Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
When planning bespoke Costa Rica wildlife holidays for our clients we have to understand their wildlife viewing aspirations to choose the best month. Certain species like turtles are only nesting for a few months of years, whereas if the traveller is more focused on primate and mammal viewing, we would look to plan the Costa Rica safari during the dry season months from December to April. Add to that the different climatic zones and altitude level which affect cloud forest species and the influences of two oceans and you have very much both species and climate diversity in this block buster of a wildlife viewing destination.
January – Planning your Costa Rica wildlife holiday during this month is a little tricky, as you want to avoid the overflow of local tourists on holiday after the New Year festivities. So, we would probably send our clients the second half of the month and profit from the dry season conditions but with the forests and landscape still green and verdant. The drier conditions make January a popular month for Costa Rica birding tours and we like to head down to the stunning Osa Peninsula in search of Quetzals, Tapir and Humpbacks along the Pacific Coast.
February – This month is bang in the middle of the dry season, so you can expert sunny favourable conditions along the Pacific coast and dry, hot weather in the central and western regions of the country. The beauty of Costa Rica’s geography is that you can easily escape from the heat by travelling relatively short distances, gaining altitude and focusing on some of the rainforest and cloud forest birds in locations like Villa Blanca cloud forest hotel.
March – We are still in the heart of the dry season in Costa Rica and this best time to visit for surfing; although since most of our clients are serious wildlife enthusiasts, they would probably want to combine that with the chance to see whales and dolphins along the Pacific coasts, where sea conditions will be very favourable in whale watching hotspots like Marino Ballena national park. We have a very popular Costa Rica wildlife holidays which works very well in the dry season, called Sloths and Monkeys for you primate lovers out there.
April – We are now at the end of the dry season and along with March we will see the years hottest temperatures and dry conditions continue in the west and central regions. The heat may spark late afternoon thunderstorms and rain showers but generally this will not affect your wildlife viewing. Here at Wildlife Trails, we would also take account of the Easter holidays and search for a window for your Costa Rica wildlife tour where national parks and the best Costa Rica wildlife lodges are a little less busy.
May – This is an important transition month between the dry season ending and the rainy season starting and in ‘normal’ years we would expect a relatively slow transition, with a few rainy days in May and then more in June as the rains gain strength. The rains are more regular on the Caribbean side of the central mountains, so we can plan your Costa Rica wildlife holidays accordingly. Our wildlife tours which focus on primates and mammal viewing in locations like San Gerardo de Dota and Corcovado National Park are a perfect choice in May.
June – The rains are settling in now, although much heavier and of longer durations on the Caribbean side compared to the Pacific. Travelling in the rainy season has benefits for adventurous travellers and people who love the wilderness generally. Less crowds, more greenery and many beautiful plants and trees in flower. The trees are sprouting fresh green leaves and the dry dusty desert of Guanacaste is miraculously transformed, into a beautiful lush tropical jungle. We plan one of our Costa Rica wildlife photography holidays in the rainy season to focus on the 133 species of frogs and toads which can be found here. Check out our Specialist Rainforest photography tour.
July – A very popular time to travel now for locals and foreign tourists alike. Expect warm sunny morning causing moisture to evaporate and form the next rain showers, which often arrive in the afternoon. Of course, Costa Rica is famous for its rainforests, so we can plan early morning private excursions with the best Costa Rica wildlife guides, to avoid the heavier showers and enjoy the magnificence of primate viewing and bird watching in true rainforest – at higher altitudes, it will be cloud forest. The rivers have much higher water levels leading to some adventurous white water rafting on rivers like the Pacuare River with its amazing stop at the stunning Pacuare River Lodge.
August – July and the beginning of August we often see rainfall levels decrease for three or four weeks, especially in the northern Pacific. We can call this a mini-dry season (relatively) and take advantage of this by planning our activities in the national parks on the west coast of the country – we have plenty to choose from. The best months to see turtles in Costa Rica, are July, August and September. Sadly, many species of turtles have declined in numbers and are not present on many of Costa Rica’s beaches, however Tortuguero national park remains an exception to that and in August you can visit the Green Turtles nesting sites, under the strict supervision of a park ranger. Check out our stunning Cloud Forest, Margays and Turtles Costa Rica wildlife holiday.
September – Not many areas of Costa Rica will escape the rain in September, but if you like the idea of exploring the rain forest when conditions underfoot may be challenging, but you will see its full beauty then you are likely to get some great discounts with off season rates. In addition, consider a chill out Costa Rica beach holiday in the southern Caribbean coast, which is one of the main areas at this time year which stays relatively dry. The southern Pacific and Osa peninsula are inundated for days or even weeks of continuous rainfall driven by strong westerly winds and referred to locally as the ‘temporales del Pacífico’. Some of the key wildlife lodges may be closed on the Pacific coast due to these conditions.
October – This month presents the biggest contrast between the Pacific and Caribbean costs, with the former at its wettest and the latter at its driest. You may be able to take a chance with a quick visit to Tortuguero for the end of the turtle season, before following that east coast south to wildlife sanctuaries like Cahuita National Park; best known for the coral reefs which are close to shore and easily accessible. In the dry season, there is good snorkelling to be enjoyed with more than 500 species of fish which live on the pristine reef. Further south, Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is very important from an ecological point of view because it contains the only intact mangrove swamp in the Atlantic, and the primary lowland small rainforest found here is the only one of its kind in the region.
November – Generally is one of the most unpredictable months for weather as the El Niño effect can cause the dry season – which normally starts in December – to begin early and therefore visitors will have that perfect combination of very few other tourists and dry enough weather to allow your nature walks and wildlife activities to be still enjoyable and productive. That said, many of the lodges on the Pacific coast, including the famous Osa Peninsula will still be closed so I think this is still a bit of a gamble for those looking for good conditions for wildlife observation and photography.
December – Think of a Costa Rica wildlife holiday in December as a glorious early Christmas present to yourselves and a chance to stock up on wildlife memories and vitamin D levels before a cold wet winter in the northern hemisphere. The first two weeks of December may present more of a challenge on certain roads which have not been repaired after the rainy season, but such is the variety of Costa Rica’s national parks we can micro plan accordingly and stick to the sealed roads and main highways. The colours of the rainforest will be popping after all that rain and although there may be some humidity, we will not have the high temperatures of the later dry season. Ideal for both Costa Rica birding tours and our Costa Rica wildlife photography holidays.