March when the city experiences an average of about eight to nine inches of rain each month, according to 30 years of data from the World Weather Organization.
These same two months are among the most popular months for western Caribbean cruises because other destinations -- such as Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Roatan -- also have lighter rain during the same time.
In contrast to Limon, these destinations average about one to two inches a month in February and March.
The next best time to visit Limon is during September and October, when the average rainfall is six and eight inches a month.
It is unusual for Limon to get a break in September and October. Those same two months are the worst months of the year for visiting the rest of the Caribbean because of the annual hurricane season.
Cruise activity in the Caribbean declines as a result, so September and October are months when people are more likely to visit the eastern coast of Costa Rica for longer stays.
The three worst months of the year to visit Limon are July, November and December. December’s average rainfall of 18 inches equals the entire year of some islands such as the arid Aruba.
Temperatures are not a factor in when to visit. The above weather chart shows that Limon maintains a steady high temperature throughout the year.
The average highs stay in the mid 80s Fahrenheit or upper 20s Celsius. The average lows, which take place mainly at night, hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 Celsius.
Puntarenas Monthly Weather
Limon gets hit hard with rain throughout most of the year, but the Puntarenas cruise port on the Pacific coast fares much better.
Unlike Limon, Puntarenas has distinct dry and wet seasons. The dry season runs from December through April and the wet season goes from May through November, which coincides with the Pacific hurricane season.
Average rainfall is less than one inch from January through March and only a little more than an inch in April and December.
But look out for the rest of the year. The average rainfall jumps to eight inches or more from May through October and reaches a high point of about 12 inches in September.
Clearly, the best time of year to visit Puntarenas is during the winter and the worst times to visit are during the summer and fall.
Temperatures are much warmer than Limon with average daily highs reaching into the 90s Fahrenheit from January through August and dipping into the high 80s for the rest of the year.
The two seasons are so different that knowing when to go to Puntarenas is an easy choice -- any month from December through April.
San José and the Interior
The capital city of San José and many interior locations attract visitors from Puntarenas for the sake of the city's nightlife and the natural attractions of the surrounding area. They attract fewer visitors from the Limon cruise port because of distance.
San José has weather that is more in common with Puntarenas than Limon. It experiences low rainfall from December through April and higher rainfall from June through November.
Total rainfall averages less than one inch from January through March, a little more than one inch in May and December and eight inches or more from May through October. The city reaches a high point for rain in September and October thanks to the Pacific hurricane season.
San José and the interior has one big difference with the cruise ports on either coast of the country. They are usually much cooler throughout the year than either Puntarenas or Limon. San José has an average high temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit.
This is partly the result of higher elevations. Temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the entire year.
Costa Rica Rain Days
One other way of deciding which months are best for destinations in Costa Rica is by looking at the average number of days that it rains each month.
The chart above shows that Limon gets rain about 18 days a month on a fairly consistent basis throughout the year.
Puntarenas and San José get rain more than 20 days a month from May through October and peak at 25-26 days in September and October.
The chart again shows that it is wise to avoid Limon in June and July, but take advantage of September and October. Avoid Puntarenas and San José during the summer and fall, but plan to visit during the winter and early spring.
These numbers don’t guarantee the best months to visit Costa Rica because the weather does vary some from year to year. But they do give some guidelines on how to reduce the chance of running into bad weather.
Costa Rica Hurricane Season
Costa Rica rarely experiences the direct impact of a hurricane on the Caribbean or Pacific coasts.
Both Limon and Puntarenas lie far enough south that they usually avoid either Pacific or Caribbean hurricanes.
They are more likely to experience an increase in total rainfall.
© 2015 Scott Bateman
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