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The EIGHT Climates of Costa Rica

The EIGHT Climates of Costa Rica


Most people would tell you Costa Rica has a ‘tropical’ climate with a ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ season, which is grossly overgeneralized but, in general, correct. But did you know that our country has EIGHT different climate regions? Most of the Costa Rica is governed by one of three different types of a TROPICAL climate – but the higher areas and mountains hold climates typically seen in northern Europe and even Siberia!

Map of Costa Rica
The eight climates of Costa Rica. Source: Wikipedia.


Except for the higher mountain areas along the central spine, Costa Rica’s territory falls under three types of TROPICAL climates: Tropical Rainforest, Tropical Monsoon and Tropical Savannah. These predominately differ in the severity of the dry season and the total amount of yearly rain – but, on an annual basis, the climates are hot and wet with varying degrees of seasonal variation.

Trees downed over road.
The ‘rainy season’ in a Tropical Monsoon climate area often brings on flooding, landslips, power and internet interruptions, and access issues. This photo was taken near Ojochal after a fierce storm.

TROPICAL RAINFOREST climate covers the eastern and southern parts of Costa Rica. This is the ‘wettest’ tropical climate -it is also very hot, very humid and shows little annual temperature variations (in fact the temperature difference between day and night is usually greater than temperature difference across the entire year). The distinction of this climate is that there is no true ‘dry’ season – while some months may be wetter than others, every month receives PLENTY of rain – on average at least 60 mm (2.4 in). Thick tropical jungles dominate the landscape and greenery is everywhere.

Some of Costa Rican cities that experience this climate are Limon, Puerto Viejo, Golfito, and Puerto Jimenez.

Global cities with tropical rainforest climate include Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Suva (Fiji), Kampala (Uganda), Fort Lauderdale (USA), Hiko (Hawaii), Salvador (Brazil) and Leticia (Colombia).

TROPICAL MONSOON climate extends between the central spine and the Pacific Ocean, with the exception of Nicoya peninsula and immediate surrounding areas. This climate is also hot and humid but unlike the Rainforest version it holds distinct ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons – although the ‘dry’ season may still receive plenty of rain. It also has more temperature variation than the Rainforest counterpart. Greenery and rainforests thrive in this climate.

Some of the Costa Rican cities that experience this climate are Ojochal, Dominical, San Jose, San Isidro and Jaco.

Global cities with tropical monsoon climate include Jakarta, Manila, Cairns (Australia), Male (Maldives), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Miami, and San Juan (Puerto Rico).

TROPICAL SAVANNAH climate covers the Nicoya peninsula and immediate surrounding areas. This climate has very distinct ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons, with the ‘dry’ season often bringing on droughts with little or no precipitation for months at a time. Temperature variations are more pronounced, with the dry season being especially hot.  In this type of climate the tropical jungles found in Rainforest and Monsoon climate areas often give way to tree-studded grasslands with smaller, spread-out trees. The ‘dry’ months get hot and dusty, and often the grass and leaves turn yellow due to the lack of precipitation and months of sun and heat.

Some of the Costa Rican cities that experience this climate are Puntarenas, Nicoya, Tamarindo, and Liberia.

Global cities with tropical savannah climate include Bangkok, Cancun, Cali (Colombia), Mumbai, Havana, Lagos (Nigeria), Rio de Janeiro, and Darwin (Australia).


The charts below show monthly precipitation, in mm, for each of the three Costa Rican Tropical Climates. Note that as you move down, the dry season becomes more distinct and severe.

Tropical rainforest.
Old growth rainforest in a Tropical Rainforest Climate on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

TEMPERATE climates are those whose average ‘coldest month’ temperatures stay between -3 and 18 degrees Celsius (27 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit). Some types of this climate may be known as ‘subtropical’ climates as well. In the northern hemisphere they generally lie between the Tropic of Cancer (at 23.5 degrees north) and the Arctic Circle (at 66.5 degrees north). As Costa Rica extends from 8 to 11 degrees north, it is well south of the Temperate Climate limit. So what gives?

Well – it is all about the altitude! The central spine of Costa Rica rises far above the surrounding hills, to heights where the air temperature is much cooler than the vast majority of the nation. Starting at about 1,500 metres, or 5,000 feet, in elevation, the climate shift from TROPICAL to TEMPERATE.

There are four varieties of Temperate Climates in Costa Rica, with variations due to rainfall (some have a dry season while others are relatively equally wet all year) and variation in temperatures. At these elevations lowland tropical jungles give way to oak and cloud forests which thin out as the altitude increases, slowly giving way to smaller trees and then shrubs, ferns and grasses.

Costa Rican city of Cartago experiences a borderline Temperate Climate due to its high elevation, nearing 1,500 metres.

Mountains and city.
Cartago, Costa Rica, which experiences a borderline temperate Climate due to its high elevation. Source: Wikimedia.

Global cities which are located in one of the same four Temperate Climate zones are Mexico City, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Amsterdam, London, Vancouver, Bogota, Tokyo, Durban, New Delhi and Melbourne.


Mountain lake.
Costa Rican Tundra Climate landscape. Note the total absence of trees and only low vegetation. Source: Wikipedia.

Costa Rica’s Tundra Climate is called ‘Alpine Tundra’, being a sub-classification of a Polar Climate. ‘Polar’ sounds like it should be located near the earth’s ‘Poles’ and not in the middle of a tropical country, which is usually the case!

In Costa Rica, common Tundra Climate plants include various stunted shrubs, dwarf bamboo, varieties of tree ferns, grasses and smaller plants like gooseberries, blueberries and orchids. The transition from TEMPERATE oak, rain and cloud forests to the low and stunted TUNDRA vegetation is gradual with some trees extending a bit higher into sheltered Tundra Climate valleys.

Mountainous terrain.
Costa Rican Tundra Climate landscape. Source: Wikipedia.

The global reach of the Tundra Climate extends through northern Canada, parts of Greenland, Iceland, the high mountains of Norway, peaks of the European and New Zealand Alps, northern Russia, parts of Alaska, the Himalayas, part of Antarctica, Andean peaks, the top of Kilimanjaro and many extreme mountain tops around the world. This includes Costa Rica’s Cerro Chirripó, Cerro Bellavista, Cerro de la Muerte and surrounding mountain tops, valleys and ridges along the length of the Cordillera de Talamanca  – generally above 3,000 metres (or just under 10,000 feet) in elevation.


For such a small country, Costa Rica is extremely biodiverse – this is not just because of her tropical location but also due to the 8 climates, as each climate type can support different species of plants and animals, some being unique to a specific climate only and found nowhere else in Costa Rica. Costa Rica occupies just 0.03% of the Earth’s surface but hold 6% of the Earth’s biodiversity – and now you know why!