Costa Rica Weather: When the Rain Comes
Living in the dry tropical forest of Guanacaste during months with names like January, February and March, you begin to wonder if it will ever rain again.
Skies are blue, cows are dry, and your car looks like it hasn’t been washed in months.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this place during this supposedly ideal period.
“Honey, should I pack a raincoat?”
“Sweetheart, what part of ‘February’ don’t you understand?”
When to expect Costa Rica rain
Guanacaste is a true outlier in Costa Rica because it’s the driest region in a very wet country. There are parts of Costa Rica that get 7 meters of rain per year – that’s more than three Shaquille O’Neals. Yet Guanacaste is almost always perpetually sunny from December through April.
The unique ecosystem here is known as “dry tropical forest,” with the “dry” indicating that it doesn’t rain here as much as it normally does in other tropical regions. Much of Guanacaste looks like the plains of Texas, or the savannas of Africa.
December through April is called “summer” in Costa Rica, while the rainy season from May through November is called “winter.” There is no spring and there is no fall.
Of course, the weather patterns are totally different on the Caribbean coast, where the gods of rain make their own rules. They say there are two seasons in the Caribbean: the rainy season and the really rainy season.
But here in Guanacaste, a strange thing happens at some point in April after months of clear skies. Dark clouds drift in, you hear thunder in the distance, and the sky changes to a weird yellow color.
Next thing you know, it’s pouring rain, and you’re so delighted you want to go out and dance in the mud puddles. But first you have to close all your windows, or everything you have is going to get wet.
Rainy season lovers
It’s no secret that the locals here love the rain. It smells great, it washes everything clean, and it gives you a great excuse to take a nap.
During the dry season, dust tends to accumulate on all the plants, especially next to roads. Costa Rica is never ugly, but sometimes it’s a bit dusty.
Then that first downpour washes everything clean – every leaf in the forest! The rain also prompts fresh growth, making new plants spring up everywhere. Costa Rica becomes, if possible, even greener in the rain. This is why the rainy season here is often called the “green season.”
You’ve probably been told that if you come to Costa Rica you need to bring rain gear. Yet you’ll almost never see a Costa Rican wearing a raincoat. Some Ticos live 100 years without ever owning a raincoat.
So what do they do when it rains? They find a roof to stand under, that’s what. Downpours here tend to be brief. Oh, and a lot of people carry umbrellas.
One remarkable feature of the Costa Rica rain is that it almost always occurs in the afternoon. This means that even in the height of the rainy season, both tourists and locals can go about their day in the morning without getting wet.
Go ziplining, go fishing, go birdwatching, go shopping, whatever, but do it early. By midafternoon, you’ll be looking for shelter.
And there’s no finer pleasure than to be under a roof during a Costa Rican thunderstorm. Sometimes it rains harder than you thought possible. And then it rains even harder than that. And then it rains harder still!
You find a hammock, a rocking chair, a comfy bed. You find a book, a magazine, you scroll through your Facebook feed.
Then the power goes out.
“Honey, we need to buy candles.”
“No, YOU need to buy candles. It’s raining, we only have one umbrella, and you’re the husband.”
“OK, I’ll be right back.”
“Be careful not to get wet.”
Rainy season haters
Judging from Costa Rica’s tourism numbers, most visitors come here between December and April looking for blue skies and sunny beaches. Perhaps they come from rainy, cold places like Seattle or Sweden and they just want some sun for a change.
That, of course, is fine. But, but, but….
The dry season, by happenstance, coincides with Costa Rica’s two biggest holidays – one is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and the other is Semana Santa, the week before Easter.
Never mind the tourists – during these holidays most Ticos travel too, and almost all of them go to the beach. Prices for everything are through the roof: lodging, restaurants, transportation, tours, you name it. Merchants can charge what they want because demand is so high. Everywhere you go is more crowded, and driving can take hours longer because there are so many cars on the road.
But why? Why not visit Costa Rica during the rainy season? Are you afraid of getting wet?
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with 1 out of 20 animal species living here, in a country that occupies just 0.03% of the world’s landmass.
Why are there so many animals here, and why are there so many plants?
Rain. They love the rain.