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Your Travel Guide to Costa Rica in December and January

by Sean
Costa Rica in December and January

In this article, we talk about what it’s like to travel to Costa Rica in December and January. Costa Rica is one of those places that has great weather year-round. Well, at least in my opinion. Sure there is a rainy season like most tropical locations, but I don’t mind the rain. 

costa rica shoreline

Traveling to Costa Rica in December

Even the winter months like December and January are relatively mild. However, the weather can be quite different depending on when you visit the country. There is even a difference in weather depending on whether you make your trip during the first part of December or the last part of the month.

Toward the very beginning of the month of December, you are at the end of the rainy season. It is the very end, but still a little rainy nonetheless. Then begins the dry season. 

Of course, that could always change depending on El Nino or La Nina. When El Nino is present, Costa Rica will ofter see higher temperatures, a shorter rainy season, and less rain, sometimes even drought. With La Nina, it’s the exact opposite and you’ll get lower temperatures, longer rainy seasons, and more rain.

However, one of the best things about traveling to Costa Rica in early December is that it is the off-season and because of that, you’re much more likely to get better rates. It reminds me of that movie Christmas with the Kranks. If you’ve never seen it, you should definitely watch it, but the concept of the movie is that they’re going to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead because the rates are so much lower than the busy season when everyone is trying to travel to somewhere tropical. Another perk about Costa Rica in early December that comes along with the lower costs is that there are fewer people traveling.

Now, traveling to Costa Rica in late December is a different beast altogether. Late December marks the end of the dry season and is actually the peak travel time for people visiting Costa Rica. I guess there are a lot of people who don’t like the cold weather and want to stay somewhere more tropical. Remember that discounted rate that you can find available at the beginning of the month…you’re not going to find that anymore. Expect to pay top dollar in late December. Restaurants are packed, hotels are packed, and you’re no longer going to have that uncrowded environment.

However, don’t let the crowds deter you from taking in all of the beauty that Costa Rica has including the beautiful sandy beaches and the calming tropical breeze.

December rainfall can vary depending on the year and the weather conditions overall, but it can also greatly differ depending on where exactly in Costa Rica you visit. If you dissect the country longways, you’ll typically see less rain than the upper half. The difference can be where between 6 inches of rain or less for the lower portion and up to 2-3 feet of rain for the upper. This is quite a difference but it makes sense given the landscape.

Traveling to Costa Rica in January

So what about January? Is that a better time to visit Costa Rica than December?

Well, January in Costa Rica is the second month of the dry season. Therefore, the weather during this time of year is typically going to be dry and sunny, just what you want in a tropical vacation. You want your time to spend laying out on the beach, swimming, and seeing beautiful sunsets and that’s what you’ll get in January.

Essentially, January in Costa Rica is “summer”. No, it’s not officially summer there in January, but it is considered their summer since it’s part of the dry season.

There is however an exception to this rule. The Caribbean coast has completely different weather than the rest of Costa Rica. Along the northern coast, January is actually one of the rainiest months of the year.

The country, for the most part, will be more crowded this time of year as well, even more so than in late December.

During these two months, you’ll be able to experience a number of holidays that are celebrated in Costa Rica.

The first one to mention is the most obvious holiday, Christmas. Costa Rica is mostly Roman Catholic and therefore they celebrate Christmas as a major holiday. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year. Personally, it’s my favorite holiday.

Festival in December and January

There are also a number of festivals that are held throughout the months of December and January

The Fiesta de los Diablitos is Costa Rica’s festival celebrating Boruca, Costa Rica’s indigenous community. Fiesta de los Diablito is Spanish for Festival of Little Devils and spans three days. It sounds sort of twisted and satanic, but a better name that better represents what the festival is about would be Festival of the Ancestral Spirits. This celebration includes masks, costumes, and old traditions, not to mention the fun of such a unique experience. Fiesta de los Diablitos is held in late December/early January.

The next holiday during this time is of course New Years Day. Like many countries, New Years Day is kicked off by fireworks, but they also include many of their own unusual traditions like wearing the right color of underwear or carrying around a suitcase.

The next holiday in chronological order would be the Palmares Festival. This one is a two-week-long celebration that includes approximately 20% of the entire population of Costa Rica. The Palmares Festival includes games, food, drinks, dancing, bullfighting, and so much more.

Palmares Festival

Then there is the Santa Cruz Festival that is held during the second week of January in which the country celebrates ranching. This makes sense because ranching is much more common in Costa Rica than it is in some parts of the world, especially the United States. 

Finally, there is the Dia de Santo Cristo de Esquipulas, or The Black Christ of Esquipulas. The depiction of this black Jesus hangs in the Basilica of Esquipulas in Guatemala, but the festival is also held in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. It sounds like it would be pretty unique, but it also involves many of the same celebratory elements of other festivals. However, it does include a traditional ox car parade.

