For such a small country, the diversity is positively stunning. There are actually 23 climate zones in San Jose alone, and 37 different climate zones in the country itself. But with such diversity, there are only two seasons – dry season which is usually from Dec-March, and rainy season which is usually the rest of the year. Yet whatever season you choose to visit, it will always be hot.
Tropical weather means changeable weather. The range of changes can be only 10 minutes down the road from the last change. So how do you pack for such diversity, and such big changes in weather?
Do not be put off by travel in rainy season. For some, rainy season is actually their favorite time of the year here. It has a charm all its own – the amazing thunderstorms and riveting lightening displays, the lushness of the rain forest is breath-taking, the abundance of wild life now that it is cooler, and less tourists and special ‘green season’ prices make it a fantastic time to visit.
As it is still sunny and hot during most of the day even in rainy season, best to bring all the beach supplies needed. But it does get cooler in the evenings, and then the biting bugs come out in the evenings as well. So best to pack some light-weight long-sleeve shirts and pants for comfort and protection. There can be a noticeable drop in temperature in the mountains after a rain and after 4pm, so best to bring a light sweater, socks, and closed shoes.
But be prepared – tropical weather means unpredictable changes. The day can change within minutes from lovely and sunny to a torrential downpour. Fortunately there are early warning signs of an upcoming storm – the winds will pick up and the temperature will drop … noticeably. Usually gives you enough time to get to shelter before it hits, and then sit back and enjoy the show.
What to Pack to be Prepared
Collapsible Umbrella – best to bring one with you as the quality is very poor in country. Nothing worse than having your umbrella suddenly turn inside-out, and you are left getting soaked to the skin. And carry it with you everywhere, no matter what the weather looks like when you set out for the day.
- Waterproof Tote/Day Bag – so if you are caught in an unexpected shower, your valuables are protected from getting soaked too.
- Zip Lock Bags – to protect your valuables from getting soaked, or putting those things that did get soaked into something.
- Poncho – is better than a rain jacket as they can be unbearably hot and sticky. Unless you are planning on visiting the mountains which do get chilly and damp when it rains, and then a jacket would be warmer.
- Sun screen – SPF factor of 30 is mandatory, and applied every 2 hours – especially if you are doing outdoor or water sports. Even in rainy season, the sun can still be very intense.
- Bug Spray – rainy season is the breeding season for mosquitoes, flies, noseeums, and those critters that leave itchy bites. Good bug spray can be expensive in country.
- Hiking Sandals – a good and comfortable pair of sandals are mandatory for those beach walks, nature hikes, or water tours. They will dry quickly, and not nearly as hot as hiking shoes.
- Quick-Dry Clothes – for those times when you do get caught in an unexpected rain storm, you will need clothes that dry quickly as dryers are quite rare.
- Flashlight – the power can sometimes go out in one of those powerful thunderstorms, so best to bring a strong and sturdy flashlight. Also useful if walking at night as most small towns don’t have well-lit roads for walking.
- Extra Battery Pack – when that power does go, important to have a second battery pack in case you can’t recharge your camera after taking shots all day on that amazing nature tour. You will want to be ready for the next shots tomorrow.
Odds n’ Ends – but Vital
- Survival Spanish Pocket Guide – in the smaller towns, many of the locals may have only rudimentary grasp of English, or none at all.
- Allergy Meds – Costa Rica is brimming with plant life, blossoming flowers, and biting insects your body may not have experience with. So if you do have allergies, best to be prepared and bring your medications with you. But if you find you have an unexpected reaction, not to worry. All pharmacies are legally required to have a pharmaceutical doctor on staff at all times. You can simply explain your symptoms or needs, and the doctors are wonderfully helpful.
- Epi Pen – if you do have serious allergies, then best to bring a supply. The ambulance system is not reliable – either they never arrive, or when they do, they are poorly equipped.
- Anti-nausea Meds – Costa Rica is notorious for windy roads that can be challenging for those with nervous stomachs. And there is that possibly rough boat tour if you decide to head to the high seas for some snorkeling or fishing. Another option are those acupressure bracelets that are worn on your wrists, and activate the pressure points to combat náusea.
In general, any time of the year is a great time to come for a visit – when you are prepared. Each season has its own unique aspects to prepare for, and each season has its own beauty. And when you are properly prepared, you can enjoy the magnificence of each.