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Climate - Costa Rica

Temperature, rainfall, prevailing weather conditions, when to go, what to pack

See also the US version (°F - inches - feet)

Flag - Costa Rica

Map - Costa Rica

The climate in Costa Rica is tropical hot all year round in the plains and along the coasts, while it's mild in the cities located in the plateau and the mountain slopes (tierras templadas). The Pacific coast and the plateau have a dry season (December to April), and a rainy season (May to November) in which rainfall is abundant, while the eastern plain and coast have an equatorial climate, with abundant rainfall throughout the year.
The temperature variations are low, because the country is located near the Equator, so the main difference is related to the rains. Anyway, the majority of the country is so rainy that it's covered by rainforests.

San José

The capital city of San José is located in the central part, at 1,100 metres above sea leverl, on a plateau (the Central Valley, between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca), and thus has a pleasant temperature throughout the year, with cool nights and warm days. There is little rain from December to March, and it almost never rains in January and February. The rainy season runs from May to November, and the wettest months are September and October, with around 300 millimetres per month. The amount of sunshine is good in the dry period, but only mediocre during the rainy season, when the sky is often cloudy.
Here are the average temperatures of San José.
San José average temperatures
San José J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 15 15 16 16 17 17 16 17 17 16 16 16
Max (°C) 23 24 25 26 26 26 25 25 26 25 24 23

On the Pacific coast, the rainfall pattern is similar to that of San José and the plateau, although of course the temperature is higher. The Pacific coast is even slightly warmer than the Caribbean coast, especially in winter, when the north-east trade winds descend from the mountains and become hot and dry: the average daytime temperatures are around the 30/32 °C in the least hot period, from October to November, and can reach 34/35 °C in March-April, before the rainy season.
The least rainy area of the country, where the savannah dominates, is the north-west (Province of Guanacaste), where the average rainfall drops to 1,300/1,500 millimetres per year.
Here is the average precipitation in Puntarenas, located in the southern part of the Pacific Coast.
Average precipitation Puntarenas
Puntarenas J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 5 5 5 30 205 215 175 225 295 280 130 30 1600
Days 2 2 3 8 19 21 18 22 24 25 15 6 164

Here the heat is intense throughout the year, and from February to May is torrid in inland areas, with highs around 37 °C.
Puntarenas average temperatures
Puntarenas J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 22 22 23 24 24 24 23 23 23 23 23 22
Max (°C) 34 34 34 35 33 32 32 32 32 32 32 32

The east coast and the plain overlooking the Caribbean Sea (see Puerto Limón) is rain-soaked, with more than 3,000 millimetres per year; here the climate can be defined equatorial, that is without a dry seasons, however, there are two peaks, July and December with about 440 mm per month, and two relative minima in September-October and February-March, both with about 150/200 mm of rain per month. In this area, December is even the wettest month, and January is wetter than February and March. South of this coast, on the mountain slopes of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, precipitation reach 5,000 mm per year!
Here is the average precipitation in of Puerto Limón.
Average precipitation Limón
Limón J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 305 230 195 270 325 300 440 315 145 215 380 450 3565
Days 18 16 17 16 18 19 23 19 14 17 17 21 215

Along the coast of the Caribbean Sea, the temperatures are a bit lower than on the Pacific coast, as the winds blow constantly from the sea, but for the same reason the humidity is higher. Here are the average temperatures of Puerto Limón.
Puerto Limón average temperatures
Limón J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 21 21 21 22 23 23 23 22 22 22 22 21
Max (°C) 29 29 30 30 31 30 30 30 31 30 30 29

The sea in Costa Rica is warm all year round, as we can see in the following table.
Sea temperature Quepos
Quepos J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 28 28 29 29 29 29 29 29 28 28 28 28

At high altitude, on the slopes of mountains and volcanoes such as Cerro Chirripó, 3,820 metres high, or the Volcan Irazú, 3,431 metres high, the temperature is low, especially in the winter months. Above 3,500 metres, at night it can freeze throughout the year.

Costa Rica is almost always spared from hurricanes, whose path is usually located north of the country, in fact sometimes they can affect the near Nicaragua; therefore the area most at risk is the northern one. The hurricane season runs from June to November, during the rainy season, which in any case is generally not recommended for tourists.

When to go

The best time to visit Costa Rica, either for swimming or for exploring its nature, rich in flora and fauna, runs from January to mid-April, and in particular the months of February and March. It's hot in the lowlands, the sun shines and there's little rain, except on the east coast, which has we said is rainy throughout the year. The capital can be visited even in December.
To avoid the uncomfortable heat of spring, the province of Guanacaste can be visited in December and January.

What to pack

For San José and tierras templadas: all year round, light clothing, a sweatshirt or sweater for the evening; raincoat or umbrella from May to November.
For plains and coasts: lightweight clothes; in the rainy season, a light sweatshirt and a light raincoat for thunderstorms.
For the high mountains: warm clothes, jacket, hiking boots.

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