National Parks in Costa Rica to Visit in December and January

December and January are great months to visit Costa Rica’s national parks. The dry season in Costa Rica starts in December and lasts until April, making it the perfect time to explore the country’s many national parks. Here are some of the best national parks to visit during this time:

costa rica national park
  1. Corcovado National Park: Located on the Pacific coast, Corcovado National Park is known for its diverse wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, and scarlet macaws. Visitors can explore the park’s trails and take in stunning views of the ocean.
  2. Manuel Antonio National Park: This park is home to some of Costa Rica’s most gorgeous beaches and tropical forests. Visitors can hike the park’s many trails, relax on the beach, and spot wildlife such as monkeys and sloths.
  3. Arenal Volcano National Park: Arenal Volcano National Park is a must-visit for anyone interested in seeing an active volcano. Visitors can take a hike to the volcano’s summit, soak in hot springs, and explore the park’s many trails.
  4. San Jose: While not a national park, San Jose is a great place to visit during December and January. The city is home to many tourist attractions, including the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Gold Museum, and the Jade Museum.
  5. Pacific Coast: The Pacific coast of Costa Rica is home to many beautiful beaches and national parks. Visitors can explore the beaches of Manuel Antonio, hike in Corcovado National Park, and take in the stunning views of the ocean.

Overall, December and January are great months to visit Costa Rica’s national parks. The dry season makes it the perfect time to explore the country’s many trails and take in the stunning scenery. Whether you’re interested in exploring the beaches of Manuel Antonio or hiking to the summit of Arenal Volcano, there’s something for everyone in Costa Rica’s national parks.

Places to Visit in Costa Rica During the Christmas Holidays

Costa Rica is an amazing place to visit during the Christmas holidays! With its warm tropical weather, stunning national parks, and beautiful beaches, there’s no shortage of things to see and do. Here are some of the top places to visit during this magical time:

First up is the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where you can spot all kinds of awesome wildlife like monkeys, sloths, and tons of different bird species. Whether you want to take a guided tour or hike the many trails, there’s no shortage of ways to explore this beautiful forest. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even zip-line through the canopy!

Another must-visit spot is Tortuguero National Park, home to some of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in Costa Rica. Take a boat tour through the park’s canals, hike the trails, and keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, sloths, and toucans.

If you’re looking for a laid-back beach town, Santa Teresa is the place to be. With its gorgeous beaches, great surf, and relaxed vibe, you’ll feel like you’re in paradise. Whether you want to take a surf lesson, explore the town’s shops and restaurants, or simply soak up the sun, Santa Teresa has it all.

For a taste of city life, head to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. With its many museums, including the Gold Museum and the National Museum of Costa Rica, you’ll have plenty to see and do. And during the Christmas holidays, the city is lit up with beautiful lights and decorations, making it a truly magical place to be.

Last but not least, La Fortuna is a town you won’t want to miss. Home to the Arenal Volcano, you can hike to the summit, soak in hot springs, and explore the town’s many shops and restaurants.

Overall, Costa Rica is an incredible place to visit during the Christmas holidays. Whether you’re interested in exploring its national parks, relaxing on its beautiful beaches, or immersing yourself in its culture and history, there’s something for everyone in this amazing country.

Frequently Asked Questions about Costa Rica in December and January

Here are some common questions about visiting Costa Rica during the months of December and January:

What is the weather like in Costa Rica during December and January?

December and January are part of the dry season in Costa Rica, which means that the weather is warm and sunny with lower humidity levels than other times of the year. Temperatures can vary depending on the region, but generally range from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit.

Are there any festivals or events in Costa Rica during December and January?

Yes! Costa Rica celebrates Christmas and New Year’s Eve with many festivals and events throughout the country. The Festival de la Luz (Festival of Lights) in San Jose is a popular event where the streets are illuminated with beautiful light displays.

Costa Rica is home to many beautiful national parks, beaches, and tourist attractions that are perfect to visit during December and January. Some popular attractions include Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Arenal Volcano National Park, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

What should I pack for my trip to Costa Rica in December or January?

When packing for your trip to Costa Rica, it’s important to pack for warm weather. Lightweight clothing, sunscreen, and a hat are essential. If you plan on hiking or exploring the national parks, be sure to bring sturdy shoes and insect repellent.

Is it necessary to rent a car in Costa Rica during December and January?

While renting a car is not necessary, it can be helpful if you plan on exploring the country’s many national parks and beaches. However, public transportation is also available and affordable in Costa Rica.

Are there any safety concerns when visiting Costa Rica during December and January?

Costa Rica is generally a safe country to visit, but it’s always important to take precautions. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid carrying large amounts of cash or valuables. It’s also important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.

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